Paro hosts Thrive conference

(Editor's note: This story was first published on Nov. 22, 2022. This version corrects the spelling of names.)

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Women entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to learn how to focus on what’s next, post-pandemic at the annual Thrive; Prospering Paro Women conference.

Hosted by Paro Centre for Women’s Enterprise, conference will bring people together this Thursday to share the teachings and successes that come with navigating the business world, post-COVID. Featured keynote speakers include Deborah Kimmett, a comic and storyteller, and Cheekbone Beauty founder Jenn Harper.

Paro founder and chief executive officer Rosalind Lockyer says the conference serves as a good opportunity for business women to meet face-to-face and talk about the barriers and enablers facing women entrepreneurs throughout the lifecycle of their businesses.

“This year, it’s more important than ever because the women have worked really, really hard through COVID just to keep their businesses going, and fortunately have been able to thrive,” said Lockyer. “We want to look at what it means to thrive and how they did that. We also want to know what are the main elements that make a business survive despite going through the complete chaos of the pandemic.”

Lockyer says everyone had to “pivot” to change things so that they could operate in this hybrid world.

“So now, we’re looking at that. This event is called Thrive and it’s showcasing, recognizing, supporting and encouraging women entrepreneurs and helping them make the next steps moving ahead,” she said.

Jenn Harper, a young, Indigenous woman who owns a business called Cheekbone Beauty, has an inspirational story about thriving through the pandemic that she will share with the participants.

“Deborah Kimmett, who is a comic, a storyteller and a mentor will help us all lighten up — because we need to lighten up a little bit after we’ve been working so hard,” said Lockyer. “The event will also feature a meditation workshop with Erin May, and a workshop around mindset with Kimberley Mauro, to learn how to cut through the confusion and find time to relax.”

The number one challenge for women operating their business is access to financing.

“We were able to help a lot of women very fast with our Circle Funding (program) during COVID because some of the other funding that was coming didn’t quite fit the criteria,” said Lockyer. “We provide grants and loans up to $5,000 then they can get more. They also get the support of the women in the circle group — and we have more than 200 circles around Ontario because this became a really supportive environment for us getting the grants and loans to move forward.”

Lockyer said they also have a program called Biz Growth. Women are provided between 50 to 90 per cent of money towards a $5,000 project to help them grow their business.

This year, Paro is able to connect women entrepreneurs to the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada where Paro will be able to initiate loans up to $50,000.

“It’s a national loan fund and Paro is the organization pushing out those loans, helping the women do their business plans and their applications to be able to apply for these loans. We’re the conduit for the loans for Ontario,” she said.

The conference will also examine how men can better support women in business.

For women, Lockyer says time is their biggest asset and they always have so many things to do. From keeping organized, finding ways to organize themselves in their business to driving the kids to hockey, and preparing meals, time management is always a challenge for women.

“We’re always working on that while encouraging them to be healthy and well and find some time for themselves to relax,” she said. “I think that women struggling with mental health is also a big issue across the world coming out of the pandemic. So we have to be very mindful of that.”

The conference will also examine what Indigenous women, Francophone women, 2SLGBTQQIA+ individuals, women who identify with a disability, and those who are new to Canada need to succeed in business in Ontario.

The Thrive; Prospering Paro Women conference will take place at the Valhalla Inn on Thursday with vendor booths and an option to participate virtually. Visit the Paro website at paro.ca for registration and more information.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal