Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro started her own business in January. Now, she's helping Canada's biggest city to encourage more women to launch startups of their own.
Ms. Ifeanyi-Okoro is the Toronto ambassador for Women's Entrepreneurship Day, an annual event celebrated in 144 countries that takes place on Nov. 17 this year. The absence of women in leadership positions among tech and startup companies is more glaring than ever – a recent report from Move the Dial, a movement aimed at advancing women in Canada's technology community, found that only 5 per cent of Canadian tech chief executive officers are women.
Ms. Ifeanyi-Okoro, who left her career as an analyst in the loyalty-technology and financial services industries to start her own business, believes events such as Women's Entrepreneurship Day are crucial for encouraging women to break out on their own.
"This is my first year being a full-time entrepreneur, and I've gone to all these amazing events all across Toronto," she says. "There are so many different women's groups." The Friday event, she said, is "really about bringing those different groups of women together and having this global conversation about women entrepreneurs."
The Toronto edition will take place at The Globe and Mail Centre on Nov. 17 from 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Discussions will focus on a number of factors involved in running a successful business, including leadership, using public relations to build demand for a product, defining a target market, building a community and designing a product that fits your audience.
The event's speakers include Erin Bury of Eighty-Eight creative communications agency, Canadian Community Builders founder Ria Lupton, and DesignedUX founder Michelle Caers.
It will also feature a panel on startup journeys and raising funding, led by Danielle Graham of Ontario Centres of Excellence, who was previously the Women in Tech program manager at Communitech and creator of the Fierce Founders Programs. Other panelists include Eva Wong of Borrowell, Tamar Huggins of Tech Spark and Black Women Code, Lidia Bit-Yunan of Set Scouter and MaRS Discovery District's Snita Balsara.
After leaving her job at a loyalty-technology company late last year, Ms. Ifeanyi-Okoro co-founded the digital-media platform My African Corner. She moved to Canada from Nigeria in 2006, and says the business idea grew from the struggle to find products and services here that she could easily access at home. My African Corner is a tool for word-of-mouth marketing that connects businesses, events and content created by people of African descent across Toronto, and starting in early 2018, cities across the country. It currently has a community of 2,000, she says.
Hard data such as Move the Dial's report show the importance of encouraging women to launch their own businesses. "It shows there's still a lot of work to be done in terms of women entrepreneurs, women-only business, women getting funded," Ms. Ifeanyi-Okoro says.
"It's about having an equal platform – not just for women; I'm a woman of colour as well – having an equal platform for all people regardless of the colour of their skin, their gender."