Toronto’s Elizabeth Fry provides training and support for marginalized women starting their own businesses

Recipient: Elizabeth Fry Toronto (My Start-Up Program)
Region: Toronto, ON
Funding Received: over $1 million


Understanding that women face unique barriers to starting and growing a business is why Elizabeth Fry Toronto originally launched the My Start-Up Program, a program designed to provide mentorship and training to women as they start their businesses.

Through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) Ecosystem Fund, the Government of Canada, through FedDev Ontario provided Elizabeth Fry Toronto over $1 million to support its My Start-Up Program. My Start-Up helps marginalized women from vulnerable populations who may have struggled with mental health issues and/or been in conflict with the law, to launch their own viable businesses. These women are often quite resilient, resourceful, and throughout their lives have had to find creative solutions to earn an income - the very qualities that make successful entrepreneurs.

Through this investment, Elizabeth Fry Toronto was able to move its programming online and develop new tools to improve the program’s workshops. Between April 2021 and March 2022, My Start-Up has helped 42 women entrepreneurs in the Toronto-area who have started the program, as well as program participants and graduates who have continued to receive post-program support and access to wraparound services through Elizabeth Fry Toronto.

One of the entrepreneurs this program has helped is Alethia Cadore, a registered psychotherapist, providing counselling services primarily to racially marginalized individuals. Prior to participating in Elizabeth Fry Toronto’s My Start-Up program, Alethia had a history of working in healthcare and educational settings, primarily supporting youth in their wellness and academic goals. Following the events surrounding the death of George Floyd, Alethia felt a strong pull to move outside of the traditional workplace and begin her entrepreneurial journey to be able to better support racialized community members in healing. 

My Start-Up gave Alethia the tools that she needed to launch her independent counselling business, CA Counselling, including market and customer research, business models and design, and establishing pricing, as well as opportunities to benefit from mentorship, networking, webinars, and workshops. Alethia now provides counselling services primarily to racialized community members, hosts workshops and webinars, and collaborates with others in her mission to improve the overall well-being of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) individuals. 

Another My Start-Up program participant is Dr. Rebecca Finlason-Harper, Founder and CEO of The Family Civility Institute. Dr. Harper participated in the My Start-Up Program to take her idea of offering family intervention training to community workers in vulnerable populations, and make it a reality. She shares that, “My Start-Up was amazing, it helped me to develop a business plan but more importantly, gave me the workshop to turn the ideas into an actual plan.”

For Dr. Finlason-Harper, taking part in the My Start-Up Program has been instrumental in starting and growing her organization. Through the program, she gained confidence in her idea, received valuable advice on developing the organizational language used to create The Family Civility Institute, and learned how to pivot when the pandemic forced her to revaluate her original goals.

In only a short amount of time, both Alethia and Dr. Finlason-Harper have positively impacted the lives of many through their business ventures, and the My Start-Up Program is committed to helping other women entrepreneurs do the same.

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