by Jesse Holth –
According to Government of Canada statistics, women-owned businesses are still underrepresented in the economy. Entrepreneurship can be a major factor in productivity and innovation. Meet some of the women in our local community who are breaking through barriers and running their own successful businesses.
Daksha Narsing, Daksha’s Gourmet Spices
For 30 years, Daksha has made freshly-ground spice blends to cook the perfect Indian cuisine at home. It all started when friends and neighbours would ask: “That smells so good! What are you cooking?” Indian cuisine was new for a lot of people in Canada at the time, Daksha explains. “So I started some cooking classes, gave them recipes, and then they asked for the spice blends to use at home. I ended up writing five cookbooks to go with the spices, too.”
Daksha says the longevity of the company has been helped by the quality of their spices. They use 100% pure spice with no additives, and have kept the product the same over the years. “We never compromise or take shortcuts; we still grind and blend everything ourselves.” She says the recipes have been passed down in her family for over 300 years.
One of Daksha’s main philosophies is that home-cooked meals are important to a healthy body and life. “I love hearing the stories of our customers, and how they’ve used the spices at home – it’s been really good to hear that a lot more people are cooking at home now, and I hope that continues.”
“Working hard isn’t going to be tough if you’re passionate about what you’re doing,” she says about starting a new business. “And educate yourself; ask questions. There are so many resources and organizations out there to help.”
Kristi Benwell, Liquid Metal Marine
Kristi specializes in custom aluminum boat building, founding her company in Sidney in 2000. “Being a woman in the trade industry for the last 25 years has definitely provided its ups and downs.” She says it has allowed her to reflect on what is important in her life, and also challenged the stereotypical roles that women assume. “People come to Liquid Metal because we are passionate about our product.”
She says it’s been a team effort behind the company’s success, and it’s important to keep it a place where people enjoy their work. The community plays a big role as well, she adds, in standing behind the product. “I’m proud to be able to mentor young students, in what is often their first work experience, who are exploring the trade industry and looking for careers after high school. It’s a way I can give back to the community.”
Being close to the ocean, and surrounded by islands that are accessible by boat, provides Kristi with inspiration. “The West Coast lifestyle means you can be out on your boat most of the year, even if it’s a little wet sometimes. I love making a product that allows others to have this experience.” She says that anyone starting up a business is going to have a lot of hard work in front of them, but if they love what they do, it will be worth it. “You might have to learn outside of your main skill or product, but I think this is what keeps it exciting and new. With your own business, you never stop learning.”
Alana Catlin, The Vancouver Island Picnic Company
Alana provides a unique, nature-based picnic experience for you and your loved ones using local goodies. The idea for the company came about when Alana realized she wanted to create a space for people to connect – to take a pause, and just be together. “People often don’t have time or don’t know where to start with planning – or sometimes we get so busy with planning that we’re too exhausted to enjoy it!” She wanted a business that would do all the work for you, so all you needed to do was show up and enjoy a magical experience.
“It’s so memorable for me to see their faces when they walk up to a surprise picnic. There aren’t even words to explain the joy.” In September, Alana decided to transition away from other events and focus solely on the picnics. She uses 100% local items, partnering with companies that share her values of sustainability and minimizing waste. “I’m very proud of what we get to give to the community, and that each basket supports between five and 10 local businesses.”
She says one of the biggest challenges with becoming an entrepreneur was learning to trust herself. “It sounds so cliché, but it’s true: you have to trust in yourself and trust in the process.” Alana’s best advice is to find out what your “why” is, what your purpose is, and align your business with that. “Taking the leap of faith is not easy, but at the same time it’s so much easier than doing something that doesn’t fulfill you. My hardest day now is way easier than my easiest day before. Just take the chance!”
Kattia Graham, Kattia’s Kitchen
Kattia creates authentic Mexican cuisine through her food truck, catering, baking, and café. After moving here 11 years ago, she had to start all over. “I had four very successful businesses in Mexico before I came here, so I’m proud that I’ve always kept my head up, even though it was challenging.” She says she feels very blessed to be here in this community because everyone helps each other. “We’re still adjusting to these uncertain times, but food is something that’s always needed. And we’re there for you! Thank you for continuing to support us. Without you, we wouldn’t be here!”
When asked what inspires her, Kattia says she has a passion for cooking. “I love seeing people happy after trying my food. Every dish is personal.” In fact, she grew up in this business – her parents and grandparents were also restaurant owners in Mexico. “For me, it’s just natural. It gives me peace. It’s amazing to talk to customers and get to know them while I’m cooking.” She jokes that many locals affectionately refer to her as “the taco lady.” She also offers keto-friendly, gluten-free, and vegetarian options.
Kattia explains that it’s great to be able to manage your own time and business, and encourages other women to become entrepreneurs. “Go for it! Don’t be afraid to take the first step – you can achieve your goals and empower yourself.” While she says it’s not always easy being a woman in a “man’s world,” you have to try. “We’re changing that, and it’s very rewarding.”
Ashley Stelck & Patricia Pearson, Hansell & Halkett
Ashley and Patricia offer a curated collection of upcycled and vintage home décor, along with local artisanal items. “We are very lucky to have had the opportunity to open our dream business in our hometown, with the support of partners, family, and community.” Their main style is French Country, but they are always adding more styles as their clientele grows. “We’re also honoured to carry items from so many local artisans.” This includes textiles, candles, cards, chocolates, and more.
According to the duo, it’s a fantastic creative outlet – being able to take something essentially unusable and transforming it into a beautiful piece. “We really love saving items from going to the landfill. It’s good for the environment to reuse and repurpose.” Whether it’s turning old chairs into garden planters or giving antique furniture a fresh update, Ashley and Patricia explain that even when an item seems to be past its prime, it still has lots of charm. “We find joy in these old items, and you can see that the customers do, too. It’s very tied to nostalgia.”
The business has grown gradually over the last few years, but when the current retail space came available they were ready to take the leap. Their biggest recommendation? Always be open to opportunities. “Even if it’s an unexpected time, never underestimate the opportunities presented to you. Prepare yourself, have a business plan, do your market research – but if it feels right and you feel good about it, take the risk. Follow your heart.”
Thinking of becoming an entrepreneur? Find some helpful resources for women in business at: smallbusinessbc.ca/resources-for-women-entrepreneurs-in-bc. Photos provided by respective women