Calgary entrepreneur empowers women through community collaboration

by • October 6, 2015 • Community, Economy

By Jemma Young, Content Contributor

In 2007, Monica Kretschmer—now CEO and founder of Canadian Business Chicks—desperately fled her home and abusive marriage with nothing but a duffle bag and seven-month-old child.

Little did she know at the time, she was about to embark on a nearly decade-long battle that would show her the inside of a courtroom and the walls of a women’s shelter—two places she had never been before.

Canadian Business Chicks - group shot 1

From l to r: Manjit Minhas, Aly Pain, Sophie Serafino, Monica Kretschmer, Marlo Brausse, Aileen Lovely, Michelle Morgan

Photo credit: Carol Rioux


Community collaboration

It would not be without the help of several local organizations and a few exceptional strangers that enabled Monica to not only survive, but to come out of the ordeal a powerful female entrepreneur.

“I’m so passionate about giving back because I feel like I took so much,” Monica explains.

Throughout Monica’s lengthy legal crusade, she would come to rely on numerous community resources.

Unbeknownst at the time, the people she met during this phase would be critical to turning her dream into a reality later in life.

One of the organizations that provided discernible refuge, particularly in the early days, was the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter (CWES).

During her time at CWES, she was introduced to Faisal Karmali, a native Calgarian and certified divorce financial analyst. On his own time and dollar, he visited the shelter and offered Monica hours of much-needed personal financial advising.

“Giving back to the community is something I was raised on,” explains Karmali.

To this day, he still manages Monica’s finances (although she can now afford to pay him for his services).

While at CWES, Monica was also referred to HomeFront—a Calgary non-profit devoted to ending domestic violence—whose services became incredibly valuable during her legal, emotional, and financial battle.

According to HomeFront’s website, since its inception, “domestic violence re-offence rates in Calgary have been cut in half and victim engagement in the
justice process has more than doubled.”

Legal Aid Alberta, which offers legal counselling to those who cannot afford a lawyer, is another service Monica was compelled to employ.

“I’m a family law lawyer. No one wants to know us, until they need us,” explains Diane Harms, the only lawyer of several briefed on Monica’s case who was willing to take it on.

Unexpected to both women, Monica and Diane would end up working together for many years.

Eight years in fact. Over that time, Diane contributed over 4,800 hours of in-kind labour (that’s more than the average full-time employee works in two years).


Women of Inspiration

Canadian Business Chick - white hat

Photo credit: Penny B Photography Deputy Mayor, Diane Colley-Urquart, crowning Diane Harms during White Hat celebration at Women of Inspiration

Photo credit: Penny B Photography

On September 26, 2015, Monica hosted the inaugural Women of Inspiration event, in association with Canadian Business Chicks. The event was exactly eight years after Monica and Diane first joined forces.

Monica founded Canadian Business Chicks in May 2014. Its mission is to bring women together to help each other accomplish great things in business and life.

As a networking function and fundraiser, Women of Inspiration is an extension of Monica’s business, but its fundamental purpose was two-fold:

1. Formally thank Diane, the guest of honour

2. Raise funds for programs that address issues of domestic abuse, primarily HomeFront

To support this cause, some well-known advocates of entrepreneurship were in attendance, including:

Brett Wilson: Entrepreneur, philanthropist and panellist on CBC’s Dragons’ Den

Manjit Minhas: Entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of Minhas Breweries and panellist on CBC’s Dragons’ Den

Randy Chevrier: Calgary Stampeder, creator of Tackle Bullying program and spokesperson for Dare to Care

Michelle Morgan: Actress on CBC’s Heartland, HomeFront advocate

Canadian Business Chick - trio

Photo credit: Penny B Photography Brett Wilson, Manjit Minhas, Randy Chevrier

Photo credit: Penny B Photography

One of the event’s highlights involved Mr. Wilson.

During an unscheduled announcement, he took the stage and declared a $10,000 sponsorship donation on behalf of one of his business partners (from a deal on Dragons’ Den), Rachel Mielke, founder of Hillberg & Berk.
[An interesting side note, of the Top 10 deals Mr. Wilson did on Dragons’ Den, six of them were led by women.]

Another successful female entrepreneur was Monica’s business coach, Aly Pain, who delivered her own empowering speech at the event.  They met right before Monica’s life was flipped around in ‘07. Monica was planning on starting her own interior design business at the time.

When asked why she thought entrepreneurship is important, Aly replied, “Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of Canada’s economy. They keep things going, they tend to innovate faster. They see gaps and create something that might be missing.”


Every woman has a story

Canadian Business Chicks - Spa Ritual

Photo credit: Penny B Photography President and Director of Spa Ritual, Shauna Walker (4 from left) and team

Photo credit: Penny B Photography

After experiencing the power of community first-hand throughout her eight-year journey, Monica knew a central hub was needed. One that harnessed this power and these synergies.

Canadian Business Chicks was the result of this realization.

With the hands and minds of other entrepreneurs, moms, students, and business professionals, Monica is working to create this network in Calgary and beyond.

“She is such a strong believer in working together to achieve goals,” says Kim Caputo, the first registered member of “The Nest”.

And as Diane, Faisal, Aly, Kim and the many others who have witnessed and contributed to Monica’s strength would attest, like Brett Wilson said during his unscripted presentation, “The world needs more Monicas.”


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