While their workplaces range from the court room, engineering field and commerce, to gyms, retail, restaurants and home, there’s one thing that a local membership has in common – they’re all women in business.
The Lower Columbia Women’s Business Group came together three years ago, after Mary Austin from Austin Engineering and Keystone Appraisal’s Gina Ironmonger considered the lack of opportunity to learn and discuss business issues for women running their own show.
Since then, the group has grown into a mail-out list of more than 30 members. At least 20 women gather once a month at a local restaurant to nosh on lunch, talk and listen to an inspiring and educational story from a female in business.
“We found that women tend to network differently,” said Austin. “And we both knew a group of like-minded people who we’d love to learn from.”
This week, the women’s group dined at Caffe Americano while taking in a talk on “Small Town Business Excellence,” by Lea Scherck from an innovative Rossland-based company called Thoughtexchange.
The business was incorporated in 2009 as both an organizational consulting service and software developer.
In six years, Thoughtexchange has grown from one to 12 employees in the Alpine City and six in the Nelson area.
Scherck discussed assets and challenges for growing a business in the West Kootenay as well as the unique environment of a job in the virtual world.
“Although we have a great team in the Kootenays and also a number in the lower mainland,” Scherck said. “We are spread around BC and now into the western U.S. We have challenges with technology for group meetings and also miss out on the opportunity for small talk and relationship building that happens when you work in the same building.”
Living is such a beautiful place draws people to the area, she explained, noting the pool of talented contractors and entrepreneurs the company can draw from for employees.
“This is a great place to balance work and life,” she added.
However, the logistics of being nestled in the mountains present obstacles for Thoughtexchange gatherings in Rossland, which could become an issue with future expansion.
“Transportation is a big one,” said Scherck. “Getting our team in and out of the region for conferences customer meetings and company meetings is a real challenge, especially in the winter.”
And, as the consulting service and software developer continues to grow, technological infrastructure could become a concern.
“Access to broadband in Rossland, although not a total show stopper now, is definitely on our mind as we continue to grow,” she said.
This was Scherck’s first meeting with the group, and it sparked a new network for her to gain acumen from local women in business.
“It was a great experience to get to share a bit about myself and Thoughtexchange,” she said. ‘I look forward to connecting with some of the people that I met over lunch, in the future.”
The group’s monthly luncheons highlights women, both member and non-members, working in various business sectors, including politics and community groups such as the Skills Centre and regional economic development.
Austin said the group has grown by invitation and word of mouth, with the only criteria being that the women own a business.
Ironmonger noted that three years ago, she had no idea the diverse range of women business owners in the area.
“Our monthly meeting provides a platform to share ideas, get advice, share solutions, innovations, aspirations, triumphs and defeats,” she said. “And it just keeps growing.”