In July 2020 the BMO Celebrating Women Grant Program was announced in collaboration with Deloitte.
Over 1000 women business owners across Canada applied for the grant to receive one of ten $10,000 grants to celebrate their innovation and resilience with their business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To determine the 10 grant recipients, BMO engaged our key strategic partners and established an advisory committee and judging panel consisting of leaders from GroYourBiz, Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), Women Get On Board, Women Business Enterprises Canada, Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, and Deloitte.
Congratulations to our BMO Celebrating Women 2020 Grant Recipients!
A Touch of Health
Owner: Robyn Ledoux, RMT
A Touch of Health was launched in 2009 as a simple one-woman massage therapy clinic. Since then, the business has diversified and grown to employ a total of 10 people, including founder-owner Robyn Ledoux herself.
The business has relocated twice within the rural community it serves, and the current building is large enough to accommodate a wider range of options and services. The newest aspect of the business is the health food café, A Taste of Health. The café doesn’t just focus on outstanding recipes; absolutely everything is made from real ingredients, locally sourced where possible and reflecting seasonal variety. All of the sauces, including mayonnaise, are made from the basic ingredients. Only unrefined natural oils like avocado and coconut oil, suitable for healthy cooking, are used. At the café, Robyn has made sure that staple foods can be enjoyed without compromising health or the environment.
“Receiving this grant gives us the breathing room we need to take our business to the next level during the pandemic.” – Robyn Ledoux
Braze Mobility Inc.
Owner: Pooja Viswanathan
There are more than a million users of powered mobility devices in North America. Each year, 20% of them experience at least one major collision and 11% are hospitalized as a result. Those who have been involved in powered wheelchair accidents may subsequently be excluded from using such devices, even if this is their only option for independent mobility. In long-term-care settings, residents become increasingly reliant on caregiving staff to help them move around.
Braze Mobility has developed the world’s first blind-spot sensor system for wheelchairs, which automatically detects obstacles and provides multi-modal alerts (visual, vibration, and/or audio feedback) to the driver. Any wheelchair can become a “smart” wheelchair with this system.
Pooja and the other founders of her company have been developing “smart” wheelchair technology for over a decade and are internationally recognized leaders in this field. The team at Braze Mobility includes wheelchair users, who are involved in marketing and driving innovation. The company sells through the largest dealer networks in North America, and will be expanding into markets in Europe and Oceania in 2021.
“We are incredibly grateful for this BMO grant. It will allow us to retain our employees and to continue supporting safe and independent mobility for our clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected people with disabilities.” – Pooja Viswanathan
Owner: Pam Fanjoy, MSW, RSW
Pam Fanjoy spent over 25 years as a clinical social worker, working with children, adolescents and families. However, she had a personal lifetime mission to foster joyful, healthy relationships by using delicious, healthy food to facilitate meaningful connections between others to nourish their bodies, minds and souls. In 2012, Pam earned a degree in culinary management at George Brown College. After studying in France, she developed her Gourmet To Go range of prepared meals. The 2016 Chopped Canada winner, Chef Pam’s culinary passion and creativity quickly established among Canada’s up-and-coming female chefs.
In 2014, Pam opened Fan/Joy in Hillsburgh, Ontario. Not simply a restaurant, Fan/Joy is a recognized culinary social enterprise, feeding the community and cooking up a change that last a lifetime through innovative programs and services. Her line of Gourmet To Go prepared meals, the junior chef culinary and life skills programs and the youth-run café and marketplace help to improve the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of local youths and families.
“Receiving this BMO grant validates our junior chef programs as accessible solutions to the emotional and physical needs of families preparing to head into the winter months of this pandemic.” – Pam Fanjoy
got BALLZ Inc.
Owner: Pooja Rao
Like many companies, Got BALLZ was born out of an entrepreneur’s personal requirement. Pooja Rao wanted to find a healthy snack which was not only good for the body but also tasted great. What started as a home recipe for a delicious granola bar slowly turned into a business idea.
The goal was to produce high quality products, made with the utmost care from locally sourced ingredients. Focusing on the snacks and foods we all love, but with a healthy twist, the company’s aim is to create products which are not readily available in the marketplace. All recipes and products are carefully designed and created by Pooja, and feature wholesome and natural foods that are grain and gluten free, sugar free, low in carbs and keto friendly, while never compromising on taste. For example, the company’s LOW-CARB bun is a bread alternative that delivers on taste and texture of real bread without the added carbs.
“This grant will give us the boost we need to take this Ontario company Canada-wide.” -Pooja Rao
Lathered Cleaning Company Inc.
Owners: Meghan Peters and Kristin Verbeek
Lathered Cleaning was established in Airdrie, Alberta, in 2013 as a way for two busy moms to spend more time with their families. Using only natural cleaning products, the company is dedicated to giving time back safely and effectively to other busy people. Servicing both residential and commercial customers, Lathered Cleaning employs more than 30 staff locally.
Meghan and Kristin have not only navigated a way toward a successful business, but also have developed a road map to guide others to find their own path. Lathered Cleaning has grown to include franchises in St. Albert, Red Deer, Olds and Cochrane, with plans for more across the province and Canada-wide. The franchise system inspires and empowers others to realize their own success while enjoying the journey that gets them there.
In March 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lathered Cleaning closed its doors for nine weeks to help flatten the curve. During this pivotal time, Meghan and Kristin joined forces with two other amazing women to found Lathered Essentials. This enterprise has allowed the company to help satisfy the high demand for hand sanitizer and to retail the natural cleaning products their customers have appreciated for years.
“This grant will help our company to grow, and to give our franchise owners more tools to realize their greatness.” – Kristin Verbeek
Owner: Shehreen Zaman
Shehreen Zaman is a passionate educator, an associate actuary and a social entrepreneur, dedicated to sharing the gift of learning with others through her educational institutes and non-profit ventures. She believes math is an important life skill that every child should have to become a problem-solver of tomorrow.
On reaching the milestone of becoming an Associate of the Society of Actuaries in 2010, Shehreen founded Math Project with the intention of giving back the gift of education that had empowered her up to that point. Her motivation was to promote “out of the box” thinking among children by preparing them for international math contests. However, given the challenges of math education in Ontario, Math Project soon became an innovative learning centre dedicated in helping students of all skill levels to bolster their math competency.
By the end of 2015, Math Project had grown to a promising level of success among the local communities, thus compelling Shehreen to resign from her corporate job and focus on Math Project full-time.
Despite the pandemic and its impact, her innovation, entrepreneurship, and values in community service have enabled Shehreen to continue her mission of revitalizing the future of math education among the young people of Ontario – namely, with her pioneering work in Math Project.
“I feel absolutely thrilled and honoured to receive this grant, as it will help us guide more young minds to become great problem solvers for their generation.” – Shereen Zaman
Ready To Go Foods Inc.
Owner: Rebecca Taylor
Rebecca Taylor is the CEO and founder of Ready To Go Foods, which produces her own Miss ‘P’ range of ready-to-use Caribbean flavours: Curry Paste, Jerk Seasoning, Stew Paste and Mix Seasoning.
In 2017, Rebecca’s heartfelt call to share the tastes of home is what led to the creation of Ready To Go Foods. The Miss ‘P’ brand of products were specially created for people with busy lifestyles who want to prepare authentic Caribbean meals in their own kitchen without spending a lot of time slicing, dicing or blending herbs and spices. For flavourful and effortless cooking, meat, chicken, seafood or vegetables can be added to go from the stove to the table in no time.
Safety and health are the top priorities at Ready To Go Foods. The facility is SQF and GFSI certified, and all of the company’s products are made from natural, non-GMO herbs and spices. No artificial colours or preservatives are used, and the products are gluten free, low in sodium and Certified Vegan.
“Setbacks will now be a thing of the past. Thank you, BMO! My business is now looking forward to a comeback.” – Rebecca Taylor
Socacize Fitness Inc.
Owner: Ayanna Lee Rivears
Ayanna Lee Rivears is a fitness instructor, performer and founder of Socacize Fitness – a creative blend of Caribbean and African dance techniques and music in harmony with fitness techniques, resulting in a unique, judgement-free and exhilarating dance-fitness program where you can burn up to 1,000 calories per hour. The company’s mission is to empower everyone to positively impact their mental, social, and physical health through the FLAUNT philosophy: Feel good, Look good, Attitude, Unleash, Nice up yourself, Take time for you.
With its unique workouts, Socacize Fitness creates a platform for all ages and fitness levels to benefit from a fun-filled, total body workout. The company’s signature formula is broken down into four sections: Bacchanal Warm-Up, Cardio Soca Jam, Wine and Tone and Groovy Stretch, which includes Mindful Motion for the Socacize Kidz program.
Celebrating 11 years in a competitive industry, Ayanna is dedicated to showcasing dance fitness as an opportunity to motivate, educate and inspire. She insists her program will leave you feeling sexy, sultry and strong. Ayanna’s vision is to become a global lifestyle brand which encompasses her FLAUNT philosophy, creating connections through shared experiences that she hopes will develop into healthy relationships.
“As a BIPOC woman, this is a great opportunity to invest in my business. It will help me to share my accomplishment in developing a program that supports the physical and mental wellness of others.” – Ayanna Lee Rivears
Owners: Kim Knight and Shanelle McKenzie
The Villij is a wellness organization committed to creating inclusive, accessible and nurturing spaces for womxn of colour to connect, heal and expand. Co-founded by Kim Knight and Shanelle McKenzie, The Villij aims to remove the financial barriers to wellness offerings and to promote diversity through unique experiences. The organization provides a range of health and wellness services, including yoga, meditation, walking clubs, conversations, workshops and workplace wellness programs.
In 2021, The Villij will launch the first and only affordable, culturally adapted digital platform where womxn of colour can connect and nurture their well-being.
The Villij has been featured in Vogue, Elle Québec and The Globe and Mail, and on Refinery29, Vice Media and Global News. In 2019, The Villij received the ByBlacks People’s Choice award for community health.
“Receiving this grant is an honour and a reminder to fulfill our life’s purpose of building healthy, equitable communities – not only here in Canada, but worldwide.” – Shanelle McKenzie
Owners: Dr. Irit Van-Ham and Dr. Monika Yazdanian
Millions of people suffer from the embarrassment and discomfort of toenail fungus. ToeFX provides a safe, effective solution based on photodynamic therapy, developed in collaboration with a research laboratory at McMaster University. The ClearToe Therapy Light is approved by Health Canada and is clinically proven to be a pain-free treatment for toenail fungus.
ToeFX Inc. was founded in 2016 by Dr. Irit Van-Ham, a toxicologist and formulation chemist who immigrated to Canada about 15 years ago. Irit’s interest in treating toenail fungus began after her mother developed toenail fungus as a side-effect of the chemotherapy she was receiving for breast cancer. Thankfully, Irit’s mother recovered, but Irit’s passion for helping others “show off their toenails” persists to this day.
In 2018, Irit met Dr. Monika Yazdanian, a fellow scientist and specialist in tech startups. Irit and Monika started working together in 2019 and have been growing their business ever since. Monika and Irit share a deep commitment to researching, testing and manufacturing their products in Canada. ToeFX has received valuable support from Startup Ecosystem Ontario, Waterloo Accelerator Centre, The Forge Business Incubator at McMaster University and the Innovation Factory in Hamilton.
“The BMO Celebrating Women grant will help ToeFX help patients all over Canada to show off their toenails!” – Dr. Monika Yazdanian