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Lethbridge’s WESTEM program looking to extend past pilot project

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WATCH ABOVE: A three-year pilot project in Lethbridge is nearing its end. The Women Entrepreneurs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program is proving to be a big success. As Quinn Campbell explains, organizers are hoping to secure funding beyond its wrap-up date. – Mar 21, 2022

A three-year pilot project in Lethbridge is nearing its end. The Women Entrepreneurs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (WESTEM) program is proving to be a big success.

Sinmi Esene is the co-founder of the Lethbridge-based BIPOC Foundation. It offers business supports to the BIPOC population.

She said the success of launching her vision was supported by the WESTEM program.

“They believed in us, so that kept us going because we knew if we can do it, there will be more opportunities for more entrepreneurs coming here, especially women in business,” Esene said.

Read more: Women entrepreneurs in southern Alberta get free STEM resources

The pilot project kicked off in 2019 and was created by Economic Development Lethbridge and Tecconnect. The program is completely free and Renae Barlow, the vice-president of entrepreneurship and innovation for Economic Development Lethbridge, said it has been a huge success.

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“We have had over 200 women served by this program, 80 per cent of them have gone on to create their own companies,” Barlow said. “Of the other 20 per cent, those are some existing companies that have said, ‘Hey, with this added understanding and resources, I actually need to pivot or I need to actually go back and re-evaluate my business and how I can move it forward.'”

Carol Lamb launched her vanilla-manufacturing company Baking Barn in 2020. She is a WESTEM participant and hopes other budding entrepreneurs take advantage of startup education and programs.

Read more: Lethbridge educators say more girls are going into science-based programs

“Take the help,” she said. “Don’t just try do it on your own either, and don’t just read it in books or whatever it is, because you could be doing that for a long time. They tailor and make everything for you.

“When I have had questions about government things, labels — anything specific to me — they have been so helpful.”

The funding for the pilot runs out this June. Barlow said they are working hard to secure finances to keep the program going and continue to bring women into the world of entrepreneurship.

Anyone looking for information or support in their business ventures can contact Barlow and find out what program would best suit their needs.

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