Celebrating the resilience of female entrepreneurs on International Women’s Day

Sehra Bindal is the owner of Veg-In YYC Café, a vegan take on homestyle Indian cuisine. As a female entrepreneur, she says International Women’s Day is an opportunity to come together as a community, especially during the pandemic.

“I think everybody should support local because it’s grassroots and it’s who we are. When you support local, you support everybody who is connected, and that means whole families with kids. In times like this, people do come together. I have seen my customers support me whenever they can. When I go to eat out, I go to local places. We all have to give back. I can’t expect support and not give back. It’s a chain reaction. The whole chain connects and helps each other. Local suppliers, local producers, local food, local people.”

Before opening her small downtown takeout eatery five years ago, Bindal worked in real estate, studied hotel and restaurant management and owned other restaurants since first coming to Canada in 1994. She says she knows first-hand the challenges female entrepreneurs are facing.

“This is my baby. This business I opened from scratch. It’s a family business. My family came together and helped me build this. Families should support women to get out more and do what they want to do. I always come back to my family, if it wasn’t for my husband and children I couldn’t have done what I’ve done. Women have more responsibility because the whole family revolves around women. International Women’s Day means that women are being acknowledged, we are strong pillars of the community. We are resilient and I don’t think we get enough credit. Women can do anything.”

Bindal’s menu specializes in vegan versions of burgers, samosas, bowls and burritos. She contributes to local causes through her cooking, helping to feed the hungry by donating meals or more recently helping to stock the Calgary Community Fridge, a local effort collecting healthy food for those in need.

“I feel it’s my duty as a business to give back. When you have a business and you can, give back. Calgary people are nice; they always give back.”

The current pandemic has also been a challenge but Bindal says it’s given her an opportunity.

“My usual lunch rush was gone, but that’s okay. I sat with my family and saw how other businesses were affected. I don’t look at the pandemic as a bad thing. I counted my blessings and in retrospect, I slowed down, which is okay. I just went through my goals and reinvented them and I now spend more time with my customers. I missed them so much. Let’s find something good in it. I’m going to be stronger and more resilient.”

As a former business owner herself, City of Calgary Business and Local Economy Leader Sonya Sharp encourages Calgarians to share their support of female entrepreneurs. “International Women’s Day to me is always a great day to celebrate not only my peers, my friends, but every woman who has broken a barrier. So when I see March 8 approaching, I get excited to hear people’s stories,” said Sonya Sharp, Leader of the Business and Local Economy team. Her group’s focus is equipping businesses with resources and information to strengthen their resilience and streamlining services and processes to attract and support business opportunities.

As citizens, we all have a role to play in helping locally-owned and operated stores and services.

“I think it’s important for The City of Calgary to support all businesses but I also think it’s important for customers. If you have a favourite local woman entrepreneur or company you want to support, write about them on Google and give them a good review, tag them on social media and really show that you’re not just supporting business in general but women entrepreneurs. Through all of that support it really shows that people are coming together.”

Finding your voice is important, says Sharp. “My message this year to women entrepreneurs and women in general is to speak up. Your voice needs to be heard. You’re as valuable as any others in that corporation or wherever you work as a business owner. Support each other. Women have a big network. I think what’s important is that behind every woman they say is a village of a thousand so I’m already really excited to hear success stories of women entrepreneurs.”

Bindal says she is often asked for advice by women who want to open their own business. “Don’t just open a business because you want to open a business. You need to research, business plan, marketing plan, and have some equity on the side but make sure your family supports you. Take some time to yourself because competition is intense you need to stay on top of your game all the time.”

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