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Creative passion fuels entrepreneurial success for these Saskatchewan entrepreneurs

Four entrepreneurs turn creative skills into thriving businesses

By Mary-Jo Rusu, WEOC contributor

The key to entrepreneurial success? “Glitter. Lots of glitter.”

Twirling and tossing a silver baton into the sky, dancing across the stage in a darkened theatre or swirling a brush into bright paint jar to create something brand new can be life-changing for a child. Drawing on their own passion for the arts and education, four Saskatchewan-based women are finding entrepreneurial success while growing businesses that cultivate creativity.

Growing up surrounded by the prairies of Saskatchewan, Keshia Gamola considered becoming a marine biologist before focusing on the “artsy creative stuff” she had always gravitated towards. After becoming a mom at age 22, she decided to merge her background in face painting with her interest in working with children, launching a business that offered face painting for children’s parties.

Gamola and one of her window paintings

Along with the many uncertainties around starting a business came comments like: “What is your real job?” It was her connection with Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan that gave Gamola the validation she needed to move forward. Through WESK she found support through monthly meetings with other women entrepreneurs, where she could learn about building on entrepreneurial successes and avoiding common business pitfalls.

Her Saskatoon-based business – Kreativemum Facepainting – grew to include a team of 10 staff. Then COVID hit. Her creative side took over and Gamola pivoted from face painting to window painting for local businesses. But returning to her work with children was never far from her mind. She knew what children wanted: “Glitter,” she says. “Lots of glitter.” And their parents wanted a place where they and their kids could “have fun and make a mess while creating something.”

The Art Room Ink

As pandemic safety measures loosened, Gamola opened The Art Room Ink, a kids art studio offering art lessons and camps for children, while also selling professional grade face and body painting products. Initially, growth was limited by two key elements: space and money. The challenge was financing a space large enough for over 20 students that was available for use in shifts throughout the day and into the evening.

Thanks to a $30,000 dollar loan through the WEOC National Loan Program and loan partner Women Entrepreneurs Saskatchewan (WESK), she has been able to realize her vision for a more profitable and efficient studio experience. The loan allows her to relocate to a studio that has three times more space, to double her staff, and to continue providing all the benefits of artistic expression to a new generation of children.

Arts entrepreneurs “feed the spirit”

“There are many research findings that show the benefits children receive from participating in cultural activities,” says Dean Kush, CEO, SaskCulture, an Saskatchewan organization that unites the cultural community and works to advance the cultural vibrancy of the province.

“Kids gain increased self-esteem and confidence, as well as improving in their academic achievements,” says Kush. “Other skills developed through activities, such as dance, theatre and music, are discipline, commitment and responsibility. Not to mention arts and culture feed the spirit, are life-changing and set children up for future successes.

Entrepreneurial spirit among friends

Decades of sharing a passion for dance is the thread that ties three co-owners and directors of Saskatoon’s Trilogy Academy of Dance & Baton Twirling together.

The owners of Trilogy Academy of Dance & Baton Twirling in their youth.

Early on, Kellie Towriss, Nicole Hustej and Zoe Vassos, had their sights set on the perfect location – a building they felt would become a mecca for families in the University Heights neighbourhood. The location already had a daycare, massage centre and rock-climbing gym. “Someone was going to do it, and we wanted it to be us,” explains Vassos.

The new 2,800 square foot space would allow them to offer a full slate of classes in a variety of dance mediums, from ballet and hip hop to baton twirling. The only thing that was missing was the capital to invest in their vision.

“The WEOC loan application was a helpful learning experience for us where we really felt seen and heard,” shares Vassos.

The Trilogy team in their new space

The design feature has spurred students who are exposed to new dance forms to register and try additional classes while creating a real community vibe in the studio.

The trio had leaned on their own professional areas of expertise to craft a business plan and to secure the space. From there they had to go out of their comfort zone and learn how to determine accurate budgets and projections as part of the loan application.

With the loan granted, the entrepreneurs went about customizing their space, including the addition of glass walls open to the viewing areas.

For arts and culture-based entrepreneurs, personal passion is fueling vibrant, fun and profitable businesses for themselves and the communities they serve.

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