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The Nova Scotian Cookie Company bakes up success with the WEOC National Loan Program

“You don’t want to get yourself in a situation where you can’t take opportunities, and you can’t scale the way you want to. For your business to be successful, it’s important to access capital.”

By Katrya Bolger

The WEOC National Loan Program provides funding to Canadian women entrepreneurs to start and grow successful businesses. Highlighted business: Nova Scotian Cookie Company.

Originally published in CanadianSME Small Business Magazine.

After over 10 years of working in information technology and property management, Jenna Ross wanted a taste of something new. In October 2021 it came to her. “One day, I woke up and said to myself, it doesn’t matter if this [idea] is not related to what I’m currently doing – I want to go with it.” That idea was the Nova Scotian Cookie Company – a shortbread cookie company that would pay homage to her home province. 

Shortbread is a Nova Scotia tradition thanks to the prevalence of Scottish heritage in the province – but Ross wanted to take her recipe one step further. Inspired by the Honolulu Cookie Company, which sells cookies shaped like the iconic pineapple, she came up with a cookie shaped like a lighthouse – a symbol of safety for centuries of seafarers.

The learning curve

While Ross had the experience of running her own property management business, shifting from a service-based business to selling a commercially packaged product was a “learning curve”, she says. In the early days, she recalls tracing a lighthouse shape on a piece of paper over the cookie dough to cut it out in the absence of proper equipment.

What helped her move the business ahead was seeking help locally, she says: “We consulted a lot of organizations in Nova Scotia to help us get connected with the right people and understand the food science, packaging and recipe development involved.” 

But the challenges for her business did not stop there. Finding our who provides funding for Canadian women entrepreneurs could only be described as “financial gymnastics”, Ross says. The fact that she and her husband owned other businesses made the process of applying for funding especially slow, with funders having to sort through multiple year-end statements.

Accessing capital from the WEOC National Loan Program

In November 2023, she received a sum of funding that fell short of her requested amount by $50,000. The following day, she connected with the Centre for Women in Business (CWB), an organization that supports women entrepreneurs with business advice and networking, where an advisor told her about the WEOC National Loan Program. 

The program, which is run by the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC), offers loans of up to $50,000 to women entrepreneurs, as well as wraparound supports. As a loan fund partner of the program, CWB helped set Ross up to apply for funding.

Since receiving the loan, Ross says she has been able to get her cookies onto shelves in grocery stores across Nova Scotia: “[The funding] allowed us to have the additional money to scale and make that happen.”

Expanding outside Nova Scotia

They also landed their cookies in their first store outside of Nova Scotia at a Burlington, Ontario-based store called RevolutionHer, which sells hundreds of women-owned brands.

The 2022 WEOC’s Bootstrap or Borrow report found that while two-thirds of women entrepreneur respondents wanted to grow their businesses in the next three years, only 50 per cent had applied for funding in the same period.

But Ross says funding played a pivotal role in her ability to take the business to the next level. “If you really want to scale your business, you need to apply for money even before you need it,” she says. “You don’t want to get yourself in a situation where you can’t take opportunities, and you can’t scale the way you want to. For your business to be successful, it’s important to access capital.”

The future is golden

Looking ahead, Ross says she wants to keep expanding beyond Nova Scotia. That work is already in progress. Her shortbread cookies were featured in the gift suite at last year’s Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles.. 

But even as she looks beyond Nova Scotia for her business, home remains integral to Ross’ work. In fact, the idea for the Nova Scotian Cookie Company was largely driven by her desire to make a difference in her community.

A portion of their sales currently go towards the Smart Cookie Literacy Society, an initiative to give children’s books to organizations and schools. The cookies are also baked at the Flower Cart Group. This social enterprise group of companies train Nova Scotians who face barriers to employment.

For Ross, being able to give back is what motivates her to drive the business forward: “We want to share the love of Nova Scotia with the world so we can make more of an impact.”

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