Women entrepreneurs gain access to capital and robust business support from Women's Enterprise Organizations of Canada
By Jessica Kirby
Originally published in BCBusiness.
In 2018, Aki Kaltenbach had just gone vegan and was on the hunt for vegan seafood options, both for herself and for customers in her family’s Japanese restaurants. “To my surprise, I couldn’t find any,” she says. “So, I developed my own recipes and began serving them in our restaurants.”
Her recipes were a hit. Excellent customer feedback validated market demand for these products, and Kaltenbach knew she’d found her niche as an entrepreneur. She launched Save Da Sea and in 2019 made the leap into focusing on the company full-time.
Based in Victoria, Save Da Sea manufactures plant-based seafood made from whole foods. Besides serving up tasty vegan options like smoked salmon made from just nine ingredients, including carrots, and vegan tuna salad, complete with vegan mayo and a hint of lemon and pepper, Save Da Sea represents an important environmental movement.
“Our purpose is to provide delicious and easy alternatives that help consumers make better choices to eat sustainably,” Kaltenbach says.
Growing a business
Five years ago, she was working on Save Da Sea in a kitchen in the back of a hair salon and selling to a handful of independent grocery stores. Today, the company has a manufacturing facility with five full-time employees, and its products are available in 500 stores across Canada, including Whole Foods, Nature’s Fare, Choices and Save-On-Foods.
“Growing Save Da Sea is the hardest thing I have ever done,” Kaltenbach says. “People tell you how hard it is to run your own business, but it’s hard to truly understand it until you experience it for yourself. That said, the rewards far exceed the challenges.”
She is inspired by an incredible team and their passion for the business as they work on one of the most pressing issues of our time. “Our oceans face significant peril, with a predicted total collapse of global fisheries by 2048 due to human-led destruction and climate change,” she says. “By inspiring more people to shift to a plant-based diet, we can help relieve pressure on our oceans.”
WEOC and WeBC
Kaltenbach discovered Women’s Enterprise Organizations Canada (WEOC) through its BC partner, WeBC.
WEOC connects and celebrates Canada’s women’s entrepreneurial network by building expertise and expanding the potential of its members and their clients. The WEOC National Loan Program supports women entrepreneurs with loans up to $50,000 as they start, scale, grow and maintain their businesses. With flexible payment options and access to robust wrap-around services that set women entrepreneurs up for continued growth and success, WEOC’s National Loan Program takes an inclusive approach to lending.
It partners with provincial organizations like WeBC, which provides business support for women in all regions of BC.
“WEOC gave us a loan to fund the build of our state-of-the-art facility in Victoria,” Kaltenbach says. “Getting loans from traditional lenders such as banks for a business of our size is virtually impossible. The additional funds from WeBC and WEOC allowed us to invest in equipment to help increase our production capacity, thereby reducing our labour cost and that will allow us to achieve profitability by the end of 2024.”
Breaking down barriers
Access to capital remains a significant barrier for many women entrepreneurs seeking to start or grow their businesses. In 2021, the Government of Canada earmarked $55 million for the creation of a new national microloans fund, part of its Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. WEOC was selected as an administrator of the funding. As of December 31, 2023, the WEOC National Loan Program had approved 100 loans valued at more than $4.5 million dollars.
“We consistently hear that women entrepreneurs face significant barriers when it comes to funding their businesses,” says WEOC’s CEO Alison Kirkland, “but I am incredibly optimistic that programs like ours are making a difference to innovative entrepreneurs like Aki.”