All Stories

Entrepreneurial spirit cleans up

By Katrya Bolger

Originally published in Prairie Manufacturer Magazine Volume 8 Issue 2.

In 2011, Alma Correlo, her husband, and their seven children, arrived in Canada, 10,000 kilometres from their native Philippines. Within the year, she opened a business – Top West International – in her adopted hometown of Calgary. The early days were filled with challenges, from hauling heavy equipment in the family’s one car, to managing impossible schedules of demanding work and a large family. “I would work 20 hours a day, arriving home at 1.00 AM before waking up at 4.00 AM to prepare the food for the kids, then return to work again,” remembers Correlo.

The entrepreneurial spirit has been passed down to her through the generations. “My grandmother had her own business. So did my father. And now there’s me. So even if we had to work another job, we’ve always operated our businesses on the side,” explains Correlo.

Correlo leveraged that background to carve out her niche in the cleaning business. Top West International provides a range of services, including janitorial services, biosecurity inspections, mandatory safety training and courier services. They do this with what Correlo calls “a safety-first approach” to the businesses they serve, which range from commercial buildings and construction sites to retail operations and fitness centres.

Fortunately, the company was equipped with innovative cleaning technologies and was well positioned to sanitize buildings amidst the threat of the virus. But as cleaning technologies rapidly evolved during the pandemic, Corello looked for ways to advance the company’s methods and capabilities. She wanted to take her business a step further but didn’t know how.

In 2022, she learned of the WEOC National Loan Program through Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a not-for-profit organization that offers tools and resources to women entrepreneurs across the province. AWE is also one of seven loan fund partners for WEOC’s National Loan Program. The loan program provides funding of up to $50,000 to women entrepreneurs or women-majority businesses across Canada. Funded by the federal government’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy to help women launch or grow their businesses, the loan program takes an inclusive approach to funding, with minimal barriers to qualify.

For an entrepreneur like Correlo, the loan program offered an opening to expand her business into Edmonton and proceed with further technological upgrades.

“[The WEOC National Loan Program] was really a significant help because this loan was used to purchase equipment, upgrade and refurbish our existing equipment, and have additional payroll because we grew,” says Correlo.

That’s not to mention the impact of these services on the customers themselves: “By helping us, WEOC also helped the organizations and families that we are serving…Help is important because we cannot exist without others.”

Being a family business means that she is constantly balancing: “You have to take care of your kids, prepare the foods when you go home…When you get home, it’s already late and you have to prepare things for the following day.”

That comes on top of navigating the attitudes towards the cleaning business in general. “Not everyone understands the concept of cleaning and, sometimes, you are belittled. They may look down on you.” It’s why she says building resilience as an entrepreneur requires “courage, leadership, and understanding of the people who work with you.

As to what’s next, Correlo says Top West International is looking to recruit more people to further expand their operations. On the family side, her children are looking into launching a manufacturing company focusing on textiles, passing along the deep entrepreneurial tradition.