By David Lochead. David is a correspondent at Impact Hub Ottawa, writing about the many innovators that call Hub home. Hub is a co-working space at 123 Slater Street for projects with a positive local and global impact.
With an extensive background in the intergovernmental and not-for-profit sector, Luz Maria De-Regil has had quite the journey to get where she is today: starting her own business. Born and raised in Toluca, Mexico, a city 60 kilometres away from Mexico City, Maria De-Regil has gone from achieving her PhD in nutritional science to having a successful career as a researcher, epidemiologist and vice president in international health organizations. After coming to Ottawa for work and becoming a permanent resident, Maria De-Regil and her female friends would talk about how uncomfortable it was for them to hire men for certain jobs, like driving a taxi or fixing something in their home.
I thought about how I want to hire them, but I don’t know where to find them. So, I thought of this platform to connect women.
Maria De-Regil believed women needed the opportunity to hire other women. From that, she and her co-founder Maryrossie Vergara started SHE BIZ, the first online marketplace for women to hire women-led business. To help build her business, Maria De-Regil has become a member of Impact Hub Ottawa, where she loves the opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs and the Ottawa community.
Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you start SHE BIZ?
I thought complaining was no longer an option. Just saying ‘oh I’m tired of this’. I also have friends that work in trades or male-dominated areas and they were telling me how difficult it was for them to succeed. I thought about how I want to hire them, but I don’t know where to find them. So, I thought of this platform to connect women.
What have been some challenges you’ve faced?
The main thing has been growing and connecting the business while still working. I work formally through the not-for-profit sector in international health, which means working with multiple countries and governments. I started SHE BIZ as my side-hustle, but I will be ending my formal job to work on this one full-time at the end of the month.
The other challenging part has been connecting with Canada. There’s a challenge of being an outsider in many ways and having to build new connections. On the business side, I have to tell myself, ‘this is not a not-for-profit, this is a business’. I have to make sure I achieve revenue, as well as social impact.
SHE BIZ is ready to prove that women, or those who identify as women, can use their professional and life skills to provide high-quality services. 😁
Together we do, think and mean business! 💪
— SHE BIZ™ (@SHEBIZ) January 10, 2019
What led to launching your business here in Ottawa?
I think Canada is a great place. There is a strong agenda here for women empowerment so I think there is fertile soil here to grow this business. I chose Ottawa for the same reasons. I think it’s an open-minded city. There are a lot of independent women that buy houses and need services in Ottawa, so I have a market. In other places, where women mostly have a male partner they live with, this business would be more challenging.
It’s also because I live here. I understand the problems, I receive feedback, and to my surprise there are a lot supporting networks for entrepreneurs. When we first pitched this, we thought that if it makes sense, we can continue. After the first four to five months, I have met a lot of other entrepreneurs. It seems like entrepreneurship is an area that is very effervescent.
We have a particular focus on women who are newcomers in Ottawa and women in trades. We chose these women because we believe they are the most vulnerable.
Is there a memorable story or interaction you’ve had with SHE BIZ?
My co-founder and I were inspired by our conversations with other newcomers when we were setting up SHE BIZ, and we believe that our enterprise can do more to build the capacity of the community in the future. We gave a fellowship (a 12-week intensive English course for beginners, funded personally by Maria De-Regil) to a person a Spanish-speaking Chilean woman who has lived in Ottawa for eight years. She has found a network of people who speak Spanish, but it has meant hard jobs and less money. At some point, she will be less likely to do them. The fellowship allowed her the opportunity to study English. But it is not only the fellowship, but her commitment to study English. The program is about four months and meant that she would not have as much time to work. She has been doing the program and I hear the improvement. I spoke with her over the phone the other day and she answered in English. She is also getting additional freelance jobs. She feels more comfortable and her story about how she is more empowered is touching. By committing additional resources, you can change a life.
Your education and past work has been in the field of food and nutrition. Throughout your schooling and career did you ever see yourself starting a business?
I always dreamt about having a business. But life has taken me through the not-for-profit, academia and intergovernmental sectors. I would have never imagined the path to get to the private sector, but the opportunity was there.
How do you keep your life balanced?
That’s a good question, I’m not a good example for that. Part of this transition is deciding you cannot have it perfect. If I want to devote time to this job, I have to let my other job go. I don’t keep much balance, but I’m working on it. The only thing I have found about balance is that I have to commit to having it. Otherwise, I can work 12 hours without even thinking about it.
What have you learned from working with the clients of SHE BIZ?
As someone who is active on social media, I didn’t realize many women didn’t know how to organize a profile on the internet. These women have taught me if you want to succeed in this modern world, you need to make a decision and learn, as they did with making profiles. My lesson is not about the platform or yourself, it’s giving something for these women to use, grow and succeed independently.
It’s clear starting a business takes a lot of hard work. What keeps you motivated and moving forward?
I think we can achieve many things. I want success, but more importantly this business can accelerate the social impact side, it can accelerate the time it takes newcomers to access the market. There are studies that say it takes at least five years for newcomers to get a job in their field. If they come to Canada, they need Canadian experience. Sometimes that means working outside your area of expertise, and then you need references. It takes forever to get that job. What this platform can do is create a space to share your expertise. If you are a designer, or a marketer, or a babysitter, you can create your profile and almost immediately get a job. The economic impact for that can be very high.
Where do you see yourself going next?
I aspire to be a serial entrepreneur. I want this to grow and succeed but I’m always thinking about new ideas. Personally, I want to learn and grow.