September 30, 2005 Features & Images » Feature Story

Big ideas, big world, small businesses 

How Whistler's female entrepreneurs are taking their passions into the world, and making a living in the process

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B.C. has over 360,000 small businesses, and women own or operate almost 36 per cent of them. Self-employment across Canada is growing faster than paid employment, and women are driving the charge. Since 1976, the average annual growth rate of self-employment for women has been 5.3 per cent, compared with 2.2 per cent for men. Between 1981 and 2001, the number of women entrepreneurs in Canada increased 208 per cent, compared with a 38 per cent increase for men.

Barbara Moses, the Toronto-based author of What Next — The Complete Guide to Taking Control of Your Working Life , tags the self-employment candidate as often being an "authenticity seeker." The "authenticity seeker" is driven by their values, wants to express those values at work, and is distressed if they cannot. Their options are limited – they can lobby to change the work environment, or leave it.

Or cut out on their own. And allow their values to inform everything they do.

For Claudine Molson-Sellers, starting her own business was a way of coming home to herself. "I’ve always loved baking and cooking. Even in high-school I was always cooking for my family." She was inventing recipes for the "best power muffins" in Grade 4, and encouraged by her mother to do and be whatever she wanted in the world. As long as she stayed away from the restaurant industry.

Molson-Sellers’s mother had grown up in rural Quebec working in the family restaurant and hated it. Claudine did her best to comply, but destiny kept calling. Working in kitchens and cafes was a recurring theme as she undertook a Phys Ed degree at McGill. When she should have been working on her massage therapy thesis, she was reaching for recipe books instead. Then, during a six-month stint in Vancouver while renovating a Whistler home, she stumbled into a coveted spot at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.

"I called to see if I could enroll in their culinary course and they were like, ‘Are you crazy? It starts next week. It’s been full for months.’" Days before the course started, she got the call. Several registrants had dropped out, the short-listed people had declined the openings, and there was a space to fill. The universe had spoken. In a louder voice than her mother’s.

She graduated six months later, and went to work at Val d’Isere, spending summers in Canmore at the Crazy Weed Kitchen, and dreaming up business ideas over her prep stations.

"I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. I have a strong feel for what it is I like and want, and I really like having the flexibility of time." Molson-Sellers dreamed up Chef on Skis, Whistler’s only kitchen dedicated to gourmet delivery. Took out advertisements. Created a menu. And went looking for a kitchen.

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