THUNDER BAY -- The risks of starting a business can be daunting.
For decades, the PARO Centre has provided assistance to thousands of northern women, youth and individuals with disabilities, through innovative business services. Many of these individuals have gone to successfully launch businesses and create other social enterprises.
"There is quite a network of women and PARO is the parent that helps us all get to know one another," said Rhonda Bill, owner and operator of A Fine Fit Catering.
"When I thought about starting a business it sounded really intimidating, I am a professional cook but I don't have the skills in management, finances nor do I have any idea of how to run a business.”
The PARO Centre for Women's Enterprise is a not-for-profit social enterprise that works together to empower women, strengthen small and medium businesses as well as promoting community economic development across the North.
"We want to help women create new opportunities for their communities," said PARO Executive Director, Rosalind Lockyer. "We provide primarily business, counselling, workshops, and training for people that want to start their own business."
She added the organization aims to provide clients with grants and loans, and opportunities for networking and marketing.
PARO specializes in helping women turn their business ideas into reality, using different programs, services and resources. It offers workshops, conferences and events to help support personal and professional growth.
"I was lucky enough to be a part of their Gateway Program," said Bill. "They walked me through the steps, getting funding from OSEP but also walking me through the process of getting my business plan completed.”
The PARO Centre primarily focuses on covering programs that enhance enterprise development and provide the development and support of peer lending circles.
These circles help women connect. They are small groups of women who meet regularly to expand their networks and offer each other advice.
"They helped me connect with other women that were all doing the same thing," said Bill. "Our circle only had four members, but there are a number of other women who have started their business at the same time that we can connect with."
Bill credits the constant support from those connections for keeping her business alive and always moving forward.
"We are all doing businesses of different types but we are doing it together," she added.