CASA Foundation's Dr. Olutoyin Oyelade On Supporting Black Women Entrepreneurs

Complex Canada caught up with CASA Foundation's Dr. Olutoyin Oyelade on mentoring Black women entrepreneurs, TD support of CASA through the TD Ready Commitment, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Speaker presenting at TEDx event, audience in foreground, TEDx logo in the background
Dr. Olutoyin Oyelade
Speaker presenting at TEDx event, audience in foreground, TEDx logo in the background

When Dr. Olutoyin Oyelade founded CASA Foundation, she never imagined that it would grow as much as it has.

CASA Foundation started as a non-profit that focused on spearheading social change in developing local communities. Since then, it has grown into a 21-person staff, with many volunteers, that serves three provinces through the continued empowerment of youths and women. And there’s even more planned for the future.

Two programs in particular, with the support of TD through the TD Ready Commitment, have soared to become pillars of the community: Women Inspire and Entrepreneurs Exchange. These programs connect aspiring entrepreneurs with the right people to get their business dreams off the ground.

A native of Nigeria who had an illustrious career before coming here, Dr. Oyelade was inspired to start CASA Foundation and become a mentor after experiencing the barriers new Canadians often face getting into business.

Complex Canada caught up with Dr. Oyelade to talk about CASA Foundation mentoring Black women entrepreneurs, TD support of CASA through the TD Ready Commitment, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Three women smiling at the 'Rise Up Pitch Competition' event with cityscape background

Why did you decide to start CASA Foundation? What was the original mission?
I had always wanted to give back. Maybe it’s because of all the things that I had done before I came into Canada, but with the experience I had, I wanted to create a platform where people can benefit. I wanted to create a place where everyone can share ideas, find mentorship, and eventually be in a position to get funding. We started online and we’ve since added events and other opportunities for people to come together. But it really started with my personal experiences, understanding that there was a need, and realizing that I was in a position to do something about it.

Why is it important for you to give back and provide mentorship?
I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to do work to help alleviate some of the challenges people face in business. When you have experience, and you can see there are people who can benefit from your experience, you feel compelled to want to help. It feels good to touch the lives of others, and this is the best way I can do it. I think people learn more effectively when they have someone to follow as an example, or have other people who share the same experiences.

Woman speaking at podium with her image projected on screen behind her

Tell us a bit more about these two particular CASA Foundation programs: Women Inspire and Entrepreneurs Exchange?
Women Inspire is an annual forum that was created solely to support women-owned businesses and empower women to start and run their businesses by connecting their ideas with the right channels to make their goals happen. When you look at the statistics, generally speaking women have less access to funding in terms of private equity or bank loans, and that’s usually the biggest impediment to getting started in business, so we wanted to connect women to potential funding. Entrepreneurs Exchange is a program that tries to do this, as well. The goal of the program is to improve the economic opportunities for women by giving them the tools to build their businesses.

How have you teamed up with TD for these two programs?
We've been running the programs for over two years now after we received funding in 2022 through the TD Ready Commitment. With this funding, we’ve been able to support over 40 women with launching their businesses. TD not only provided program funding, they also provided employees to come to our classes and help address business questions such as: How to prepare a business plan; How to present a value proposition; How to incorporate your business; Why you should keep your business accounts separate from your personal finances. It takes a lot of resources to accomplish what we want, and TD has been so supportive.

What are some challenges you experienced in your career development that you’re hoping to make easier for the next generation with Casa Foundation?
Collaboration is key in everything we're doing, so I see now that positive results come from a very healthy ecosystem of support that we get from people all around us. Can you find within your ecosystem of support people that will buy from you so you can start your business? But if you don't have people, like a platform or group, where you can advertise and say "Here I am, this is my new initiative,” where do you start? So by providing that early level of collaboration, women can feel more comfortable to start their businesses because they’ll have peace of mind knowing there is support from the beginning. That’s what we want to see for every woman entrepreneur in the future.

Four people engaged in a panel discussion, one speaking into a microphone, others listening

You talk about work-life balance on social media. Is that something that comes up a lot among aspiring entrepreneurs?
That’s another important part of mentorship as well. The domestic part of life always comes into business, whether it’s children, or a spouse. So mentorship can often take the form of letting a woman know that she can start a business, and there are ways to juggle all the work at home with the work of starting a business. And sharing our experiences of doing that really opens eyes, because if you have those examples of women who were able to do both, then you’ll feel you can do it as well.

What are you most proud of about CASA Foundation?
I think it's the impact that we have made in the lives of a lot of our constituents. People who never believed anything could come out of this, particularly during the pandemic. It’s one thing during normal times, when you kept at it, kept pushing, you got some support, and you were able to push on. But I think with the pandemic, we're proud of the impact that we have made: the accomplishments, the women, and the businesses that they've now opened, and the people who have received grants. That’s been what CASA Foundation is all about. We’re proud of the women who rose up during the pandemic, during incredibly difficult times, who were able to take part in the program and now have incredible results to show for it. Some of them have expanded their businesses, some have gone outside Canada to Asia and other markets. Some even created new businesses. It really shows that when women are challenged, they can truly rise up and make a difference in their communities. It has been amazing to see and be a part of.

For more information on Casa Foundation, click here. TD is proud to support Black-led organizations like CASA Foundation through the TD Ready Commitment and leaders like Dr. Olutoyin Oyelade inspiring the next generation. To learn more about TD's commitment to helping create a more inclusive tomorrow, click here.

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