Courtney Lee Photography

Babes Boardroom: a “support group of sorts” for driven entrepreneurs

It started as many great entrepreneurial ideas do — a discussion over coffee between creatively minded business owners, Courtney-Lee Yip, owner of Courtney Lee Photography and Camille Byrne, owner of textiles, housewares and vintage furniture retailer Cambie Design.

The pair had been collaborating, sharing a workspace and offering advice and encouragement to each other for year but they wanted to take it a step further.

“As smaller business owners you end up working by yourself so much of the time,” says Byrne. “Having that open dialogue with someone and being able to exchange experiences really helps you grow.”

So, last January they launched Babes Boardroom, a support group of sorts for newbie entrepreneurs to share experiences and advice.

The first meeting was catered by Sneaky Dee’s and with 30 attendees, quickly devolved into a party.

It was a good way to kick-off the concept, says the pair, but it lacked the structure they were after.

“We knew we needed to have themes — varying topics and varying locations to keep it fresh,” says Byrne.

Since then, Babes Boardoom has met every few months to chat about everything from social media for small businesses to establishing a work-life balance.

Katherine Welsh Laliberte — a lawyer and entrepreneur who helped launched Toronto eateries Poutini’s and Hawker Bar — was so intrigued from the beginning that she’s played host twice, once on the roof of Poutini’s and another time in the boardroom at Torkin Manes LLP where she was working as an articling student.

“I wanted to be a part of it from the moment that Courtney and Camille started talking about the idea,” says Laliberte, adding that the law firm was very supportive of the idea. “The idea is that we’re all figuring out our own niches and careers. Having a sounding board and the benefit of other peoples’ experience is really beneficial at the early stages.”

Meetings range from 15 to 25 people, are advertised on Facebook and open to anyone.

“It’s been predominantly women so far, but guys are babes too,” says Yip. “We don’t like to shut our doors to anyone, it can be anyone that can relate to the theme we’re talking about. The unifying part is people who want to take control of their working lives.”

Babes Boardroom is nearing its tenth meeting and growing at an organic pace. A group of friends from Montreal have also expressed interest in launching a chapter.

“I can’t imagine it being in a university lecture hall — we’re worried once it reaches that size it would ruin the effect and community feel,” says Yip. “But it would be amazing if just having this would inspire more people to do their own versions of it.”