For our fifth annual International Women’s Day event, we went virtual for the first time. Due to COVID-19, we couldn’t host our usual Symposium and Luncheon this year, but having this event was more important than ever before. While the pandemic has caused many problems for businesses and entrepreneurs, local businesswomen have shown their resilience in the face of adversity, and we wanted to share these stories through this event.

Once we decided to pivot this event online, we began researching online events companies and came across Tractus — a virtual events company based in nearby London, Ontario. From the first time we met with Elias over Zoom, we felt that he and his team would do a great job with this event. We worked in collaboration with Tractus to plan the event while they took care of its execution. We definitely could not have pulled it off without their support and expertise.

At the onset, Cara Finn of Invest in Middlesex got things started by welcoming attendees and discussing Middlesex County’s economic development projects. She passed it off to Jill Brush of Libro Credit Union, who provided an overview of her organization and introduced the keynote.

Allison Graham proceeded to take the virtual stage, giving her 40-minute keynote speech on Finding Calm, Productivity and Hope in Tough Times. Some of Allison’s speaking engagement is in her new book, Take Back Your Weekends. Unlike years past, the keynote took place near the beginning of the event rather than the end. It helped establish resilience as the event’s primary message and set the stage for other speakers.

The Chair of our Board of Directors, Ruth Adams, then took time to highlight the event’s charitable beneficiaries. Anova, One Spark, and the Women’s Rural Resource Centre are three non-profit organizations supporting women impacted by abuse and gender-based violence. Donation links were also included on the event site, as we encouraged attendees to donate any additional funds.

For the networking component of our event, members of the Women’s Caucus of Middlesex County Council moderated five different breakout rooms over Zoom. Attendees were excited by the opportunity to share and listen to stories from other local women. Many participants wished they had more time to network than the allotted 15 minutes.

After some time to network or take a break, we introduced attendees to Erin Bouchard of Once Upon A Time Weddings, Jean Coles of Sport Clips Haircuts, and Nicole Dodge of Sarah’s Cloth and Accessories. In a video shot and produced by Sarah Fonger of Through Pines Media, each entrepreneur was profiled and shared their story as a resilient business owner.

Barb Fisher represented WOCFDCA and discussed SOFII on behalf of the organization. She then introduced a healthcare technology innovator — Dr. Femida Gwadry-Sridhar, CEO and Founder of Pulse Infoframe Inc. in London, Ont. Femida showcased her health research company, expressing her passion for innovation within the healthcare sector.

Keynote speaker Allison Graham returned for her final appearance to moderate a panel featuring Erin Bouchard, Femida Gwadry-Sridhar, Jean Coles, and Nicole Dodge. Allison initially sparked the discussion with each panellist, followed by audience questions to allow attendees to interact with the moderator and panellists.

As a part of the closing remarks, General Manager Todd Copeland outlined the COVID-19 support for Middlesex County businesses. Of the $1.5 million disbursed across the region, nearly 70% of those supported are women-led businesses. MP Kate Young of FedDev Ontario concluded the event by wrapping up with a summary and the key messaging.

Out of 111 registrants for the event, more than 70 people participated in the Zoom call, and an additional 35 people watched the event site’s live stream. With an engagement rate of over 90% for a virtual event, we are thrilled with the positive impact. Most attendees left with at least one memorable or inspirational moment, which we hoped to achieve in planning this event.

Thank you to FedDev Ontario, Invest in Middlesex, Libro Credit Union, MNP, SOFII, and WOCFDCA for sponsoring this event. This event also would not have been possible without the support from Through Pines Media, Tractus, and the Women’s Caucus of Middlesex County Council.

From sponsorships and ticket purchases, Community Futures Middlesex is donating $1,000 to each of the charitable beneficiaries. We appreciate the time and support of our attendees.

If you did not attend the event and are interested in finding out what you missed, a replay of the event is available until June 6, 2021. If you paid for a ticket in advance, you already have access to the full replay through the event site link sent to your email address.