Being a mom isn’t an easy job. And trying to do it alone makes it even harder.
Ela Wojciechowska and Shelbi De Silva learned that firsthand when they started having children of their own and decided they wanted to do something about it.
Before the pandemic, they were both entrepreneurs who had separate businesses. Then the world changed. The moms who used their respective businesses suggested the two women connect. They did just that, chatted about how they could work together and decided to take both their expertise and successful companies and combine them into one.
That company – which is growing quickly, thanks to a partnership with Niagara College’s Business & Commercialization Innovation Centre – is Mamaraderie.
Mamaraderie, (pronounced like camaraderie, but replace ca with mama) is an online and in-person solution for moms to find friendship, community, and support.
Key to their business is the online and in-person aspect. “We get questions sometimes asking how do you scale the real-world component of your business? But we’re really confident in our model of both in-person and online and we want to take it back to the kind of support system moms used to have back in the day, and that was a real-life support system,” said Ela.
“In today’s day, people move around a lot more, so it’s harder for moms to build those strong connections. But community and connection are so important and there’s so much evidence out there to say connections are vital to our mental health. So, we’ve really focused on building communities regionally for moms,” said Ela.
This growth won’t be rushed, Ela noted, because they know how important it is for moms to build a sense of trust, camaraderie, and solidarity.
For example, if you’re a mom in Hamilton, you can be part of the Mamaraderie group that is based in Hamilton. The chapter in Niagara is in the works as well.
When the ladies started this company two years ago, they were still trying to define who they were. And today, after having worked with the Business & Commercialization Innovation Centre (BCIC), Ela and Shelbi are much more confident and validated in their company’s vision.
What Mamaraderie was missing was the time, budget, and resources to really validate some of the work they were doing themselves. They began working with the BCIC team on their innovation challenge, and they were blown away by the team approach and what BCIC brought to the table, especially since being entrepreneurs can feel like a solo journey sometimes.
“We couldn’t believe that they had a full team available to us. All these amazing resources were now dedicated to us to help us work on our web app. It was just nice to get the validation that we were on the right track. The team did a really great job,” said Ela.
The biggest value they received in the final report from BCIC were the consumer insights and the competitive analysis.
“Since we have to submit applications for pitches regularly, we’re so thankful to have this beautiful presentation deck the team created for us available at our fingertips, so that really was one of the biggest values that we got,” said Ela.
The BCIC team also worked on a few things that will come in useful long-term for Mamaraderie, like how to scale, additional revenue streams, and more.
“For us, Paula and the entire team were really great to work with. They took their time to get to know our innovation challenge and gave us detailed reports at the end. The students were very professional, timely, and did a great job.”
– Shelbi De Silva, Cofounder, Mamaraderie
Both Ela and Shelbi are smart cookies themselves. Ela has almost 15 years’ experience in the advertising industry. She manages the web app and is passionate about it.
Shelbi went to Brock University and studied Pop Culture, so she has the brain for the analysis and communications. Also, she worked in several roles at Joe Fresh before becoming an entrepreneur, so she gets brand, sales, and numbers.
Pairing their educational and professional strengths together just made sense, and their origin story is a great one too.
Before they started Mamaraderie, Ela and Shelbi didn’t even know each other. They were both running their own businesses simultaneously, prior to the pandemic.
Ela was working on an online web solution/app for childcare and babysitting, and Shelbi had a following on Facebook of about 2,000 moms.
When the pandemic began, their businesses really took a hit. But one of the moms on Shelbi’s page suggested the two connect and see what they could do together.
They met, made a six-month plan, and within the first six-months, they already had 100 moms sign up for Mamaraderie. The rest is history. They continued to grow the company and scale up.
Looking towards the future, their goal is to make Mamaraderie the go-to place for moms for friendship, community, and support, globally. Plans are in the works to continue expanding throughout Ontario, and beyond.
For those other SMEs who are wondering if they should reach out to BCIC, here’s what Shelbi had to say about their experience:
“For us, Paula and the entire team were really great to work with. They were super organized right off the top with their scope document. They took their time to get to know our innovation challenge and gave them detailed reports at the end. The students were very professional, timely, and did a great job,” Shelbi said.
And the connections continue. “Helen Duffy (Research Lead with BCIC) has been THE reason we’ve applied to be a vendor at Collision, North America’s fastest growing tech conference, this year. The BCIC team has encouraged us to keep going which is so nice to hear,” she said.
If you have a marketing or business innovation challenge, BCIC is ready to work with you. Learn more about their capabilities on the Research & Innovation website.