TORONTO - This International Women's Day, wmnsWORK, the first tourism-specific accelerator for women and non-binary entrepreneurs in North America, is celebrating its official launch, welcoming registrations for its spring cohort starting May 16, 2022.
An entrepreneurial ecosystem that embraces idea-sharing, community support and self-compassion in concert with diverse expert guidance for early-stage business owners in the most critical part of their journey, wmnsWORK recognizes a population that has been long underserved by its industry.
This virtual, tourism-specific and equity-free business accelerator was founded by tourism industry professional Iris Serbanescu, who has spent her career consulting with and working alongside entrepreneurial ventures in tourism’s adventure, luxury and tech sectors - and witnessing the unique challenges faced by entrepreneurs who have been historically overlooked.
"The tourism industry is really competitive - especially when it comes to the tour and accommodation sectors," Serbanescu says. "Yet, with all the travel associations and organizations that exist to support businesses, there was really nothing that focus specifically on early-stage entrepreneurship for women and non-binary business owners."
Though they make up 55% of the tourism workforce, women represent less than 20% of general managerial positions, and less than 8% of existing board positions. Yet, women dominate the consumer side, making 70% of the purchasing decisions when it comes to booking travel.
"This means that while women are doing more than half the work and nearly all of the spending in this global industry, 92% of the money and power lies with men," Serbanescu continues. It was this realization, along with years of experiencing the inequitable nature of the tourism industry - as both a woman and a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community - that ultimately inspired Serbanescu to become an entrepreneur herself, and address many of the barriers that had previously held back her and her peers.
wmnsWORK's 12-week virtual program, launching May 16, 2022, operates on three pillars: Education, Mentorship and Support. Keeping to a group size of only 10 participants to foster community trust and openness, the program is focused on tourism suppliers (hotels, inbound day- and multi-day tour operators), but is open to other tourism business owners who see value in its curriculum.
Throughout the program, participants attend up to 12 expert-led workshops and masterclasses featuring topics such as "Funding Your Tourism Startup," "Regeneration Principles for Tourism," “Entrepreneurial Mindset 101,” and more. The curriculum is personalized to the needs of the cohort using a network of experts with a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives – as well as feedback gleaned from ongoing open dialogue within the group – to
inform its content. Cohort members are provided curated access to customized one-to-one mentorships, coaching circles led by expert industry facilitators, and fireside chats with inspiring women and non-binary tourism leaders and investors from around the world.
In the spirit of eliminating barriers for prospective participants, wmnsWORK is collaborating with founding sponsors sherpa°, the leading global provider of travel requirements and documentation for the travel industry, as well award-winning small-group adventure tour company Exodus Travels, to develop scholarship options for racialized, disabled and LGBTQIA2S+ entrepreneurs. A partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) will also mean a free, one-year ATTA Business Memberships for those who register for the May 16th and September 2022 (dates TBA) cohort.
"It's really important that wmnsWORK is accessible to anyone who wants to be a part of an accelerator, and our partnerships have made that possible," Serbanescu states. "It's also a way to showcase what can be accomplished when certain obstacles are removed, and historically overlooked entrepreneurs have the tools and agency to realize their potential."