GBC Entrepreneur Spotlight: Stephanie Cole
Stephanie Cole is the founder of Safe Pod, a social enterprise that tackles the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in Toronto. She also has a background in Social Services, Forensic Psychology and a passion for Social Justice.
Stephanie works with businesses to help them build a culture that is POSITIVE, CONSENT–DRIVEN & INCLUSIVE. She helps businesses foster a workforce that does not support Sexual Violence and/or harassment. She also works with youth to ensure that they completely understand consent and what factors are required when obtaining consent.
Stephanie has worked for several years in both the hospitality and entertainment industry and has lived through and witnessed countless incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. She built SafePod in order to ensure that those that come after her will not have to go through what she went through in order to pay their rent or buy groceries. Being able to make ends meet while working in the service industry should not come at such a high cost.
We had the opportunity to ask Stephanie a few questions!
Stephanie, what’s your educational background?
I graduated from GBC with a diploma in Social Service Work, and I am currently continuing my studies at UOIT in Forensic Psychology.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
I never thought I wanted to be an entrepreneur at first. But I also wasn’t sure what being an entrepreneur entailed. And after going through the social enterprise class and entering into the social innovation hub, pieces of my life started to make more sense. I realized all of the struggles I had in a normal 9-5 jobs were because my personality was just better suited for a social enterprise, and even better if I could start my own. After that, there wasn’t much of a decision to make. I found my passion and then it snow balled. If you had asked me 5 years ago, I would have said – definitely not, seems like to much work. And I think it is more work because you have to hold yourself, which can be challenging but then all of the work you are doing, is to fuel your passion and not somebody else’s.
Why did you create SafePod?
I created SafePod out of need and frustration. I was working in the hospitality industry as a bartender and a server while at the same time attending GBC for Social Work. The environment at school was super inclusive and great and supportive and then i would turn around and go to work in just a field of oppression and harassment. It was awful. I would constantly be leaving jobs to find “better” bars to work in. It got to the point where I stopped telling people about the new job I had because they just thought I couldn’t hold down a job. When in actuality it was due to sexual harassment in the work force and not knowing how to navigate those waters. Eventually I realized that it wasn’t just me having these issues and I realized something had to be done. I read a Toronto Star article highlighting how deeply entrenched abuse is in the hospitality sector and how it is one of the only industries completely untouched by the #metoo movement. So I decided to change that. I hope that SafePod can be a saving grace for anyone that has ever experienced, or is experiencing, sexual violence or harassment while at work in the hospitality sector.
How successful is SafePod? (Tell us some of your successes.)
SafePod is still paving the road to success but we have had a few fun successes so far. We got to host a training for The Hospitality Training Center. That was huge because they are leaders in the industry and have several key partners. We are currently looking into a partnership with them. We also received funding through two different prominent sources. One private sector funding and one through the government of Ontario. Accepted grant applications always feel amazing because it is external validation that lets you know you are on the right path. I also just recently booked a training at a Youth Center that I once applied to work at – so for me that was a huge success.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you’re in school and you know that you want to be an entrepreneur, start now. And use up every single resource you can while you are still affiliated with an educational institution. When you get kicked into the real world, access to resources, mentors and even journal articles becomes very limited and costly. While you’re in school you don’t realize the amount of free resources that are just handed to you that you often overlook. Even just the cost of meeting space puts a huge dent in your pocket. I was so lucky and was able to use space at George Brown to host my focus groups. If I had done that at [a] workspace, it would have been a few hundred dollars easy. And I hosted about 4 to 5 focus groups. Students are so lucky with all the resources schools give them, and with the amount of tuition we pay, use every single last resource, to build a solid foundation, so once you graduate you are on a good foot.