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About Us

ELLA is run by Innovation York, which also runs YSpace, York University’s innovation hub, and is made possible through partnerships with Small Business Enterprise Centres across York Region and funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Who We Are

A community & accelerator

ELLA was created by York University's Innovation York with funding from The Government of Canada's Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES). The Government of Canada is advancing women's economic empowerment with the first ever Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES), a nearly $5-billion investment that seeks to double the number of women-owned businesses by 2025.

Tied to our core

York University has led the way in social justice since its inception, in 1959. Having had its first woman president in 1993 and still having a strong women presence in upper management, pushing for change to provide equal gender opportunity is truly tied to the university's core values.

Our Mission & Why

Our mission is to reduce the gap of gender inequality in entrepreneurship. We believe every woman entrepreneur should have access to the community, information, and resources they need to scale their business.

$150B opportunity

Having a world in balance is healthy in many ways. Only 16% of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses are owned by women. Bringing parity in entrepreneurship, i.e. bridging the gap between having 16% of women founders compared to 50%, leads to $150B in opportunity for the Canadian economy.

For women, by women

Studies show that businesses with women founders raise more money and build better results. Yet, women often dismiss entrepreneurship as an option due to its impact on their family lives and its high risk. ELLA shows women possible paths to success, proven by women founders who have already embarked on them, and gives them the support of an outstanding community.

Committed to diversity

We are committed to empowering women and we welcome women of all backgrounds, identities, and abilities. We are proud to build programs that are inclusive, are created and hosted by women, for women, and have a highly intersectional reach.

What we do

Here's how we're doing it:

ELLA Community

We know it takes a village. That's why we're building one.

We're bringing together entrepreneurs, mentors, industry experts, and supporters that believe in our mission of helping women rise in entrepreneurship. When a woman succeeds in building a viable venture, she lifts her clients, family, community and more along with her. Imagine this success on a broader scale, with many women entrepreneurs getting the individualized support they need to be successful in their fields. The benefits to us all are boundless.

Visit our community page to learn more about the ELLA Community and how you can help.

ELLA Accelerator Programs

We're providing the tailored training and support programs women entrepreneurs need, 100% free of cost. We've considered industry, stage of business, growth goals and more to offer these customized programs:

ELLA Ascend

A 5-month program for women-led ventures that have paying customers and sales of over $50,000. Entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to connect with a network of experts and entrepreneurs, and learn the skills needed to take their business to the next level.

Program Duration: March - July

Learn More

ELLA Altitude

A 4-month program for women-led ventures that have sales of over $250,000 and are moving towards national and international expansion. With one-on-one advice and support, entrepreneurs are able to get the resources they need to bring their business to the world stage.

Program Duration: October - January

Learn More

The ELLA Team

ELLA is run by Innovation York, the innovation office for York University. The office also manages York University’s entrepreneurship program, YSpace and incubator space, YSpace Markham. Innovation York works to facilitate and maximize the commercial, economic, and social impacts of research and innovation, and to create a culture of engaged scholarship and experiential learning. The ELLA Team is committed to Innovation York’s mandate by providing the tailored support women entrepreneurs need to be successful. Our team consists of experienced professionals with diverse backgrounds in business and entrepreneurship, working together to create lasting impact. It’s our mission to close the gender gap in entrepreneurship.

Sarah Howe

Assistant Vice President, Innovation & Research Partnerships

Sarah is a business development professional with extensive experience fostering innovation and developing strategic business operations. Over the past six years, Sarah has successfully created an innovation office at York University that provides a myriad of services across the university and has grown the team to 17.

She has created and grown a pan-university educational entrepreneurship program, developed and manages two start-up accelerators; and developed and manages an 11,000 square foot innovation centre, YSpace, as a strategic step in the development of a new campus.

In addition, Sarah is co-lead for the strategic development of innovation and entrepreneurship across the campus.

David Kwok

Associate Director, Entrepreneurship

David joined York University in 2017 David is a driven leader with an extensive background in strategic planning, innovation program creation, and partnership development.

Since joining York University in 2017, David has Co-Founded York University’s first physical incubator space, YSpace in York Region and Ontario’s first Food & Beverage Accelerator focused on growth stage CPG ventures.

In addition, he now oversees the ELLA Women Accelerator program focused on supporting 70 women entrepreneurs to scale and grow annually.

Prior to joining York University, David led the transformation of DMZ Sandbox into a renown startup and talent creation hub for Ryerson University. He also co-founded ZerotoStartup, an educational venture focused on creating curriculum for maker spaces upon graduation. He also served as an Advisory Board member for Pledges for Change, a community-based nonprofit focused on youth empowerment through volunteerism.

Nicole Troster

Entrepreneurship Manager, ELLA

Nicole has over 11 years' experience developing startups and working with organizations to design policies and programs to support entrepreneurship.

Before joining ELLA, Nicole managed iBoost, an early-stage tech incubator at Ryerson University where she developed programming and partnerships to enhance entrepreneur education.

Prior to that, she served as a Senior Analyst for the University of Waterloo Venture Fund as well as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, where she led a cross-government initiative to improve the regulatory environment and reduce business costs.

Nicole holds a Master's in Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology from the University of Waterloo, a Master's in Public and International Affairs from York University and a Bachelor of Commerce from Ryerson University.

Judy Chang

Program Advisor, ELLA & YSpace

Judy has over 20 years of experience in the food industry, with leading multiple businesses with Kraft & Modelez, and working at a Nielsen Company as a VP in Analytics.

She is an entrepreneur, with experience growing two divisions through double digit growth in revenue and fast-growing teams to support.

Judy is also the Founder of Pivot Perspectives, a coaching and mentoring company for leaders and entrepreneurs. She is passionate about supporting startup companies to refine their business plans, creating a vision, and developing a high performing and engaged team to lead the charge.

Maria Lisa Lionti

ELLA Coordinator, Programming & Events

Maria holds over 5 years of experience in programming, events and logistics management. Her portfolio includes such accolades as coordinating the International Human Trafficking and Awareness Conference for the Toronto Police Service and holding the Lead Facilitator position for the Business Management course; Strategies for Success.

While receiving her Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management from Ryerson University, Maria held consecutive positions with the Ted Rogers Student's Society at the Ted Rogers School of Management and was responsible for the planning and execution of several events on campus.

She served as Event Associate, Vice President of Events, Business Management Director, and finally as President in her final term. She is excited to contribute her variety of event and programming skills in creating unforgettable experiences for ELLA women.

Keila Wochenmarkt

Marketing & Communications, Innovation York

Keila works with organizations to establish effective brand strategies. Keila spent 3 years as CSR and Secure Desk Operator at TD Canada Trust before accepting a role as Marketing Assistant at Hy-Grade Steel Roofing. She was promoted to the management team as Marketing Manager, where she ran the province-wide company's portfolio of marketing and communications for 2+ years before joining ELLA.

Keila holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing Management from the University of Guelph.

While there, she was Market Research Manager for the College of Business & Economics Students' Association and joined the inaugural executive team as Director of Marketing for Guelph Women in Leadership. She brings in-depth experience with marketing portfolios, working with entrepreneurs and uplifting women leaders.

Diana S

Students & Community Engagement Coordinator

Diana is a creative leader with over 11 years of communications, event management, and marketing experience. She has successfully coordinated and managed over 300 events across Canada, designed and developed strategic marketing and communication campaigns, and has created communication pieces aimed at telling compelling brand stories.

In 2008, Diana graduated with a BA in Communications and Psychology from York University, as well as a Diploma in Creative Advertising from Seneca College. Diana is responsible for coordinating and marketing LaunchYU events and programs, contributing to the overall look of the brand, as well as providing marketing and event support for Innovation York.

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