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Employ To Empower

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The Program

Residents in the Downtown Eastside who complete our Business Skill Training program have the opportunity to join our Mentorship program. Entrepreneurs in the program are supported by business professionals through personalized weekly mentorship sessions and have access to affordable micro-loans.

Upon completion of the 10-week Business Skills Training program, you can apply to get access to:

  1. Personalized mentorship for 6-9 months
  2. Specialized Workshops (IE: finances, social media)
  3. Business & networking events
  4. Monthly peer gatherings to contribute and ask for support for your business
  5. Free in house counselling from a registered counsellor
  6. Access to micro-loans up to $10K

What You Get

Your Own Mentor

Low Rate Microloans

Business Development

Business Marketing & Networking Support

Personal Wrap Around Support

Monthly Peer Gatherings

Free Counselling from an In-House Registered Clinical Counsellor

About Our Micro Loans

We understand that running a business costs money and sometimes it can be hard to afford what you need. We passionately believe in providing a hand up through microloans.

All members enrolled in Employ To Empower’s Entrepreneurship program have access to microloans ranging between $500 and $10,000, at a preferred interest rate of 5%.

Our Current Loan Rate.

photo of Deirdre Pinnock

Deirdre Pinnock

Founder of Deirdre Pinnock Designs

Deirdre Pinnock Designs is a talented rughooker, ardent mental health advocate, aspiring entrepreneur, and self-identified woman of colour based in Vancouver, BC. Deirdre is passionate about fusing vivid colours, playfulness, and therapeutic qualities in her many pieces of creative work.

Minah Lee

Minah Lee

Founder of Art Action Earwig

Multi-media performance artist, interdisciplinary producer and creator, visual artist and teacher

Crap Trapper

Mark Defreitas & Elwood Price

Co-founders of Crap Trapper

Fecal matter in the streets is bad for the community, and bad for tourism. When Mark Defreitas realized that Vancouver lacked a reliable feces removal service, he knew that there was potential for a business. With help from Elwood Price, they created Crap Trapper, through which they work to clean up the community, but more importantly, offer hope, with the dream of de-stigmatizing the Downtown Eastside. Crap Trapper is a Vancouver-based fecal and animal waste removal service. Since summer 2020, Crap Trapper has removed over 85,000 units of fecal matter.

Jeannette and Alley Blais

Alison & Jeannette Blais

Co-founders of Back Alley Apothecary

Jeannette & Alison Blais are the mother-daughter duo behind Back Alley Apothecary. These DTES residents created a line of plant-based, natural products to address the wear and tear of street life, including chronic skin conditions and other health concerns many of their community members face, often overlooked by major brands. Inspired by their lived experiences, their goal is to accelerate wound healing and reduce pain for their friends and neighbours in the community.

photo of yvonne mark

Yvonne Mark

Writer & Poet

Yvonne Mark is the captivating voice behind a collection of poems on recovery in the Downtown Eastside. As a self-taught writer, Yvonne documents her journey to sobriety with strength and resilience. Her unique perspective as a DTES survivor shines through in her a collection of poems that aim to inspire and empower others.

Martin Haridge

Martin Haridge

Owner of The Walking Stick Dude

Martin Haridge is the owner and operator of The Walking Stick Dude. A semi-retired construction worker, Martin started making walking sticks while healing from a leg infection. Each stick is sourced from local wood, then hand-sanded and carved into a unique piece of functional art. Walking sticks make for excellent mobility aids, fashion accessories, hiking support or wall art.

Paul Hansen

Paul-Christian Hansen, MPhil.


With 10+ years of experience, Paul-Christian Hansen is the intriguing personality behind the model. Paul initially took up modelling part-time while earning his Master of Philosophy degree in Australia, and he fell in love with it. His passion paved the way for his reputable work with University of Calgary and organizations throughout the lower mainland like Capilano University, City of West Vancouver, and University of British Columbia.

"My modelling adds value because I am a unique person to draw. I have a lot of imagination and I create unique/interesting poses. I am also reliable, take direction and have extensive experience with modelling."

Roy Youssefzadeh

Roy Youssefzadeh

Founder of Roy's Overalls

Roy Youssefzadeh is the vivatious and friendly founder of Roy's Overalls. Moving to North America from Iran 20 years ago, Roy has always had an entrepreneurial mindset. His ambition and thoughtful approach to business and maintaining relationships led to a budding retail business.

"I wanted to work for myself and I enjoy connecting with people, so I started a pop-up retail clothing business. My clients are my friends. I respect them and customer satisfaction is the most important thing to me. In fact, clients call me the 'Nicest Sock Guy in the Market.'"

Michael Cruick

Michael Cruickshank

Founder of Joharassit's Corner

Michael Cruickshank is the man behind Joharassit's Corner. Michael's commitment is to offer community-friendly online gaming streaming, from murder mysteries to Dungeons and Dragons, as well as intriguing discussions related to the gaming industry. An exciting upcoming focus for Michael will be Lost Ark, an MMO (massively multiplayer online game) that fosters a sense of community and belonging. Michael aims to engage his audience by providing a platform to generate positive dialogue and facilitate healthy conversations around topics ranging from games to experience with disabilities.

Iven Simonetti

Iven Simonetti

Founder of Medicine Art

Iven is a Counsellor (RTCc) and expressive art therapist working with alternative forms of therapy such as music, play, and art to foster positive mental health and self care – TherARTy.

I help people navigate through: Life transitions, questions of meaning/identity, grief, loss, and addiction by using art, music and counselling to express and transform emotional pain; TherARTy. MedicineArt is an old concept where art and expression are an acknowledged form of therapy in many indigenous cultures. Inspired by clients, I work as a counsellor drawing on their challenges often through a visual medium.

Your purchase allows me to provide services to marginalized groups and individuals in need, as well as offer a sliding scale payment system to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

photo of mikaela

Mikaela Fyfe

Founder of BYOV

Mikaela started her business because she wanted to create a fun, safe, and non-judgmental environment when it comes to waxing and hair removal. With a focus on mental health and an appreciation for music, Mikaela brought her vision to life in her waxing studio: Bring Your Own Vinyl (BYOV). It's not only her expertise in the field of quality hair removal that sets Mikaela apart, it's her love for vinyl and her compassion for others that makes BYOV a unique experience.

"The conversations with my clients are the most rewarding aspect of my job. With my own experience with mental health & recovery, I want to be able to create a relaxing environment where someone can be themselves. The dream is to have a beautiful location by the ocean, and be able to give back to the community. Once I’m financially able to do so, I’d love to provide services for those who can’t afford to do so, because one small service can make all the difference in how someone carries themselves into a job interview and/or showing up in the world. I acknowledge that my place of work is on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations."

Julie Melanie

Julie Melanie Ruiz-Tagle

Founder of Enviro Bag Evolution

Julie Melanie is the creative mind and nurturing soul behind Enviro Bag Evolution. A trained seamstress, Julie Melanie creates hand-made storage bags for disabled people who use a variety of mobility aids.

“The inspiration behind my product comes from my personal experience as a walker and scooter user. I rely on these devices for mobility and daily activities - groceries, banking, and even laundry. They help me do my life errands and allow me to live a very independent life. However, my walker and scooter have one major shortcoming - they lack easily accessible space. And as they say…necessity is the mother of invention. The product I am creating is a storage bag to hold your water bottle, cell phone, glasses, keys or whatever you need at your fingertips.

Each Enviro Bag Evolution product is handcrafted from recycled fabrics to fit wheelchairs, scooters and walkers.”

Serena Cripps

Founder of Aneres Wholistic Wellness

Serena Cripps is a storyteller and insightful peer support worker who's passionate about delivering authentic peer support to the community. Her business, Aneres Wholistic Wellness, is a trauma-informed, recovery-oriented holistic service.

During your consultation, Serena will sit with you to see the big picture to reframe your focus and mindset from a medical perspective. For 16 years, She has been on her recovery journey to wellbeing.

Serena is known for her current role as Peer Support Worker at Eastside Works, Ambassador at Dress for Success Vancouver, and the 2015 Inaugural Inspiration Award recipient.

Barbara Gastelum

Founder of Senseslab Creations

Senseslab Creations brings you handmade candles catered to your needs and mood by using certified essential oils and natural ingredients. Each candle is crafted in a reusable cement jar with a wood wick and your choice of fragrance.

Our candles have an incredible aroma that allows you to connect with your memories, calm your spirits, and bring balance through your senses. All essential oils represent different moods (ie: Anxiety or Focus).

Alexa Lizotte

Founder of Desert Métis

Owner of Desert Métis, Alexa Lizotte, is a Métis artist and educator who works to connect people with Métis teachings. Alexa comes from a small Métis community on her father’s side and also has European ancestry on her mother’s side and growing up outside of her Métis community posed many challenges for her. Spending her adult life connecting with her lost identity and living in her Métis community has encouraged Alexa to share her teachings in hopes to inspire hope in others with stories like hers.

Am I Eligible?

Our Entrepreneurship program gives you access to free, weekly business mentorship, as well as affordable microloans. To be eligible to join this program, you must have completed our Development course. The following requirements also apply:

Personal Requirements

  • Be a motivated entrepreneur
  • Have photo ID
  • Have an address in Canada
  • Self-identify as individual who faces work and social barriers
  • Be unable to access traditional bank financing for a small business
  • Reside in Canada
  • Be a Canadian citizen/permanent citizen
  • Filed taxes for the previous year

Business Requirements

Have a business idea or an existing business

A commitment to the 10 week program to ensure you get the most value

Program Requirements

  • Must complete ETE development courses. Must have access to internet.
  • Must agree with terms of our Community Agreement
    • Minimum 2 hours commitment per month with your mentor

Have Questions?

Contact us for answers or to sign up for our services! We're always available to provide you with support.

Contact Us