Making room for everyone at the table

Joanne Bartolome, ‘17 BCom, is driven by a desire to help fellow women entrepreneurs succeed

Growing up in Edmonton’s downtown core, Joanne Bartolome witnessed the example of hard work and determination set by her parents – immigrants from the Philippines who had arrived in Canada with little more than $20 to their name. 

“They were just trying to make something work in a world that they didn’t know as their own,” she says. “When I saw the struggles they went through and their humble beginnings, it really makes you value what you have.”

Bartolome’s parents also instilled in her the values that have shaped who she is today and the direction she has taken in her career.

“My own personal values are Filipino values of ‘everyone is welcome to the table,’” she explains. 

For Bartolome, now a successful business owner, this means actively helping create space for more women – and specifically BIPOC women –  to explore their own dreams of entrepreneurship.

An entrepreneur in the making

Bartolome says she has always been drawn to hands-on, creative ventures – even launching her own clothing brand in high school. While she calls this early attempt an “absolute fail,” it helped her discover her love of running a business.

Knowing she wanted to explore this passion further, Bartolome enrolled in the Bilingual Bachelor of Commerce program at the Alberta School of Business.

One thing I always tell people is that when you go to the Alberta School of Business, it’s not just about the courses,” she says. “Yes, the courses are fantastic and you get to meet amazing professors, but one thing I really loved was that it was more about a community –  the connections, the clubs and the participation."

During her time in the program, Bartolome had the opportunity to participate in case competitions for major brands such as Pepsi and Chevrolet, and even traveled to France to pitch marketing ideas to l’Oreal for their La Roche Posay line.

A bold move

After graduating in 2017, Bartolome spent three years working in real estate marketing. But during this time, she found herself drawn back to the world of small business and she started taking on projects for business owners in her free time. 

“I wanted to support them because I cared about the mom-and-pop shops, similar to my childhood of helping out someone who’s trying to have a dream for themselves,” she says. 

What started as a side project gradually became more and more popular. Eventually Bartolome was ready to take the plunge and leave the corporate world to found her company, YEGMarketing. She knew it was a risky move, particularly because she faced hurdles beyond the usual challenges that come with starting a business.

“Out of all the small businesses in Canada, StatsCan describes only 16 per cent as being led by women,” she explains. “On top of that, only about 12 per cent are led by someone of a visible minority. You can imagine where I fit in that realm of things if you calculate it out.”

As expected, she admits that the first years were difficult – going into debt, making mistakes and working herself to the bone. But Bartolome persevered, and today she leads a small, thriving team at the rebranded Empathie Creative.

Going global

Empathie focuses on three main areas: short form video, marketing strategies and social media and content creation. 

Through their work as digital storytellers, Bartolome believes the real value they offer is in taking a significant burden off of their clients by helping them stand out in a busy world.

Empathie has attracted an inclusive and diverse clientele, allowing Bartolome and her team to help empower people who often struggle to be heard. 

Bartolome explains that, while she still wants to shine light on the fact that there is great talent in Alberta, the next step for Empathie is to go global. “We don’t have to work with a million people,” she says. “We can work with the 10 right people, but they can be all over the world.”

Bartolome is getting ready to go global herself – this fall she begins the MBA program at the ESADE business school in Barcelona, Spain, temporarily leaving the business in the hands of her team while she pursues her studies. 

Giving Back

While the last several years have been busy for Bartolome, that hasn’t stopped her from making time to give back to the business community. She collaborates with several local organizations, particularly Alberta Women Entrepreneurs. Along with teaching free social media webinars, she also serves as an advisor with their Bold Leadership Program to provide mentorship to female entrepreneurs.

Bartolome says these types of interactions, with both marketing students and young entrepreneurs in the community, have been fulfilling. Many women have reached out to thank her for helping them realize they can push the boundaries and pursue entrepreneurship as an option for their careers.

"It’s really nice to showcase that you can dream higher than the standard,” she says. “You’re allowed to dream and go for it."

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