A local businesswoman, Karen Kornelsen, is running a business that has goals beyond maximizing profit. Karen is a newer business owner based out of Nelson, British Columbia. Her business, KG Creative, is a digital agency that works to create “professionally-designed, strategic content with on-brand marketing.” Karen lives out her social mission by choosing to work only with “women entrepreneurs who are truly making a difference in the world and non-profits who are also making a difference in their communities,” she says.
Some examples of her clients: one started a Calgary-based mobile bakeshop that also raises awareness of uncommon childhood genetic disorders. Another makes craft chocolate from her home in the Slocan Valley using chocolate harvested using fair labour practices. Another client assists people to heal their trauma, depression, and addiction. Karen says what gets her up each morning is, “Knowing that the clients I serve are doing such massive things for the world and in our communities. I feel super inspired everyday.”
Karen’s business is small. She limits her number of clients and has a few writers who help her keep on top of contracts. In the past, she had clients all over the United States and Canada. Recently, she has moved her focus to local Kootenay women entrepreneurs.
“Supporting my local community has always been really important to me. It’s nice, all my clients right now are 100% Kootenay based.”
All Roads Lead to the Kootenays
Karen’s road to starting her own business in the West Kootenays was a winding one. Born and raised in Winnipeg, she moved to the Kootenays in 2011.
“After living my whole life in the Prairies, I knew that I always wanted to get out to BC. Like the mountains and the outdoor adventure opportunities and you know that work-life balance always really called to me,” she says.
Karen worked in television and print media in Winnipeg. She spent many years applying for jobs out West, and when she got one with a local business magazine, it was love at first sight.
“The Kootenays definitely stole my heart,” she says. She worked throughout the Kootenays in radio and television as a news reporter and news anchor for several years before realizing that she needed to be in a city to advance her career. So she left the Kootenays to go back to Winnipeg. She felt the pull of the Kootenays the entire time she was away. The short story is that she moved back here when she got a full-time job in her field.
The long story has a little more to it. Karen witnessed a violent incident on her property involving a loved one in Winnipeg. She lost her job, and her life started to unravel.
“After 12 years of being super capable in my career and always moving up and forward, it was definitely a huge blow. And I was diagnosed with PTSD. So my business was actually born out of one of the toughest times of my life.”
During this difficult time, a close friend encouraged Karen to start her own business and gave her her first referral. Within three months, she had a full base of clients.
“I learned everything on the fly. How to write a contract, how to offer services, how to do my accounting. Basically, I learned everything on the go going a million miles an hour, and it was one of the most intense experiences of my life. To this day I’m so grateful to my friend for believing in me and helping me and guiding me.”
Before that, she had been very successful in her career but had not once considered starting her own business.
She lived in a cabin in the forest in Slocan Valley when she started, where she had the chance to grow her own food and experience living truly in nature. Were there some challenges? Absolutely. Namely, having no cell service and a very weak internet connection. Like many Kootenay women techies, reliable internet is everything when you’re running an online business.
The lifestyle of being a self-employed techie was instantly a great fit. She sees there is something very special about the Kootenays.
“A digital nomad lifestyle in itself is a very low impact on the environment. You know, I work from home, I work in a five-foot by eight-foot office. All my work is done online, I don’t drive for work, and so basically my footprint is really low and then I’m putting all my earnings back into our local community,” she says.
And the region has responded, providing her with a steady stream of clients.
“I’m just really lucky in that sense that they’ve always come to me. The Kootenays is a small community. Word gets around, and I’m super happy that people have been happy with the work I’ve done and have wanted to refer me to their friends,” she says.
“I still have never marketed my business, which is funny because I do digital marketing for a living. But I got every single client through word of mouth.”
COVID-19 is Changing the Nature of Business
COVID-19 has not impacted Karen’s business persay. However, she also works at the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST), where she has witnessed many changes since the onset of the pandemic. KAST is the only non-profit technology association in the region. She says it has been fascinating to witness the effects of COVID-19 on local businesses.
“A third of our businesses and entrepreneurs lost everything. About a third pivoted, and most of them successfully. They realized they needed to adapt. And then the other third were thriving and are still thriving. COVID actually created more business for them. A lot of these tech companies are already successful in the virtual realm.”
KAST became busier than ever and realized they had a new grouping of people to support: non-technological businesses in the region who have needed to adopt technology to survive the pandemic. They have assisted over 50 companies in adopting technology to continue their operations. They are about to launch a handful of new programs to assist further this technological change affecting businesses right across the board.
The Value of Meaningful Side Gigs
Karen values her full time side gig at KAST as much as she values running her own business. She says she fell in love with the organization. She believes that KAST is helping a critical economic sector in our communities.
“KAST is very unique, and we can offer support and services that no one else can. But then we also work with almost every organization in the Kootenays. Our partnerships are really important.”
She manages all of the marketing and communications for KAST, and she manages the new Nelson Innovation Centre that supports tech entrepreneurs, startups and businesses in the Nelson area and the Slocan Valley, Kaslo, Salmo, Castlegar, Trail and Rossland.
“It’s really a community hub for our tech community. I’m really honoured to be part of that, and I’m still running my business on the side.” Karen is certainly busy and is still trying to reach that work-life balance goal she had when she moved to the Kootenays.
“Honestly most of the time my work doesn’t feel like work, and I just feel super grateful that I get to do what I love to do everyday,” she says.
It’s a delicate balance for women in business who dream big of making our communities and our world a better place to live.
Women Playing the Technological Field
Karen offers advice to other women interested in starting their own business in the tech field: “I say do it! I really want to encourage any woman who’s thinking about starting up her own business to go for it.” Looking back on her success, she says the most crucial factor was that she had a product that people wanted and needed, a product that could help people.
She speaks to a challenge that women entrepreneurs in particular face: impostor syndrome. This is when someone doubts their skills, talents and accomplishments and feels like a fraud, despite their successes.
“Impostor Syndrome is a real thing. A lot of women struggle with it, specifically, and I just want to say believe in yourself. You’ve got this, you know what you’re doing, and we all have something to offer the world.”
Karen is thriving in her business and her life. She is trying to acknowledge her successes more. She sees the Kootenays as part of her inspiration.
“Our region is so unique. Every community has its own feel, its personality. The Kootenays are so innovative. We have people living off grid, there’s people inventing their own work, their own jobs, people inventing new technologies up on backroads in the middle of nowhere. It’s absolutely amazing how creative our region is, and I love how most of us take our inspiration from the mountains and rivers and lakes around us. I think we’re a resilient bunch, a creative bunch.”