Small Business Lessons: How Kelowna-based Village App can help entrepreneurs strike a work-life balance

For our Small Business issue, we asked 14 B.C. businesses how they're surviving in this economy. Here's one of them

Ashley Stone will never forget the week that started on September 17, 2018. That Monday, she got a call from her son’s school about difficulties he was having in class.

On Tuesday, her mom was diagnosed with cancer. Come Wednesday, Stone found out that she was pregnant with twins, Thursday was her birthday and Friday was her daughter’s last day being breastfed.

“I was like, What if there was such a simple way to ask for support where I don’t need to explain why I need help, I just need it, and you don’t have to explain why you can or can’t help?” she says. “It’s just this quick, to-the-point, get-people-showing-up-in-real-life situation.”

Even though Stone hails from a family of entrepreneurs, she never thought she’d become one. Compared to her brother, parents and grandparents, she was the “odd duck” who wanted to leave work at work. And she did for a while—Stone graduated from UBC Okanagan as a registered nurse in 2009 and has worked as one casually for the last 14 years.

Working “casually” as a public health nurse means picking up shifts when you can: “They send texts like, We need you at this time, on this day, at this location, can you help? And you answer yes or no,” she explains. That system, paired with her own need for community support, was the impetus behind The Village App, which Stone co-founded in 2020 with Karen Olsson, founding partner of Kelowna-based tech development company Atomic47 Labs. Olsson has over 25 years of experience building startups, and, according to Stone, was essential for the development of The Village App, which launched on Google Play and the App Store in 2021.

“It’s really like a community bulletin board,” CEO Stone maintains. “You don’t come to The Village App because you want to know the best restaurant in town or have recommendations for the best stroller. You come because you have something that you need, something you want to give, or you want to know what’s happening in your community.”

All requests are welcome, whether you’re looking for babysitters, volunteers or donations. “There are a lot of people who would help more if they knew what the community needed help with,” says Stone.

Since the app is free for individuals, it can also be a useful tool for small business owners who are struggling to balance life and work in a recession. Some nonprofit organizations and municipalities are already leveraging it for different needs: for example, a municipality in Alberta is using it to connect newcomers with 35 local nonprofits (including language learning services). Kelowna is considering employing it to help the homeless population access resources like cooling stations in summer or beds during winter.

Ultimately, the objective is to normalize asking for support. That’s something even Stone remembers struggling with: “Am I worthy of asking for help?

Is this even a big enough problem that I want to ask? All those things go along with the guilt of asking for help. But then you realize how many people want to show up for you. If you ask, people will show up, but you need to ask.”