While there is greater gender equality in the workforce than ever before, there is still a gender divide amongst top leaders and entrepreneurs. Less than 16% of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses are women-owned, yet the full and equal involvement of women in the economy is essential to Canada’s competitiveness. Only 10% of high growth firms are owned by women and only about 8% of women-owned businesses are actively exporting. To support economic empowerment, the Government of Canada recognizes that more needs to be done to support the growth of women-owned and women-led businesses. In consideration of this need, a major component of Budget 2018 was the development of the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES).
The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy is devoting nearly $2 billion to helping women grow their businesses through talent, expertise, and access to financing.
The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) is designed to support women entrepreneurs in their development of world-class organizations that can compete and win on a global level, create good middle-class jobs, and increase economic growth. Statistics note that women entrepreneurs are less like likely to seek debt and equity financing and when they do, are more likely to be rejected or receive less money. WES is intended to improve the full and equal participation of women in the Canadian economy as it is crucial to the future prosperity and competitiveness of the country.
Women Entrepreneurship Strategy: Key Action Areas
The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) supports female-led businesses that have the potential to grow significantly through greater access to capital, knowledge, and talent.
The strategy is helping the Canadian government achieve its goal of doubling the number of majority women-owned businesses by 2025.
WES has identified key action areas to address the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs as they journey through the stages of business development. These include:
- Helping Women-Led Business Grow;
- Enhancing Data and Knowledge;
- Increasing Access to Capital; and
- Improving Access to Federal Business Innovation Programming.
Helping Women-Led Businesses Grow
A key objective of the WES strategy is to support women entrepreneurs as they overcome barriers to business growth.
The government has allocated $105,000,000 to regional and national funding programs to support women entrepreneurs.
These programs include:
WES Ecosystem Fund
The WES Ecosystem Fund is an investment of up to $85,000,000 over five years to provide not-for-profit organizations with the resources to support women entrepreneurs. Examples of activities eligible for funding include: incubator and accelerator programs, initiatives to support women in traditionally underrepresented sectors, and networking, matchmaking, and mentorship opportunities.
Women Entrepreneurship Fund (WEF)
The Women Entrepreneurship Fund (WEF) is a Canadian government funding program designed to support the expansion of women-owned and led businesses. WEF encourages women entrepreneurs to scale their operations and reach new international markets where their innovative products and services can succeed. WEF reduces up to 80-90% of a business’ eligible project costs and can provide up to $100,000 in government grants for women entrepreneurs.
Individuals interested in WEF funding are encouraged to start planning their application now, as an additional intake is expected in early 2019.
Increasing Access to Capital
Women entrepreneurs are less like likely to seek debt and equity financing for their small and medium-sized businesses. Initiatives are being presented to make it easier for women-owned organizations to get access to capital. These include:
BDC Capital Women in Technology Fund (WIT)
Business Development Canada’s Capital Women in Technology Fund is investing $200,000,000 over the next five years to help bridge the gap of under-funded and under-represented women-led technology firms. BDC has also committed to increasing its lending to women-owned businesses to $1.4 billion.
Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative (VCCI)
The Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative was designed to improve financing opportunities for women and under-represented groups. A portion of its funds were dedicated to advancing diversity and increasing the participation of women in the venture capital ecosystem.
Enhancing Data and Knowledge
To support and deliver resources to women entrepreneurs, government bodies, and financial institutions, the federal government developed a one-stop source of knowledge, data, and best practices:.
Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH)
The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) generates and distributes useful resources that prepare women for entrepreneurship success; this includes identifying and removing stereotypes and other barriers that restrict women from leading world-class companies. It offers $8.6 million over three years to support a consortium of post-secondary institutions, research institutes, and incorporated non-profits that advance evidence-based research and disseminate its findings.
In September 2018, the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub accepted applications for one organization or consortium to lead the initiative. The chosen leader was Ryerson University.
Improving Access to Federal Business Innovation Programming
There will be restructurings in federal business innovation programming to focus on increasing the involvement of under-represented groups such as women entrepreneurs.
Additional Support for Women-Led Businesses
WES Expert Panel
The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy has established an Expert Panel on Women Entrepreneurship which will provide expert advice on solving gaps in services and support available to women entrepreneurs in Canada.
The panel will be co-chaired by Laura McGee and Danièle Henkel, who will be joined by representatives from the Business Development Bank of Canada, the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, the Canadian-US Council, and the Special Advisor, Small Business and Export Promotion.
BDC WE Talk Business Boot Camps
Business Development Canada (BDC) is coordinating a series of WE Talk Business Boot Camps, which provide advice on financial literacy, human resources, sales and marketing, and growth strategies.
Business Women in International Trade Program
The Trade Commissioner Service delivers a program called Business Women in International Trade which helps women-owned businesses explore potential international trade opportunities.
Women entrepreneurs interested in learning about upcoming programs to support their business’ growth, please register for Mentor Works Weekly Funding E-Newsletter.