Women Entrepreneurship Fund: Small Business Grants for Women Leaders

Canadian women often face financial barriers as they start and expand businesses. While there are many factors that have led to women owning fewer than 16% of businesses in Canada, access to financial resources is undoubtedly one of the greatest hurdles to overcome. Although there is greater gender equality in the workforce now than ever before, there is still a gender divide among top leaders and entrepreneurs. To support economic empowerment, more needs to be done to support the startup and growth of women-owned and women-led businesses.

Fortunately, the Women Entrepreneurship Fund (WEF) recently launched to address this barrier and help more female entrepreneurs scale their operations. The program provides non-repayable grant funding directly aimed at women-owned or led businesses so that they can pursue current growth opportunities, both domestically and abroad. Capacity improvements and export expansion projects are the primary focus of projects considered through WEF.

WEF reduces up to 80-90% of a business’ eligible project costs and can provide up to $100,000 in small business grants for women.

To apply for the Women Entrepreneurship Fund, businesses must develop and submit an application package that includes a completed eligibility checklist and other details specific to the proposed project. This often includes detailed financial analyses and benefit/risk assessments associated with the proposed project. The program accepts applications during defined intake periods; all applicants must submit while the program is open.

What is the Women Entrepreneurship Fund?

The Women Entrepreneurship Fund (WEF) is a Canadian government funding program designed to support the expansion of women-owned and led businesses. As a component of Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, WEF encourages women entrepreneurs to scale their operations and reach new international markets where their innovative products and services can succeed. WEF is not a startup funding program and does not provide grants to early-stage businesses, but rather seeks mature female-led businesses that have the potential to grow significantly through greater access to capital.

WEF applicants may receive up to 80% of eligible project costs to a maximum $100,000 in non-repayable grants. “Priority applicants” may even receive up to 90% of project expenses.

Projects funded through WEF can include a variety of initiatives, such as:

  • Pursuit of Export Market Opportunities: International marketing strategy, supply chain integration, online presence/website development, promotions, and business advisory services; and
  • Scale-up, Expansion, and Growth: Product development and/or improvement, process improvements, technology improvements, improvements to facility equipment, inventory management, and value stream mapping.

Women Entrepreneurs Eligible for WEF Expansion Grants

To qualify for the Women Entrepreneurship Fund, applicants must:

  • Be a Canadian for-profit business;
  • Be women-owned (more than 50%) or women-led (long-term control and management, equity stake, and active role in both strategic and day-to-day decision making);
  • Have fewer than 500 employees; and
  • Have a minimum two years in operation

Priority Applicants

WEF funding priority is given to the following groups of female entrepreneurs. While other women entrepreneurs may still apply, finding will be mainly allocated to:

  • Diverse women entrepreneurs (including women with disabilities, women in rural or remote regions, recent immigrants, visible minority women, and Indigenous women);
  • Businesses with products or services in one of the Economic Strategy Table sectors (including advanced manufacturing, agri-food, health and biosciences, clean technology, digital industries, and clean natural resources); and
  • Applicants seeking export market opportunities.

Projects Eligible for Women Entrepreneurship Fund Grants

The Women Entrepreneurship Fund requires that proposed projects:

  • Are up to 12 months in duration;
  • Focus on growth strategy development and execution;
  • Provide economic impacts (such as job creation, productivity improvements, revenue growth, etc.); and
  • Use a portion of funding to access advisory services that demonstrate capacity and ensure long-term success.

How to Apply for the Women Entrepreneurship Fund

To get started with the Women Entrepreneurship Fund application process, eligible women-owned or led businesses must develop a comprehensive application package that confirms eligibility and provides greater perspective on the project’s expected outcomes. Companies may submit an application during an open intake period, which typically remains open for one month before closing to assess the applications received during that time.

While WEF’s first application intake period closed November 15, another intake is expected in early 2019. Start planning your application now to be ready when it opens.

Businesses may only submit one application for funding consideration; if you applied during a previous intake period then it is very unlikely a future application will receive approval. If this is the case for your business, there are other business expansion funding programs available.

To discuss your eligibility for the Women Entrepreneurship Fund and learn how to optimize the funding application process, please contact Mentor Works.

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Written by

Jeff Shepherd holds an Honours Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Guelph. He is passionate about Canadian business, economics, and politics. As Marketing Coordinator for Mentor Works, Jeff educates business leaders about proactive funding strategies.

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