Some of the facts and figures surrounding women’s entrepreneurship in Canada are, to say the least, disconcerting.
Women make up just 16 per cent of Canadian entrepreneurs, have 50 per cent lower revenues than their male counterparts and, despite a growing number of female-owned businesses, accessing capital remains a constant challenge.
That’s not to suggest there hasn’t been tremendous progress in recent years, but it takes longer to reach full speed when starting from a nearly stationary position.
In an effort to speed things up and tap into the potential that’s out there for majority female-owned businesses, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) on Wednesday signed a pioneering partnership agreement with the Women’s Enterprise Organization of Canada (WEOC) and five of its member organizations, including the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization for Women Entrepreneurs (NLOWE).
“We feel that we can be a catalyst in the ecosystem in bringing together all those partners to help women-owned businesses,” says Laura Didyk, BDC’s vice-president, Alberta South, and national sponsor for the bank’s Women Entrepreneur Strategy.
“We can’t be everything to everybody, but through all of our partners we feel there’s a lot of services out there that can help them.”
The partnership utilizes the best support mechanisms that both sides have to offer. It leverages the BDC’s network, financing and management advice with WEOC and NLOWE’s innovative programs and training to support female entrepreneurs at all stages of business, from startup to expansion and everything in between.
“That gives us confidence that the women entrepreneurs … can come to us through the women’s enterprise centres and they have a more likely chance to secure financing from us and, quite frankly, from other financial institutions,” says Didyk.
As part of the 2018 federal budget, Ottawa earmarked $1.4 billion over three years in BDC financing for female entrepreneurs.
The struggle to secure financing has long been a challenge, and NLOWE CEO Paula Sheppard says the partnership will be key to opening the door to different financing options.
It also addresses the extenuating factors that contribute to the challenges of accessing financing. Some female entrepreneurs simply don’t seek out capital, some are undercapitalized and some don’t have the credit history or collateral to acquire financing. They also don’t tend to look at venture capital as an option.
“Those are the things that we’re really working towards and by taking these small steps collectively we’ll get there,” says Sheppard.
“There’s no way that one particular individual or group is going to be able to make the strides that need to be made. It’s a collective of everybody moving forward in one direction.”
In 2016, the BDC’s Women in Technology Fund had $50 million to work with, and that number grew to $70 million last fall, making it the largest venture capital fund in North America dedicated to investments in women-led technology firms.
As part of the 2018 budget, that fund grew to $200 million.
While the national average of majority women-owned tech companies is around five per cent, it’s lower in Newfoundland and Labrador. Sheppard acknowledges this province has a ways to go, but she is encouraged by what she sees ahead on the entrepreneurial landscape.
“Just in this past week I talked to two different women who are in technology — young women who are just getting out of university or still in university — looking at entrepreneurship as a career option in the tech field.”
In the coming months, BDC will finalize plans for a series of cross-Canada boot camps for promising female entrepreneurs and start expanding its online learning content.