Growth Untapped: Designing Funding with an Equity Lens

Women founders’ experiences with funding challenges at the high-growth phase are both problematic, yet unsurprising. As major drivers of job creation and employment, high-growth women-led firms need to secure the capital necessary to continue scaling their companies. Lack of access to capital has a ripple effect across the entire economy. These barriers to funding are symptomatic of systemic economic inequalities.

In Canada, the gender wage gap ranges from 95 cents to 70 cents, and only 4 per cent of firms have a woman chief executive officer (CEO). Earnings inequality is even more stark for those in equity-seeking populations: women of colour, especially first-generation immigrants, earn on average $5,000 less than white women and $7,000 less than men of colour.

Acknowledging and fostering discourse about intersectional gender inequality in the economy brings us part of the way toward making change. But if talk is not met with action, funding barriers and gender discrimination will persist. Funding entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds is ethically important and critical for fostering innovation. The success of entrepreneurs from diverse and intersecting identities—for example related to race, ethnicity, class, disability, sexual orientation, gender, and geography—can generate new ideas about products, services, and practices while also exposing those in the funding ecosystem to new and creative ways of meeting the needs of underserved markets. 

It is for these reasons that the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) and the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) have collaborated on an action-oriented initiative for the funding ecosystem. Throughout the first quarter of 2021, the project team convened an advisory panel, including funding experts and entrepreneurs, to develop a practical, evidence-based toolkit for those within the funding ecosystem. The goal was to build a toolkit of best practices and concrete tips on how entrepreneurial funders— including government organizations, financial institutions, venture capitalists, and angel investors—can integrate an intersectional gender lens when funding entrepreneurs. During the workshops, we shared research, discussed how best to translate data into action, and collaboratively iterated drafts of the toolkit, soliciting and integrating feedback. 

The toolkit was subsequently workshopped with its intended audience—entrepreneurial funders—in order to surface issues and concerns. The final result is Growth Untapped: Designing Funding with an Equity Lens. This toolkit intends to provide actionable examples of changes that funders can make to potentially reduce biases and increase capital access for equity-seeking groups including, but not limited to, Black women; First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women; women of colour; trans women; and gender-fluid and non-binary entrepreneurs. Such changes would in turn increase economic growth and scale innovations. 

How to cite

de Laat, K., Montague, A., & Grenaway, C. (2021). Growth untapped: Designing funding with an equity lens. Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub. 

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