Women’s Entrepreneurship Forum

Wendy Cukier sharing research insights on the State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada

Women entrepreneurs face systemic barriers to starting and growing their businesses. To share information on organizations that help women entrepreneurs succeed and share success stories from women who have accessed support, Enterprise Toronto hosted a Women’s Entrepreneurship Forum. 

Wendy Cukier, Diversity Institute founder and Academic Director of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub participated in the first session of the forum with a focus on policy issues and systemic barriers faced by women entrepreneurs. Cukier shared research insights on the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs face in the innovation ecosystem and offered recommendations for moving the agenda forward.

Definitions matter: only 15% of small and medium enterprises or SMEs are majority owned by women, about 110,000 companies. But almost 40% of self employed Canadians are women (more than 1 million) Women entrepreneurs are less likely to incorporate their business and are more likely to be in services and we need to ensure polices and services support them. 

These differences became more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which were felt most acutely by Black and other diverse women entrepreneurs. Black entrepreneurs were more impacted by the pandemic in all aspects of their work – they were less likely to be able to access support, less likely to have the capacity to take on more debt, and more likely to worry about permanent closure according to research from the Black Business Professional Association. These challenges are compounded for Black women entrepreneurs, who face additional burdens of childcare, are more likely to be in the sectors that were hardest-hit by the pandemic, and who face additional barriers to financing.

The word “entrepreneur” tends to be associated with men in technology. Yet entrepreneurs operate across sectors – women are more likely to be in services, in arts and culture, in sustainable and social ventures. For example, a recent study of applications to the  BMO Celebrating Women Grant program showed women entrepreneurs often combine sustainable development goals with economic goals in developing their businesses. To challenge entrepreneurship stereotypes and celebrate the success of women entrepreneurs, WEKH launched the See it. Be it. Database, featuring over 1000 profiles of successful women entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds, sectors, experiences and regions across Canada. 

Women need to see successful women entrepreneurs so they can dare become one. 

Women also need better access to financing. Men are six times more likely to receive venture capital funding – in part because of bias as well as structural issues. While most entrepreneurs start their businesses with $5000 or less, it remains difficult to access seed funding.

Cukier noted that complex problems require complex solutions, requiring buy-in from actors across the entire innovation ecosystem. Government policy, universities, incubators and accelerators, financial institutions and venture capital, and customers each have a role to play to create a more inclusive environment in which to grow women’s businesses. 

Other speakers in the opening session included:

  • Susana Vaz, Manager Business Growth Services, Economic Development and Culture Division
  • Cheryl Blackman, General Manager (A), Economic Development and Culture Division