Ottawa boosts funding to B.C. women entrepreneurs, business owners

In a series of funding announcements Wednesday (June 5), Ottawa dedicated about $16.1 million to support the growth of businesses owned and operated by female Canadian entrepreneurs.

The funding is broken up into multiple chunks, some going directly to women, and others going toward local organizations that support women wanting to take their businesses into new export markets.

Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion Mary Ng said the move – which also includes a $10-million boost to the existing $20-million Women Entrepreneurship Fund (WEF) – came as a result of an “oversubscription” in the program, which indicated to Ottawa that demand for this specific service was stronger than originally expected.

That demand, however, isn’t unwelcome, Ng added.

“I have a mandate from [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] to double the number of female entrepreneurs in Canada by 2025,” she said. “Right now, most of our businesses are small- or medium-sized businesses, and only 16% are women-owned or women-led… So when we saw all these applications that came in for the WEF, and in this volume – over 3,000 – what it said to me is we have an ability to fulfill that mandate.”

The funding includes $1.5 million in total funding distributed to 15 women-led companies in the Vancouver area, in a variety of sectors. In addition, Ottawa is contributing $4.6 million to three B.C. organizations through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy Ecosystem Fund to provide support.

The organizations getting the funding are newcomer settlement services group SUCCESS, entrepreneurship education group Groundswell and the Women’s Enterprise Centre.

A report from consultancy McKinsey & Co. showed that Canada can add $150 billion to its economy by 2026 simply by advancing women’s participation in all facets of the business world, and that has been one of Ottawa’s top economic priorities under Trudeau as it plans to spend $2 billion to reach its aforementioned goal of doubling the number of female entrepreneurs in Canada by 2025.

Research data shows that female entrepreneurs are less likely to have their pitches funded by investors than male counterparts, and Ng noted that many women who own businesses are still dealing with institutional glass ceilings in areas such as securing loans from financial institutions, due to a variety of factors.

Ng added that, despite efforts to change those realities, women continue to face more challenges in the corporate and business environments, and it is up to regulators and government officials to do what they can to counter those trends.

“Last year, The New York Times reported there are as many men named ‘James’ as there are women (5% each) among the chief executives of Fortune 500 companies,” Ng said. “There are many genuine barriers that women face in the business environment, and that’s why we have the investment strategy that we have.”

But the strategy also includes an export focus, Ng said. Given the trade hardships Canada is experiencing in China and the existence of a protectionist regime in Washington, more observers have been calling for Canadian companies to look to other markets – including those with free-trade deals with Canada – for potential salvation.

With the committed funding announced Wednesday, Ng said that she hopes B.C. female business owners will take the lead on that diversification charge.

“We have [free-trade] access to 50% of the world’s economy,” she said. “We have access to the European Union. We have access to Pacific Rim countries like Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. We’ve gotten the steel and aluminum tariffs with the U.S. lifted, and we have bilateral deals with markets like South Korea, Israel, Chile and the Ukraine. 

“The point is, we have preferential access to 1.5 billion customers, so there’s an opportunity to grow beyond North American borders… Many of these female-led companies are already thinking about the overseas market, but we are putting investment in place – building the capacity – to support them.”