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Canadian funding and support for women entrepreneurs


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In Canada, only 10 per cent of high-growth businesses and less than 16 per cent of all small and medium-sized businesses are owned, operated or controlled by women.

While the gap on gender inequality has decreased marginally in the past decades across Canada, it’s crucial to understand that systemic and critical barriers still exist, especially among certain industries such as manufacturing and STEM sectors.

More so, the newly announced Federal Budget 2021 has highlighted statistics that prove the COVID-19 pandemic has turned back the clock on women entrepreneurship due to support programs indirectly excluding women, lack of access to resources and STEM businesses being prioritized. In light of this, many women entrepreneurs are facing numerous challenges with keeping their staff onboard, continuing operations and meeting financial goals.

Despite these new and ongoing challenges, women entrepreneurs remain one of the fastest-growing business segments in Canada. To continue this accelerated growth, women entrepreneurs must remain competitive.

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This article will outline several financial funding and support options available across Canada that are developed specifically to assist women in starting, planning and building a successful small business.

Canadian federal support for women entrepreneurs

Canadian government funding options can help Canadian women-owned or women-led businesses access grants and loans to sustain and grow their operations, diversify markets, expand globally and provide the proper hiring and training needed to build a strong workforce in a competitive business landscape.

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC): supporting women in tech and business

It’s no doubt that women face uniquely distinct challenges when starting and running a business such as lack of mentorship, difficulty accessing funding and the unconscious barriers that still exist between men and women today. Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) has made a commitment to support the growth and success of women-owned and women-led businesses at every stage of their growth.

BDC’s Women in Technology Venture Fund is one of the world’s largest venture capital funds dedicated to investing in women-led technology companies and helping to build a robust ecosystem to support women entrepreneurs in tech. The program offers direct and indirect investments in the form of grants and loans, as well as a multitude of development options.

Other funding and support options offered by BDC include:

  • Direct investment loans with a total lending target of $1.4 billion by 2021 for majority women-owned businesses.
  • A supplier diversity program for clients and certified women-owned businesses.
  • A variety of free, online learning tools to help women entrepreneurs develop the skills they need to succeed.
  • Partnerships with organizations that support women at the regional, national and international levels.

Export Development Canada (EDC): helping women in trade

Export Development Canada (EDC) is committed to helping Canadian women-owned and women-led businesses to succeed on the global stage by providing the financial solutions and international insights they need to develop their business with confidence.

Funding and support options offered by EDC include:

  • Credit insurance that makes it safer to do business overseas.
  • Financing and working capital solutions that help you pursue new opportunities.
  • Equity growth capital through EDC’s $100-million Women in Trade Investment Program.
  • Free access to EDC’s expert advice and latest COVID-19 Business Recovery and Resiliency Guide.
  • Exclusive guides, webinars, and success stories with insights and practical advice on international trade.

Whether a women entrepreneur or women-led business has just started exploring global business expansion, or they’re already conducting trade outside of Canada, EDC provides funding and support opportunities for women to advance into new markets.

Futurpreneur Canada: supporting youth entrepreneurs

Futurpreneur Canada is a non-profit organization that provides finance solutions and support in the form of mentoring resources to ambitious business owners, including women entrepreneurs, aged 18-39. Since 1996, they have helped more than 13,400 young Canadian entrepreneurs in successfully discovering and launching their businesses. With over 300 partners in the Canadian community, an average of five jobs is created with every business that works with Futurpreneur.

Futurpreneur Canada can help women-led and women-owned business entrepreneurs with the following:

  • Starting, expanding, or growing a small business located in Canada.
  • Accessing up to $60,000 in loans for recovery, support, and growth.
  • Mentorship opportunities depending on your industry, sector, and preference.
  • How-to guides and countless resources with templates about how to build a successful business plan and strategy.
  • Networking events with other entrepreneurs facing similar challenges.

Canadian federal grants for women-led businesses

While not specifically targeted at helping only women-led and women-owned businesses, the following two programs provide support for all types of Canadian businesses to scale-up their productivity, expand into new global markets and access hiring grants to bring on new and talented team members. Women entrepreneurs, especially women-owned businesses, should consider tapping into these funding programs to save on critical operational costs.

CanExport Grants: assisting with global market expansion

The CanExport funding program provides Canadian government grants to support export marketing projects including participation in trade shows and government-led trade missions. By accessing additional funding for these types of activities, businesses can de-risk export market evaluation and development, ultimately helping to accelerate international growth. Eligible applicants can access funding for up to 75 per cent of project costs to a maximum $75,000 grant per project.

Canada Job Grant (CJG): for hiring and training employees

Eligible women-led or women-owned businesses can access up to 50-100 per cent to a maximum of $15,000 in grants per trainee for third-party employee training.

Please note that the Canada Job Grant (CJG) maintains a provincial stream for each province and territory, except for Quebec, and each individual stream has varying funding amounts and eligibility criteria.

It is also worth noting that Canada’s Federal Budget 2021 has promised an investment of up to $146.9 million over four years, starting in 2021-22, to strengthen the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. The funding will support women entrepreneurs with greater access to financing, mentorship, training, and further access to the Women Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Fund and the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.

Additionally, although the program is currently closed for intake of applications, it is worth mentioning the Women Entrepreneurship Fund (WEF). It is a government grant program that exists to exclusively support female-led or owned businesses that are investing in expansion and growth projects. Through the WEF program, women entrepreneurs may receive grants of up to $100,000 to plan and execute a growth strategy for strategic initiatives such as hiring new staff members. No future intakes have yet been announced, but the program is due to reopen sometime this year.

Alena Barreca is a marketing coordinator at Mentor Works, a business support organization specializing in Canadian government funding. She helps business owners by creating educational awareness content about government funding.