Between 13-16% of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses are owned by women. But only 7% of women-owned businesses sell their products and services internationally.  

Based on research we’ve conducted, nearly 10% of women-led companies would like to expand into international markets. So what’s holding women back?

5 challenges for women exporters

1. Availability of policies and assistance programs 

Most policies and assistance programs equate innovation with technological advances. But many women entrepreneurs say they don’t feel welcome or included in mainstream networks, incubators and accelerators. Women tend to look at innovation more broadly.

2. It’s hard to ask for money

Women are less likely than men to request financing. Women-owned firms are also less likely to look at debt and equity as means of growth financing. Sometimes it comes down to self-doubt. Women are less likely to use debt to fuel their business. They often assume their loan application will be rejected and use their personal savings to finance business growth.

3. The misconception of risk 

Women tend to be more risk averse when it comes to investing. Risk-taking is important for entrepreneurial success. It’s something that many women have to push themselves to do. We need to get better at pushing away the fear of change and the unknown and just go for it. 

4. The myth that only certain kinds of firms grow internationally

There’s a common misconception that only big companies can be successful globally. This isn’t true. Even the smallest producer of niche goods can go global today. Entrepreneurs think they need to reinvent the wheel. Not necessarily! All it takes is a good export plan and access to the right resources. Luckily, Canada has plenty!

5. Steady growth is essential

Another mistake we often see is business owners taking on too much, too fast. They may find themselves taking on a contract that’s too large for them to meet the increased demand. That’s why a good export plan is so important.

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Canada’s podium-worthy women entrepreneurs

At EDC, we support podium-worthy women like Tara Bosch of Smart Sweets. Smart Sweets can be found in 900 stores across North America and is transitioning to an e-commerce platform to maintain their position as an industry leader. 

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StonzWear, owned by Lisa Will, makes high-quality children's outerwear with the goal of keeping kids outside longer, comfortable and protected. Stonz offers a variety of footwear, accessories, and apparel now sold in over 16 countries.

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Piccola Cucina, owned and operated by Pina and Anita Romolo make almond-based products, including six kinds of gluten-free macaroons, almond pie shells and almond meal. They currently export to the U.S but are looking to expand to Asia and the Middle East.

Support for women entrepreneurs

The federal government’s broader Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy is dedicated to helping women take their business global and drive growth here at home.

EDC has dedicated $250M to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy and has, so far this year, served over 57 women-owned and led companies with credit insurance, financing and financing guarantees - enough to support $37 million in export volume.

Women entrepreneurs also have the Trade Commissioner’s Business Women in International Trade program to support them, spearheaded by Josie L. Mousseau, who’s done amazing work for women entrepreneurs in trade. 

GroYourBiz is another great starting point for #women entrepreneurs who want to take their business to the next level. 

Final piece of advice for women exporters

Ask for help! There are many public and private organizations that recognize the value of empowering more Canadian women looking to become global entrepreneurs.  

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