Today, almost half of all small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada are either partially or entirely owned by women. That’s an impressive number. Unfortunately, companies owned by women in this same category represent only 11% of all exporters. Not so impressive. That’s a huge gap and it’s critical that it gets filled, for the simple reason that exporting companies do far better than those who don’t. They make more money, are more productive, invest in more research and development and are more innovative. That’s a whole lot of mores. It stands to reason that if we want more women entrepreneurs to export, then we’re going to have to do more to get them to that point.
Overcoming the twin hurdles of financing and networking
Studies suggest that there are two fundamental obstacles to women entrepreneurs reaching their full international potential. Firstly, women are often reticent to use financial tools in a proactive way to fuel their growth. Secondly, they’re less likely to have developed the critical business networks needed to help build their exposure to partners and customers. BDC recognizes the unique challenges women entrepreneurs face. One of our priorities is to be a leader in propelling the growth and success of women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses by providing the capital, tools and resources they need to succeed.
To provide the financial backing needed for growth, we’ve earmarked $1.4 billion for women-owned businesses over the next three years to be deployed in a number of ways. We offer loans of up to $100,000 when a quick infusion of cash is required. Business owners can apply online and approvals typically happen within 48 hours. When a more tailored approach is required to do something like purchase equipment, buy a business, or scale operations, we also provide loans of more than $100,000. In addition, we are committed to building gender diversity in the technology and venture capital sectors through our Women in Technology Venture Fund. This $200-million fund is one of the largest in the world investing solely in women-led tech companies and already has an impressive portfolio.
But financial support requires more than just money, which is why we’ve developed a number of tools and resources to support women entrepreneurs. For starters, we offer a free online financial literacy course. It covers everything from cash-flow management, to financial reports, performance monitoring, even how to raise capital. We publish a full range of articles that address the challenges faced when operating and growing businesses. The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit is like a mini-portal that links to countless assessment and benchmarking tools, free and low-cost business software solutions, templates, business guides and more.
Networking support: you’re not alone and neither are we
BDC is just one of many organizations that work together to provide women entrepreneurs with nurturing forums in which to grow. Take the time to familiarize yourself with these groups, as they truly have the capacity to transform your business. Never underestimate the power of many: When you plug your raw energy into the right networks, the result is like multiplying your impact a 100-fold.
- Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) The national association of women’s enterprise organizations providing resources, programs and services to women business owners in Canada.
- Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) Part of the Trade Commissioner Service, BWIT helps women-owned businesses expand into global markets. They lead women-focused trade missions like the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council‘s (WBENC) annual National Conference and Business Fair, and spearhead other exporting initiatives as well.
- Women Business Enterprises Canada (WBE Canada) A mere 5% of corporate and government contracts are awarded to women-owned businesses. WBE Canada’s goal is to change that by helping women-owned businesses (WBEs) acquire access to corporate and public procurement.
- WEConnect International Global network and certification body that connects women-owned businesses to qualified buyers around the world. WEConnect International is also the exclusive global partner of WBENC in the U.S.
- Both organizations allow women-led businesses (51% owned, as well as, managed and controlled by one or more women) to access a network that connects them to qualified buyers around the world.
- Find out more about Supplier Diversity programs and how you can do business with Fortune 500 companies and large multinationals.
- Le Réseau des Femmes d’affaires du Québec (RFAQ) Dedicated to the economic development of women-owned businesses in Quebec, RFAQ provides their members with advice and assistance preparing for trade missions like the WBENC annual conference, and other events focused on the inclusion of women-led businesses as part of supply chains.
- Export Development Canada (EDC) While exporting is profitable, it’s not without risk. EDC helps protect businesses with risk management, financing, and working capital solutions. They also provide an array of free international market intelligence.
Boot camps for your business bottom line
BDC’s WE Talk Business Boot Camps were designed to give your business a whole-body workout. Dedicated to established, growth-oriented women entrepreneurs, our free, full-day sessions provide practical advice on leadership, growth strategies, financial literacy, sales and marketing, as well as human resources. We understand that as entrepreneurs, you’re likely so involved in your company’s day-to-day operations, you’re too busy to look for new avenues of growth. There’s nothing quite like getting out of your own comfort zone and into a dynamic networking environment, which is what these boot camps provide.
In the last year, we hosted 15 boot camps coast-to-coast. Each venue brought together upwards of 50-plus women business owners, who spent the day learning through seminars and group-building activities. Watching the dynamic of these business women learning and working together is nothing short of amazing. You can literally see the transformations take place: They walk in with individual drive; they walk out with a collective vision.
Apart from the obvious benefit of learning modules, they discover that they’re not alone, that others have been in their shoes, walked down the same roads, and sometimes even stumbled on similar rough patches. Most importantly, they learn that they don’t have to solve all of their problems on their own; that in fact, they can overcome their challenges more quickly and thoroughly when working within a group. In the end, they don’t just leave with knowledge; they leave with a new network. We’ve created LinkedIn groups for each boot camp we’ve hosted and just about everyone who’s attended has stayed connected within their own group.
There are countless inspirational success stories that flow from these events, but one that really sticks out is Angela Nagy, president and CEO of GreenStep Solutions. Angela actually flew from Kelowna to Vancouver to be part of one of our boot camps. While there, she was able to access meaningful content and cultivate even more meaningful connections. She left with a renewed sense of confidence, one that results from realizing that she’s not alone, and that she could now reach out to others as she continues to take her own steps forward.
Never underestimate your own power, but more importantly, the business imperative that there’s strength in numbers.