Women en­trepreneurs’ in­no­va­tions need to be rec­og­nized

Policy - - Before The Bell | From The Editor - BY JAN­ICE MCDON­ALD AND CLARE BECK­TON

Women en­trepreneurs con­trib­ute bil­lions of dol­lars to the Cana­dian econ­omy and to the com­mu­ni­ties in which they live. Our re­cently re­leased na­tional study, Ev­ery­where, Ev­ery­day In­no­vat­ing – Women En­trepreneurs and In­no­va­tion ex­am­ined how and where women en­trepreneurs are in­no­vat­ing in Canada. Rid­ing in planes, trains and au­to­mo­biles, we crossed the coun­try to in­ter­view 146 en­trepreneurs in all sec­tors and re­gions rang­ing from star­tups to high growth com­pa­nies. We took in the beauty of the coun­try’s re­gional dif­fer­ences while hear­ing the ac­counts of risk-tak­ers who forgo pen­sions and se­cu­rity to chase their en­tre­pre­neur­ial goals.

The sto­ries we heard were pow­er­ful. Themes emerged. The con­stants were re­silience, pas­sion and in­ge­nu­ity as well as frus­tra­tion. Fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, in­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors and closed busi­ness net­works were typ­i­cal sources of frus­tra­tion. We heard that sex­ism is alive and well in many busi­ness en­coun­ters. As one en­tre­pre­neur said about sex­ism, “Get used to it. It doesn’t make it ok, but you need to get used to it.” Racism for Indige­nous women en­trepreneurs is an ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ence. De­spite these and other chal­lenges, women en­trepreneurs and Indige­nous women en­trepreneurs are in­no­vat­ing through­out their busi­nesses. As one en­tre­pre­neur told us, “If you don’t in­no­vate, you die.” An­other said, “In­no­va­tion is the im­ple­men­ta­tion of an idea, not just com­ing up with it.” rn­for­tu­nately, their in­no­va­tion of­ten goes un­rec­og­nized.

We tend to equate in­no­va­tion only with tech­nol­ogy. The OECD and Canada 2020 def­i­ni­tion of in­no­va­tion is broad and yet, be­cause in­no­va­tion is per­ceived as tech­no­log­i­cal, women en­trepreneurs’ sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to Canada’s in­no­va­tion is un­rec­og­nized. This means they are of­ten in­el­i­gi­ble for grants and other op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered to tech­nol­ogy-fo­cused com­pa­nies. This is a mis­take.

Bud­get 2018, with its fo­cus on equal­ity and growth, was the first com­plete gen­der bud­get in Canada. It in­cluded a strat­egy for women

en­trepreneurs. This is good news in­deed. We wel­come the 1.4 bil­lion given to BDC for loans to women en­trepreneurs. With ac­cess to cap­i­tal an on­go­ing chal­lenge, this money is an im­por­tant step in the right di­rec­tion. Fund­ing was also in­creased for re­gional de­vel­op­ment agencies to con­tinue to build and strengthen re­gional op­por­tu­ni­ties for women in recog­ni­tion of the re­gional dif­fer­ences that do ex­ist. This is help­ful as well.

Over­all, we’re en­cour­aged that many of our rec­om­men­da­tions helped to shape the women en­trepreneurs’ strat­egy in the bud­get. Women en­trepreneurs were heard and their needs ad­dressed. Now, there is a clear path­way laid out in the bud­get for ad­vanc­ing women en­trepreneurs. The next step is cru­cial; im­ple­men­ta­tion. For it to be suc­cess­ful, gov­ern­ment can­not do it alone. It needs part­ners who are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing a bet­ter way for­ward for women en­trepreneurs. Key stake­hold­ers in the en­tre­pre­neur­ial ecosys­tem need to work to­gether. This in­cludes fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. They play a crit­i­cal role in chang­ing their ap­proaches to bet­ter re­flect the needs of women en­trepreneurs. Women’s busi­ness net­works and the women them­selves all have a role to play. With all part­ners in the ecosys­tem work­ing to­gether, there is a greater like­li­hood of suc­cess. The time to make this hap­pen is now.

Jan­ice McDon­ald is the Founder The Bea­con Agency and Clare Beck­ton is Ex­ec­u­tive in Res­i­dence with Cen­tre for Re­search and Ed­u­ca­tion on Women and Work.

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