If She Builds It ... The chal­lenges fac­ing fe­male en­trepreneurs

and nur­tures it and works it, will cus­tomers come? Kim Honey talks to fe­male en­trepreneurs and ex­plores the chal­leng­ing busi­ness and eco­nomic land­scape and so­lu­tions for suc­cess

ZOOMER Magazine - - CON­TENTS MARCH 2018 -

CINDY GOR­DON has a mil­lion ideas, but delv­ing into why some sales­peo­ple out­per­form oth­ers led her to found SalesChoice, an an­a­lyt­ics com­pany that re­lies on ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and data science to add to a com­pany’s bot­tom line.

“Be­fore a sales pro­fes­sional does any­thing, we can tell them if they’re go­ing to win or lose, sci­en­tif­i­cally,” says Gor­don, who won Startup Canada’s Se­nior En­tre­pre­neur Award in 2017.

She founded the pri­vately held com­pany in 2011 while in her early 50s and spent four years on re­search and de­vel­op­ment, mov­ing through al­pha and beta test­ing to the point where they have ap­plied for a patent and are work­ing with cus­tomers.

Gor­don doesn’t give a thought to her age, say­ing she’s just happy to be at the ta­ble with her peers. “If there’s a bias, I am mov­ing past it so fast,” she says. “Maybe doors are be­ing shut, and I’m not think­ing about it. I’m just mov­ing on to the next door.”

Baby boomers are poised to make a mas­sive con­tri­bu­tion to Canada’s econ­omy through the en­tre­pre­neur­ial ecosys­tem be­cause, as Gor­don says, they’re re­tir­ing in droves, and all those worka­holic Type A’s are go­ing to be bored. Boomers are train­ing to serve on boards, they’re start­ing non-prof­its and they’re set­ting up new com­pa­nies.

“Now at least you have pos­si­bil­i­ties in your 50s and 60s,” she says. “If you wanted to do this 50 years ago, peo­ple would won­der what planet you were from.”

As for gen­der bias, like many fe­male en­trepreneurs in­ter­viewed

for this se­ries, Gor­don hasn’t felt any dis­crim­i­na­tion. Though there has been some Cana­dian re­search on the dif­fer­ences be­tween men and women en­trepreneurs, there is a dearth of data on older en­trepreneurs and even less on ex­pe­ri­enced women en­trepreneurs. That in­vis­i­bil­ity is due, in no small part, to ageist stereo­types, where nextgen en­trepreneurs are widely en­vi­sioned as tech ge­niuses in hood­ies, madly cod­ing away in some univer­sity dorm room.

That is re­flected in a lack of pro- grams, men­tor­ship and fi­nan­cial sup­port for older en­trepreneurs, but Wendy May­hew, CEO of the Ot­tawabased com­pany Busi­ness Launch So­lu­tions, is try­ing to change that.

After re­search­ing en­trepreneur­ship as an en­core ca­reer – one cho­sen later in life more for per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion than ne­ces­sity – May­hew also started Wise Se­niors in Busi­ness two years ago, which of­fers re­sources for ex­pe­ri­enced en­trepreneurs such as speak­ing en­gage­ments, work­shops, pod­casts and videos. In 2017, she put out a call for ap­pli­ca­tions for the first Wise 50 Over 50 awards and got nearly 100 re­sponses. May­hew said 38 per cent came from women, 56 per cent came from men and the rest were a mix of part­ner­ships. Like Gor­don, May­hew hasn’t given much thought to gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion as a 67-year-old woman en­tre­pre­neur.

“There have been a lot of times I’ve been turned down for stuff, and is it be­cause I’m a woman or is it my per­son­al­ity, be­cause I am pretty out­go­ing?” she won­ders. “Maybe it is that old ‘be­cause I’m a woman’ thing, so I’ve re­ally started look­ing at it dif­fer­ently now.”

We know women en­trepreneurs are on Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s radar after he an­nounced the cre­ation of a Canada-United States Coun­cil for Ad­vance­ment of Women En­trepreneurs and Busi­ness Lead­ers fol­low­ing his first meet­ing with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Wash­ing­ton in Fe­bru­ary 2017. And the same year the prime min­is­ter spawned an in­ter­net meme – “be­cause it’s 2015” – when he ap­pointed a cab­i­net that was 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Ex­pert Panel on Cham­pi­oning and Men­tor­ship for Women’s En­trepreneurs pro­duced a 15-page re­port con­tain­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on how to sup­port and en­cour­age women busi­ness own­ers. Then noth­ing hap­pened. Panel chair­woman, su­per en­tre­pre­neur and Dragon’s Den judge Ar­lene Dick­in­son dis­missed the whole ex­er­cise as “a dis­ap­point­ing waste of time” in an es­say for Maclean’s mag­a­zine and an­nounced she had started a non-profit ac­cel­er­a­tor in Calgary fo­cused on launch­ing busi­nesses in con­sumer-pack­aged goods, a sec­tor tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nated by women en­trepreneurs.

Women are tak­ing it into their own hands, with pro­grams like non­profit Al­berta Women En­trepreneurs mak­ing loans and of­fer­ing ad­vice to small start-ups, as well as SheEO, started by Vicki Saun­ders

of Bri­tish Columbia cre­at­ing a self­per­pet­u­at­ing fund that pro­vides mem­bers with in­ter­est-free loans and a ready-made net­work of like­minded women.

The land­scape has to change fast be­cause women en­trepreneurs in Canada had the high­est rate of early-stage ac­tiv­ity (busi­nesses less than 3.5 years old) in 2016 com­pared with 16 other coun­tries, in­clud­ing the U.S. and Ger­many. The lat­est Global En­trepreneur­ship Mon­i­tor Canada Re­port on Women’s En­trepreneur­ship shows 13.3 per cent of Cana­dian women are en­gaged in early-stage busi­ness, up from 10 per cent in 2014. By com­par­i­son, 20 per cent of men ran early-stage busi­nesses in 2016, a ra­tio of three men for ev­ery two women. The new data, pub­lished in De­cem­ber 2017, also puts Canada fifth glob­ally for es­tab­lished busi­ness own­er­ship by women at 6.6 per cent, down slightly from 2014.

The only age-re­lated sta­tis­tics in the re­port re­veal early-stage busi­nesses were dom­i­nated by women aged 25 to 44, while the big­gest bulge on the graph of busi­nesses more than 3.5 years old was in the 55- to 64-year-old age group.

“That makes sense,” says Karen Hughes, au­thor of the re­port and a Univer­sity of Al­berta pro­fes­sor who stud­ies en­trepreneur­ship and women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the labour force. “These are busi­nesses that have longevity; they’ve started them years ago and they’re es­tab­lished.”

As for what mo­ti­vates older women en­trepreneurs to go into busi­ness, Hughes says the re­port probed at­ti­tudes to­ward en­trepreneuri­al­ism, which were highly pos­i­tive in both men and women and showed that just over 80 per cent of early-stage en­trepreneurs started a busi­ness out of op­por­tu­nity rather than ne­ces­sity re­gard­less of gen­der, but it didn’t drill down on dif­fer­ences be­tween age brack­ets. “It’s an area ripe for ex­plo­ration,” she agrees.

who has co-founded four busi­ness ven­tures in Toronto, Europe and Sil­i­con Val­ley be­fore start­ing SheEO five years ago at age 50. “Some­thing hap­pens when you turn 50. You stop car­ing about try­ing to fit in and be the norm be­cause we’re not the norm.”

Saun­ders says the SheEO net- work has un­cov­ered some “com­pletely missed op­por­tu­ni­ties” in the form of rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing com­pa­nies that pay back debt on time. “No one is pay­ing at­ten­tion. Ev­ery­one is chas­ing a uni­corn,” she says, re­fer­ring to the term used to de­scribe a startup com­pany val­ued over $1 bil­lion.

Women-led busi­nesses get to prof­itabil­ity quicker and are much more ef­fi­cient with their cap­i­tal be­cause they are used to go­ing with­out and do­ing more with less. “We tend to run rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing busi­nesses be­cause we can’t get funded,” Saun­ders says.

And when it comes to ex­pe­ri­enced women en­trepreneurs, she agrees that so­ci­ety is deeply ageist, and that is re­flected in gov­ern­ment pro­grams that sup­port eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“As soon as you’re 39, you’re done, and if you’re a woman, you’re in­vis­i­ble when you hit your 50s,” Saun­ders says. “There’s noth­ing out there, and it’s a mas­sive, mas­sive mar­ket if you look at this ag­ing pop­u­la­tion who have cap­i­tal, who have ideas and cre­ativ­ity. And it’s com­pletely un­tapped.”

Ruth Klah­sen

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