June 4th, 2019 was indeed a great day at SFU VentureLabs and for the female entrepreneur ecosystem across Canada.
Overall, a good day.
From the moment people started arriving at Harbour Center in Vancouver at 7:30am, the energy in the room was palpable. Close to 180 people enjoyed the light in the sun-filled room at VentureLabs, ranked as the top North American accelerator in 2017 by UBI Global, and home to more than 40 startup technology companies.
The crowd was geared for a jam-packed program featuring a special announcement by the Honorable Mary Ng (Minister of Small Business and Export Promotions), the launch of the BC Regional Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, and an information-packed panel discussion with women who champion female entrepreneurship locally and nationally.
Every speaker and panelist – from Minister Ng to SFU’s Dr. Joy Johnson – demurred when the emcee tried to give their formal introduction and bio. It was as if everyone was more motivated to “get to the really good stuff.” Loved it. Every speaker seemed to shine with, “Yeah, I’m pretty confident in my awesomeness; this event is not about me personally; I’m here to share, learn, and see how we all can contribute to growing successful female-led enterprises.”
To be clear: all of the women on stage on Tuesday ARE legit powerhouses—all different skills, different life and work experiences, and all with advanced education. Yet each displayed a universal commitment to advancing not only diversity in entrepreneurship, but the larger project of gender equality. My credentials? Nah. Instead, let’s see what’s going to happen next.
While the Prime Minister was across the city at Women Deliver 2019 conference announcing $1.4B annually in women and children’s health, including sexual and reproductive rights, Minister Ng was at VentureLabs announcing a $16.1 million investment (as part of a broader previously announced $2B investment) to support women entrepreneurs in Vancouver and other communities across Canada. Many of the Vancouver recipients were present, and let me tell you, there is not a more fun room to be in than one where a bunch of serious, committed people with serious, important causes have just received funding for their respective organizations. Cheers, grins, high-fives, applause, hugs, selfies, photo ops (and then naturally a rush back to the cheese table, because, as we all know, good celebrations become great with plenty of cheese).
- In BC, the Women’s Enterprise Centre (WEC) received up to $2.7M to help improve the competitiveness of diverse women entrepreneurs by enhancing capacity for export readiness, finance, technology, and business and networking skills.
- S.U.C.C.E.S.S received up to $1.5M to deliver the immigrant entrepreneurship program in BC.
- Groundswell Education Society received $400K to deliver social entrepreneurship education.
Two companies based out of VentureLabs–A&K Robotics (cofounded by COO Jessica Yip), and Curatio (founded by CEO Lynda Brown Ganzert)–also received funding from the Women Entrepreneurship Fund to help them grow. If you’ve ever been part of a start-up, you’ll know that a cash infusion of $100K is significant; it can help you access new markets, or apply for patents to protect your innovation, fund your export strategy, or launch your company publicly.
In all, 18 BC organizations and companies received funding yesterday. Very cool. Also, in response to the high volume of funding applicants (3000+), Minister Ng also committed an additional $10 million to bolster the fund, including $2.5 million dedicated to proposals submitted by Indigenous women.
Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH)
Erin Roach introduced the Women Entrepreneurship Hub (WEKH), an initiative led by the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University in partnership with Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management and Brookfield Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to address the needs of diverse women entrepreneurs across regions and across sectors.
As Executive Director of the Diversity Institute, Erin reminded us of the sobering reality that that (1) only 16% of SMEs are owned by women, (2) that women entrepreneurs are less likely to export, and (3) women entrepreneurs make, on average, 58% less than their male colleagues.
With the support of the Government of Canada, WEKH will spread its expertise from coast to coast, enabling service providers, academics, government, and industry to enhance their support for women entrepreneurs. WEKH is spearheading a national network and accessible digital platform for sharing research, resources and best practices which will enhance the capacity of women entrepreneurs and the organizations who serve them across regions and sectors. There are nine regional hubs and a network of 75+ partners. SFU VentureLabs is proud to be the BC regional hub for WEKH.
Minister Ng led a lively panel session with four leaders on how to drive women’s entrepreneurship and economic potential from coast to coast.
- Paulina Cameron, CEO, Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (with her 2-week old baby on hand to help facilitate discussion)
- Laurel Douglas, CEO, Women’s Enterprise Centre (still euphoric after the minutes-earlier announcement of $2.7M in funding for WEC)
- Vicki Saunders, Founder of #radicalgenerosity and SheEO (champion story-teller and also a national recipient of an earlier-announced WES funding of $2.5M for SheEO)
- Jessica Yip, Co-Founder and COO, A&K Robotics
The conversations were serious but interspersed with spontaneous laughter. A few highlights:
- “Buy from women, invest in women, write about women, tweet about women, support women: Leave no woman behind.”
- “Let’s focus on entrepreneurship earlier in schooling. We’ve got to be reaching girls in middle and high school.”
- “We need to increase the push to help women-led businesses export outside of Canada.”
- “Public sector and private sector. Keep writing those cheques. Capital speaks.”
- “The eco-system approach is critical. We need systems change, and we’re on our way.”
- “Entrepreneurship can look different for everyone.”
- “Let’s celebrate BC’s unique magic [as a ‘let’s work together’ region that supports diversity in entrepreneurship] and ripple that magic out nationally.”
All of that in just 94 minutes. Yes, women get stuff done. Let’s ensure we keep growing the ecosystem that continues this powerful work.
I sure hope tomorrow is as great. And I hope there’s some cheese left.
Alison Berg is a contributing writer at VentureLabs. She runs West10 Communications and has twenty years of experience in strategic marketing for tech startups. She loves to connect with interesting people and learn how their businesses thrive. When she’s not doing “marketing stuff,” she’s starting businesses, volunteering in her community, watching Netflix, and hanging out with her 2 daughters.