November is Financial Literacy Month and November 16 is National Entrepreneur Day in Quebec, all of which makes the launch of the report from the Canadian Task Force on Women's Business Growth last week so timely.
The report is an accumulation of work done by the Task Force over the past two years during which roundtables were held across Canada with women business owners to discuss women's entrepreneurship. Whether it was Vancouver, Halifax, or Toronto, the feedback was the same.
What did we learn? There are over 900,000 women entrepreneurs in Canada, and while women are launching businesses at a faster rate than men, in the long term their businesses do not grow as fast as their male counterparts, which led us to ask why?
There are several reasons -- lack of financial and technology literacy, risk aversion and difficulty in accessing capital.
Women business owners are less likely to seek equity capital because they don't understand the options, terms or jargon. Their lack of confidence and business training therefore can hold them back. We also learned that women struggle with how to identify, select and adopt technology, and few women venture into this male-dominated sector.
And contrary to the opinion of some, this isn't a gender issue, it is an economic one.
For example, a 20 per cent increase in total revenues among female-owned businesses would contribute an additional $2 billion per annum to the Canadian economy.
There is also disparity on the services and supports available to women across Canada. In both Western and Eastern Canada, women business owners have access to government-funded women's enterprise centres where they receive business training and support as well as access to loans to start and grow their businesses.
But not in Ontario or Quebec. Apart from PARO in Thunder Bay, Ontario is not blessed with such options for women. Given the size of our province and its economic thrust, you have to wonder why?
This was actually my driving reason for serving on the Task Force which is a national, non-partisan group made up of prominent female business owners, small business training agencies, academics and industry associations.
So what are we recommending?
• Increased funding to existing women-focused small business training programs and expansion of these services to Ontario and Quebec
• Establishment of an office of women's enterprise to support a national strategy that would co-ordinate programs, policies and research on women's entrepreneurship
• A go-to website portal that consolidates small business information, showcases women business owners who have successfully taken their business beyond Canada, and provides information about how women-owned businesses can access and apply for government and corporate contracts.
• Formation of a women-focused mentorship program which could be staffed by paid and volunteer experts and assist women in accessing capital, technology and new markets
• Online, small business financial curriculum be developed and through this e-based network, women will be able to learn at their own pace and at a time convenient to them.
These are just some of the recommendations, to read the whole report please visit www.telfer.uOttawa.ca/womensenterprise.
This is the Year of the Entrepreneur and it therefore seems fitting that the government celebrate our contribution to the economy by listening to the voices of women entrepreneurs from across Canada, by paying attention and most important, by taking action.
Bottom line -- it makes business sense.