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Canada boosts university funding to help women entrepreneurs stay ahead

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The Canadian government wants to double the number of women-owned businesses in the country by 2025.

Gender equality is more than just good practice; enough studies have shown that given the right support, a business environment that includes women entrepreneurs actually helps bottom lines and fuels economic growth.

According to research conducted in Canada, advancing women’s participation in the national economy could add as much as CA$150 billion to the country’s GDP.

With only 16 percent of businesses in the country currently being owned or led by women, the federal government has launched a nationwide initiative to lift female participation in the economy.

The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) is a government-led female empowerment initiative involving a CA$2 billion investment that aims to double the number of women-owned businesses in Canada by 2025. 

A national-first, the WES is a “whole-of-government” approach to helping women grow their businesses through access to funding, talent, expertise and business networks. 

As part of the strategy, the government has launched the Women Entrepreneurship Fund (WEF), through which 74 women entrepreneurs will receive funding support totaling close to CA$20 million to grow their businesses and pursue opportunities in markets abroad.

In addition, the government is also allocating close to CA$12 million to the WES Ecosystem Fund (Regional Stream), to be disbursed to nine organisations for projects supporting women entrepreneurs. 

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As centers for teaching and learning, universities naturally play a pivotal role in securing the country’s future.

Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo will receive some CA$1.385 million to use its incubator/accelerator space to support women entrepreneurs at the early start-up stage and those looking to accelerate and scale their businesses, focusing on the non-tech sectors and women creating social enterprises.

With the extra cash, the institution will establish three programmes providing support for budding women entrepreneurs, all of which will be affiliated with the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, as well as the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation.

According to Kitchener Today, these include the following:

  • Female Founders Bootcamps–intensive one- to two-week programmes to support female entrepreneurs in the early stages of non-tech ventures and female social entrepreneurs in a variety of industries
  • Female Founders Accelerator–a six-month to year-long accelerator programme providing space, mentorship and programming in Waterloo Region for women entrepreneurs in non-tech and social startups from across Southern Ontario
  • Indigenous Women Building Businesses–a series of workshops for Indigenous women who are starting and growing businesses aligned with Indigenous culture and values

“This new funding from the government of Canada will help Laurier provide more resources and mentorship so more women, including Indigenous women, will have the support they need to launch their own businesses and pursue their dreams,” Global News quoted Deborah MacLatchy, Laurier president and vice-chancellor, saying in a statement.

“I am so excited to watch the next generation of women entrepreneurs and how they will innovate, problem solve and drive our economy.”

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York University in Toronto, meanwhile, will receive some CA$1.868 million to develop and deliver the Fempower programme. The programme supports women entrepreneurs by providing business education and resources, female-centred advice and real solutions for overcoming barriers by making introductions and opening doors to opportunities.

“Our government believes that women’s economic empowerment is not just the right thing to do; it’s good for the bottom line,” Small Business and Export Promotion Minister Mary Ng said in a press release on the funding announcements.

The WES, she said, was launched for this very reason.

“It’s a smart investment,” Ng added, “… with an economic and social return.”

Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz said women entrepreneurs and business leaders of Toronto and Ontario already make “incredible” contributions to Canada’s economy. Initiatives like the WES, she said, is proof of the government’s seriousness in boosting these efforts by supporting women’s economic empowerment.

“I’m proud to be part of a government that takes women’s economic empowerment seriously,” she said.

“From tackling pay equity to modernising parental leave, this government is taking action on gender equality, and that’s good for Canada and good for Ontario because when women succeed, we all succeed.”