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A boost for female-led businesses

Women-led businesses in the area – start-ups and those looking to grow – got a boost last month in the form of some $1.4 million in funding for Wilfrid Laurier University’s business incubator.

The funding is part of the federal government’s $2-billion Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) that focuses on supporting aspiring business owners. In the WLU case, the $1,385,000 will go to its incubator/accelerator space to offer support to women entrepreneurs at the early start-up stage and those looking to accelerate and scale their businesses, with a particular emphasis on non-tech and social enterprises.

Laurier will be creating three new programs with the financial assistance, aiming to help women build skills and knowledge they need to create and grow their businesses, explains Micheál Kelly, dean of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics. The programs are still in the developmental process but will include an intensive one- to two-week female founders boot camps, a six-month to year-long female founders accelerator program, and Indigenous women building workshops.

There are particular challenges that female entrepreneurs run into and through this new program the university is looking for solutions, said Kelly.

“They have less access to networks, less access to mentors and so those are all the kind of issues we are looking for – how do we help them address these issues and challenges, so that they’re likely to be more successful when they do launch businesses.”

Laurier’s current services to young businesswomen include its Launchpad program, which is focused on students who have businesses or ideas about a business they want to create. The initiative provides workshops, access to mentors and a space for ideas.

“We’ll be adding onto that space and including additional space to support this program,” said Kelly.

In the Launchpad program, 46 per cent of the students are female, according to the statistics from the university.

“There is already a strong focus on female entrepreneurs in the student population,” Kelly said, adding he hopes the number will increase with the government’s financial support.

To create more opportunities for females to be involved in the entrepreneurship sector, the university will focus on helping Indigenous women, looking to help start and accelerate businesses that are aligned with Indigenous culture and values.

“We have a fair amount of knowledge and expertise about what it takes to start and grow a business,” said Kelly, noting the university is proud of its efforts to date.

As the program unfolds in the following years, WLU hopes to help the government achieve its goal of doubling the number of majority women-owned businesses by 2025. WES complements the efforts made by the Canadian government to advance gender equality through initiatives such as addressing pay equity, providing more affordable child care and putting an end to gender-based violence, the government maintains.

“Our government believes that women’s economic empowerment is not just the right thing to do; it’s good for the bottom line. That’s why we launched the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, a strategy that seeks to double the number of women-owned businesses by increasing their access to financing, networks and advice. It’s a smart investment with an economic and social return,” said Mary Ng, minister of Small Business and Export Promotion, in a release announcing the latest round of WES funding.

“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,” said Deborah MacLatchy, Laurier’s president and vice-chancellor, in a release.

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