Evidence of meeting #59 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was business.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Julia Deans  Chief Executive Officer, Futurpreneur Canada
Sandra Altner  Chief Executive Officer, Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba
Lindsay Amundsen  Workforce Development, Canada's Building Trades Unions
Jennifer Flanagan  President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are returning to our study on the economic security of women in Canada.

We have one witness today who is appearing by teleconference, but we're having some difficulty getting hold of her, so instead of going to her we'll start with Julia Deans, the chief executive officer of Futurpreneur Canada.

Welcome, Julia. You have seven minutes for your comments.

8:45 a.m.

Julia Deans Chief Executive Officer, Futurpreneur Canada

Thank you.

Hello, everyone.

Thank you for letting me speak to you today about how entrepreneurship is becoming an increasingly important option for all young people, but especially women. As youth unemployment remains high, more young people are becoming aware of the opportunity to start a business or to take over a retiring business owner's operation and put their own stamp on it.

Barb McLean-Stollery from Calgary is just one example. When 9/11 ended her hope of becoming an airplane pilot, she joined a Calgary aircraft-grooming business and ended up buying it with our help when the owner retired. The problem for most young people is that they don't have any business experience or assets, and they're too high risk and time-consuming for banks and other conventional lenders. Young entrepreneurs need training, money, and mentoring to launch and grow. Barb had this experience as well: who was going to lend to a woman in her twenties without a house or a car or any kind of business track record?

Futurpreneur Canada is the only national non-profit organization that gives aspiring young entrepreneurs anywhere in Canada what they need most. In the last 20 years, we've given ten thousand 18- to 39-year-olds business-plan coaching, volunteer mentors, and up to $45,000 in non-collateral loans from Futurpreneur and our co-funder, BDC. The federal government has been a critical partner in our work since 2006, and we recently had our funding renewed through ISED.

We are incredibly proud that 40% of our Futurpreneur businesses, over 400 in the last year alone, are female-owned. This is double the national average for majority-female-owned businesses. As you probably know, since majority-female-owned businesses are more likely than others to engage in product and other kinds of innovation, it's important that we increase this average from the current and very dismal 15.5%.

Why does the rate of female entrepreneurship lag behind that of male, particularly in the growth stages? Most aspiring young entrepreneurs lack confidence, entrepreneurial skills, networks, and financing. For women, these challenges are compounded by having far fewer role models and by not being well understood by lenders. Like other young entrepreneurs, women need help to overcome these challenges. This includes awareness raising and encouragement, business-plan coaching and mentoring, as well as financing and other launch and growth support.

We have the opportunity to leverage the proven supports that exist in Canada to benefit more women entrepreneurs without duplicating infrastructure and efforts. At Futurpreneur, we consult and work with aspiring women entrepreneurs and the other organizations that support women to understand and respond to women's highest priority needs. We know that engaging young women through awareness raising and outreach, in collaboration with partners, is key. For example, we recently teamed up with BDC on a campaign promoting women entrepreneurs and the support we have available to them. It was called “Be the Boss of You”, and it was one of our most popular campaigns ever. We reached over a million people through social media and generated a huge amount of interest from young women in our entrepreneurial programs.

We're also doing targeted outreach to part-time or side-hustle entrepreneurs. These are people who are working in other jobs but on the side are building businesses that employ people. This can be really appealing to women entrepreneurs, because it reduces the risks of starting up, and it lets them choose when they want to enter that business full time themselves.

Once we reach women, they need help to turn their business ideas into reality. At Futurpreneur we do this through skill-building and ideation workshops, business-plan coaching, webinars, and online resources.

We also provide loans that are generally enough to get a business started, or at least they provide a basis for further financing. Banks and other lenders take a lot of comfort in knowing that every futurpreneur has a volunteer mentor from our network of about 3,000 volunteers across the country. Like us, they know that mentoring significantly impacts the chances of someone's long-term business success, especially for women.

As more women get interested in becoming entrepreneurs and building businesses for themselves and jobs for others, governments and organizations like ours have to work together to get them the support they need to move forward. Futurpreneur Canada has long helped women to launch businesses and industries ranging from retail to food to technology, but our consultations confirm that there's a significant opportunity to expose more women to the concept of entrepreneurship as a career option, and to help them secure the financing, financial literacy, business skills, and networks they need to launch and grow businesses in Canada.

As always, we stand ready to collaborate with governments and other partners across the country to realize this opportunity.

How will we benefit? I want to return to Barb, who in the last 10 years has increased revenue at her company by 1,500%. She added locations and donated huge amounts of resources to help the people in Fort McMurray when they needed help last summer. Barb's growth isn't only national, it's global. She was chosen by Futurpreneur Canada last year to participate in the G20 Young Entrepreneurs' Alliance Summit in Beijing, and she has since successfully expanded her operations to China. Canada needs more Barbs.

I'm hoping that you have questions. That is the end of my prepared remarks.

Thank you and merci.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Very good.

By teleconference, we have with us from the Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, Sandra Altner, chief executive officer.

You have seven minutes for your comments.

8:50 a.m.

Sandra Altner Chief Executive Officer, Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba

Thank you. I'm wearing two hats this morning. One is as the CEO of the Women's Enterprise Centre in Manitoba, which is part of the women's enterprise initiative in western Canada, funded by Western Diversification, our RDA. My second role—and perhaps in this venue the most important—is as chair of the Women's Enterprise Organizations of Canada, a group of organizations that work with women entrepreneurs to further develop their capacity to succeed, to access capital, and to achieve leadership in their various areas.

The Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, like the other WEIs in the west, concentrates on three major areas: loans up to $150,000, advisory services, and training. We have been around for 20 years and probably have the greatest depth and breadth of experience in working with women entrepreneurs.

Studies have shown that women entrepreneurs respond best to targeted and tailored services from women's organizations. The WEI organizations in the west have found that one of their greatest strengths is the autonomy to meet the specific needs of women entrepreneurs in their regions.

The organization that we have founded to emulate some of the best practices and to further develop women's entrepreneurship—through the creation of a website, a portal, and a national loan fund—has about 25 organizational members at this point and represents women's enterprise organizations and entrepreneurship organizations across the country.

Some of the programs that we have developed here in the west in response to the needs of women entrepreneurs include—and this was a goal of mine that was originally funded by Status of Women Canada and continues to this day—providing financial acumen and profitability information to women entrepreneurs to increase their capacity to develop their enterprises and to further your goal, which is economic security. We firmly believe that women's entrepreneurship is one of the primary tools to do just that.

While women are starting businesses at a greater rate than their male counterparts, they're still quite under-represented in the larger business categories, the gazelles that develop through technology and innovation. We're working very hard to develop that growth aspect of our training and our supports.

Some of the programs that we have developed here in the west include—and you'll hear more about this next week from my colleague from Alberta—the PeerSpark program, which has rolled out here to Manitoba as well. It is working with growth-oriented clients who want to get past that first million-dollar mark to create jobs, to create an asset, to create wealth, and to create a legacy for their families and their communities.

Studies have shown that women who succeed in their businesses contribute a great deal more to their communities than their male counterparts in a great many ways. Support for women entrepreneurship is a support for women everywhere.

One of the things we've done here in Manitoba, which is a huge success, is an annual conference for women in leadership. This last year, we had 1,100 participants just from Manitoba. We're looking to develop that next year into rural Manitoba. There's also interest from other regions, and we are hoping to create a national conference based on some of what we have learned here in Manitoba. We'd be doing this through the Women's Enterprise Organizations of Canada.

We've recently put a proposal to the federal government, and I hope we can get support from all of you folks to carry it forward. It is for a national loan fund and funding for WEOC, which to date has been created off the sides of our desks and as a volunteer organization. Despite that, we have, through our own budgets and our own activities, built a national coalition to move this forward.

We are at this time probably the only voice for women's entrepreneurship in the country, and have already made international connections to further this goal at a global level.

There's much, much more I could tell you, but that's pretty much it, in a nutshell.

I'm open to questions.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Very good. Thank you so much.

We'll begin our seven-minute rounds of questioning with my colleague Ms. Vandenbeld.

May 4th, 2017 / 8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thank you very much.

Thanks to both of you for your testimony on this. We talk about women and entrepreneurship, but I think what's often left out is young women. Sometimes the most creative ideas and innovation come from some of the younger people. We know also that in addition to being a woman, and being young, there are others who face even more barriers. We've talked a lot here about intersectionality. Certainly for indigenous young women, those with disabilities, and racialized young women, the numbers are even lower.

I'm wondering whether or not you see that and whether there's been any improvement over time, particularly through your programs. As well, particularly with regard to indigenous young women, at Algonquin College, in my riding, we're funding a centre for innovation, entrepreneurship, and learning. In that there is a specific centre for indigenous entrepreneurship. When I asked why that was important, they said it was because the cultural approach to entrepreneurship is different for indigenous women. It's more collaborative, and of course the money networks aren't there.

Perhaps you could both talk a little bit about how we encourage not just young women but also young women who face even more barriers because of other identity factors.

I'll start with you, Ms. Deans.

8:55 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Futurpreneur Canada

Julia Deans

I think about that a huge amount. We know that there are a lot more women to be reached to even be exposed to entrepreneurship. Reaching women who have additional barriers takes more targeted outreach. It costs more money and takes more time. We're trying to develop our own capacity to do that but to also do it through partners.

I'll use indigenous young women as an example. In northern B.C. we are currently in a partnership called ThriveNorth, which was supported by BG Group, which is now Shell, one of the LNG proponents. They said that if they were going to create a facility in Prince Rupert, they needed the people in the area to benefit from it and to have businesses. It allowed us to double down on figuring out how to work with indigenous young women and men in these rural areas.

We found that they needed a more foundational layer of support as well, because entrepreneurship is probably a more distant concept for them than it would be for someone in downtown Ottawa. We did things like create peer circles, where young people could come together even just to talk about what owning a business would be like, or about some of the skills that you'd need. Instead of a loan, we established grants of $1,000 so that somebody could buy a sewing machine or hire somebody part time for a few months. We learned a lot about what is needed to work with that community, and I think that's probably pretty apt across the country. We're now working to try to figure out if we can replicate that in other parts of the country, particularly in rural communities, where there's so little opportunity for some of these young people.

The other group would be immigrants. We know that you need to do targeted outreach to reach immigrants where they are, whether it's in their faith communities or community organizations. Again, that takes more targeting. It's something that we're working on. We don't have the money to do as much as we'd like, so we do it through partnerships, with immigrant-serving organizations and others. On the indigenous side, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business would be a big partner for us.

Finally, it's about telling the stories. I can think of some of the women we've worked with in Prince Rupert who have established tutoring businesses. One won the B.C. award for young entrepreneur of the year a couple of years ago, which was tremendous. The stories are there, and we, the collective we, have an obligation to tell them. I would love it if you as members were willing to share those stories in your newsletters about people in your ridings or in your provinces who are doing these great things.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Ms. Altner.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

I think we may have lost Sandra. Her mike may be on mute.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

All right. I'll move to my second question.

Sandra, if you can hear us, if we can fix the technology, then jump in.

My next question is building on what you said, Ms. Deans, about the stories and the pathways. You had mentioned that there are fewer role models for young women....

Oh, I think we can hear Sandra now. I'll go to her, then to my next question.

9 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba

Sandra Altner

That's excellent. Thank you.

I would agree with Julia Deans that the requirement for specifically targeted kinds of teaching is very important. Through the WEIs and through our own work here in Manitoba over the last 20 years, we have worked with women at every stage and every age.

Both the newcomers and the indigenous clients we've had, although they have very different needs and very different outcomes, are an important target for us, because they create role models in their communities. There are some courses that have been developed in Alberta that are specifically geared to teaching entrepreneurship and developing business plans in that area. Here in Manitoba, we've worked with a number of organizations, both first nation and Métis organizations, to partner in developing business plans and in providing due diligence and the aftercare to ensure that those entrepreneurs have a greater degree of success.

It's very labour-intensive work, as you can imagine, and we have very little in the way of resources to do as much as would like to do in the province. Where we have achieved successes, they have been tremendous, and we're very proud of the work we have been able to do to further these goals. This is a community that is underserved in a great many ways, and we hope that the leadership work we're doing, the conferences that we're going to be doing, and the webcasts that we'll be doing in rural Manitoba will reach a higher number of indigenous women who will be able to recognize the supports that are available to them through the centre.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Because I don't have much time left, could you give a very short answer to this question on the role models and the mentoring? Both of you mentioned it. Do you find that there's a virtuous cycle whereby the more successful the paths for women are, the more you get young women who enter entrepreneurship and are successful at that?

9 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba

Sandra Altner

Is that question for me?

9 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Yes. We'll start with you.

9 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba

Sandra Altner

I would say yes, absolutely, because it's a question of comfort level. You don't want to go where you're not welcome, and you don't want to go where you don't feel that you can achieve. If you see somebody who has gone before, who has successfully navigated the business planning process and the business development process, and is actually creating a living wage and is able to hire other people, that's very encouraging to women. It's the way women work that really does create a potential mentoring situation as well as a role model to strive for. Knowing that somebody else has created success is a great impetus for one's own success.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

All right.

We'll go to Ms. Harder for seven minutes.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Ms. Deans, I'm going to start with you. Could you talk a bit about what this mentorship relationship looks like? Is this woman to woman, or could it be a man who's mentoring the woman? Also, what would be the hope of that relationship?

9:05 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Futurpreneur Canada

Julia Deans

It can be any gender to any gender. We spend maybe 15 to 20 hours with a young person in getting them ready to come into our program. Before they get our loans, we “hand-match” them with a mentor. Seventy per cent of our mentors are entrepreneurs themselves. That's the primary thing: somebody who has walked in that path before. If they're not an entrepreneur, they're often someone with financial skills and the expertise to help someone who may not have those skills.

We hand-match them with a mentor. They are generally in the same city or community, because being able to have access to one another is huge. We're looking for people who match in terms of skill sets, interests, experience, and often industry as well. You can imagine that for a restaurant owner it's pretty important to have a mentor who's run a restaurant before, as that's a pretty specialized area.

Once they are matched, they have an orientation to make sure they know how to work together. It was designed with the help of Lavalife, so it's very much about “do I email you?”, “do I phone you?”, and “how are we going to communicate with one another?” They have that mentor for up to two years. The idea is that they spend four to five hours a month together by phone or in person. The mentor can have no financial interest at all in their business. They're completely about the entrepreneur and helping them through rough times, and keeping them true to their plans and ideas.

We find that it's particularly in the second year where they need help. Often something has gone wrong. They've back-end loaded a lease, or something has happened, and they need that person there to say, “How are you going to change your direction to get things back on track?” We know that our entrepreneurs are still in business at the rate of 50% to 60% after five years, which is much higher than the normal average, and we're pretty sure it's because of this mentoring.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

That's awesome. What are some of the barriers that prevent women from...? No, sorry, let me ask this first. Do you see the number of entrepreneurs coming to you, particularly women entrepreneurs, increasing, decreasing, or staying about the same?

9:05 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Futurpreneur Canada

Julia Deans

It's steadily increasing. I think we're quite attractive to young women because we're out there in the community, we have a lot of young staff, we're really active on social media, we're very approachable, and we're very non-judgmental in saying, “We can help you figure out what you don't know”. We see a steady increase in the women coming to us, and a lot of referrals as well. I think it's gone from 40% to 43% in the last year. So it's on the move. Our goal is 50%, although I'm told that, for Status of Women, between 40% and 60% is considered gender balanced. But I'd like 50%.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

It seems like a pretty good number to us.

Can you tell me a little bit about what you see with regard to the FNMI women in particular? Do you see an interest from that demographic?

9:05 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Futurpreneur Canada

Julia Deans

I'm sorry, I don't know what that term is.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

It's First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.

9:05 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Futurpreneur Canada

Julia Deans

Oh, absolutely. It varies, of course, as it does across different groups, so I wouldn't want to generalize too much. Some are a lot more experienced with entrepreneurship. I think Métis women probably are more exposed to entrepreneurship, and that's a more accepted pathway. No, the interest is certainly there, but there's a tentativeness and definitely a lack of role models in many of those communities. The interest is there, when we go to our events in Prince Rupert or Terrace or wherever, for sure. And some of them have achieved big success. I'm thinking of SheNative Goods and some of our other indigenous entrepreneurs. Those role models are invaluable.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

That's awesome.

I wonder if you can just answer this question briefly for me, because I realize it could end up being quite long. Can you just give me an overall understanding of some of the challenges that women face that might prevent them from entering into entrepreneurship, and how you're helping them overcome those challenges?