To Be or Not To Be (An Entrepreneur in Ontario), That is the Question

By Annalise Huynh and Viet Vu
December 22, 2017

By Annalise Huynh and Viet Vu
December 22, 2017

To be an entrepreneur, or not to be an entrepreneur? This was not the question Hamlet asked in Shakespeare’s classic.1 But it is a question he might have asked today. Public interest around entrepreneurship has skyrocketed over the past decade. Much of this interest has focused on the financial value of startups, specifically about major acquisition, revenue growth, initial public offerings, or, as Hamlet didn’t say: “Dollars, dollars, dollars.”2 In our most recent report, Beyond the $ Value: Attitudes, behaviours, and aspirations of Ontario entrepreneurs, we aim to shine a light on the people behind the numbers in Ontario, focusing not only on the more popular conceptions of startups, but on all businesses large and small.

In 2015, we partnered with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)—a global research project that measures entrepreneurship through the lens of entrepreneurs using a randomized survey—to produce GEM Ontario 2015: Driving wealth creation and social development in Ontario. We did it again this year to produce Beyond the $ Value with GEM’s 2016 Ontario-specific data, comparing Ontario against 27 other countries.

The basis of this report is GEM’s adult population survey (APS). The core of the APS is identical in each country: it administers a randomized survey and asks respondents about their attitudes toward entrepreneurship, their involvement in entrepreneurial activity, and their aspirations for their ventures.3 Sixty-five countries participated in the 2016 APS. Respondents were randomly selected and, for comparison purposes, analysis was restricted to respondents aged 18 to 64. In 2016, over 1,000 Ontarians were surveyed about their attitudes toward and participation in entrepreneurship.

The GEM model of entrepreneurship

The heart of the GEM study is total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (or TEA), which captures people who are actively planning a new venture all the way to those who are involved in running a business that is up to 3.5 years old. In 2016, 14.8 percent of Ontarians were involved in early-stage entrepreneurial activity, placing Ontario in the top five amongst comparator countries. However, its rate lags behind Canada’s 16.9 percent, which points to higher rates in other provinces, such as Alberta.

Entrepreneur, thy name is woman (41 percent of the time)!

While participation of women in entrepreneurship in Ontario is comparatively strong, GEM results show that the province could benefit from more supports for women entrepreneurs and women entering entrepreneurship. Ontario performs relatively well when it comes to participation of women in entrepreneurship, with 41 percent of early-stage entrepreneurs identifying as women. This stride is somewhat shadowed by the gender gap that still exists, especially when gender differences in confidence in skills to start a successful business are considered.

Early-stage entrepreneurship rates of men and women

Gender differences in beliefs in skill and entrepreneurship participation

Could strong youth participation be here to stay?

Ontario excels in participation rates across age ranges, but only outperforms Canada in the 18 to 24 range. Within this range, the number of Ontarians engaging in early-stage entrepreneurship has rapidly grown since 2014, which could speak to a positive environment for youth entrepreneurs.

Share of 18 to 24-year-olds who are early-stage entrepreneurs

Where little fears grow great, great firms may not grow there (without the right supports)

Though rates of early-stage entrepreneurship are strong, the rate of established business ownership is much lower, potentially pointing to a scale-up and survivability challenge faced by companies.

Additionally, in 2016, only 13.6 percent of early-stage entrepreneurs in Ontario expected to grow their number of employees by at least 10 people (or at least 50 percent) in the next five years, and this falls to 5.4 percent among established businesses. This low rate of job growth aspiration may also point to barriers to scaling within the province’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, a relative lack of motivation or confidence to scale, or a higher concentration of new businesses with limited scaling potential.

Share of early-stage entrepreneurs who expect high job growth

Share of established businesses that expect high job growth

In addition to measuring entrepreneurial activity, GEM measures perceptions of entrepreneurship and their influence on how likely individuals are to take the risks necessary to start or grow a business. While this report doesn’t capture the full picture of entrepreneurship in Ontario, it does illuminate the lived experience of entrepreneurs: from why they start businesses to why their businesses succeed or fail. As Hamlet never said: “There are more things in Ontario’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and population, Horatio, than are dreamt of in the Beyond the $ Value report.”4

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

1. “To be or not to be?”

2. “Words, words, words”

3. The full set of questions in the survey is available at

4. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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