Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Spotlight: Childcare support pilot for women entrepreneurs

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Spotlight: Childcare support pilot for women entrepreneurs

Learn more about HELM, one of the three recipients funded as part of our Empowering Women Entrepreneurs project. HELM connects mom-entrepreneurs to childcare so that they can work on their businesses.
Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Spotlight: Childcare support pilot for women entrepreneurs
Meghan Hellstern
Senior Projects Officer
July 10, 2019
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This is the final commentary in a series of three highlighting each of the community-led interventions that received grants as part of the Brookfield Institute’s Empowering Women Entrepreneurs project. Missed the previous ones? Read the first and second now

The following text is a lightly edited set of responses from Elize Shirdel, founder of HELM, an award-winning, women-run technology company that connects parents with experienced, local babysitters. Launched in 2014 with the goal of helping parents more quickly and easily access quality child care, HELM has facilitated over 2,000 matches of parents and caregivers and processed over 20,000 hours of childcare. Elize is the project lead for the Childcare Support Pilot for Women Entrepreneurs, which provides reliable, flexible and accessible childcare so that women entrepreneurs can participate in important business activities like networking meetings, trade shows, sales meetings, accelerators and last-minute grant application opportunities. This pilot project is providing valuable insight into the role that access to childcare plays in the creation and longevity of women-led businesses. You can read more about Elize and HELM on CBC.

How would you describe your project?

We connect mom-entrepreneurs to childcare so that they can spend time working on their business.

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Trusting women entrepreneurs to allocate that capital in a way that suits their business best—whether it be childcare or marketing or further training—is crucial and imperative to closing the entrepreneurship gap.

Elize Shirdel, Founder of HELM

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned or surprises you’ve encountered throughout this project?

  1. That the mom entrepreneur journey starts earlier in the motherhood journey than I expected it would. We launched this program anticipating that moms running businesses would use the grant hours to attend evening networking events and meetings. We found that this wasn’t the case – that many of the mom entrepreneurs whose childcare problems we were solving were those launching and growing businesses when their children were quite small. They needed daytime childcare to free up some time to work towards growth.
  2. That having reliable childcare has all kinds of effects on mom-run businesses. Many of the mom entrepreneurs in the pilot project have young kids – pre-school age. Not only does having dedicated blocks of time have a huge effect on productivity, it brings renewed optimism to their businesses and also new opportunities to get out there and make things happen.
  3. The types of businesses that mom-entrepreneurs run are very diverse. Many women start non-scalable businesses, which aren’t supported by this grant… For example, being a self-employed physical therapist isn’t scalable, as the hours that you work correspond directly to your income and hence the business cannot grow really large under that model. However, creating a program or a technology that guides people through exercises and rehab is considered scalable… [which makes you wonder]: Are these businesses [potentially] precursors to scalable businesses? Do women not want to start scalable businesses? Are they not thinking about scalability? Should we be valuing scalable businesses more than non-scalable ones? Or is it that they don’t have access to the capital that they need to grow scalable businesses, since they need the ROI on their working hours immediately and don’t have the luxury of excess investment to put into building scalable technologies off the bat?
  4. Once women reach a certain scale of business, they have their childcare figured out because they need chunks of time work on their business and it’s hard to have an ad hoc solution. At that point, they are not in need of childcare support [like that offered under this program]. Perhaps giving women [childcare support] earlier on in their business or over maternity leave, when their businesses are in really early infancy, would be beneficial.

What are some examples of the impact your Empowering Women Entrepreneurs project has had?

Ayesha Rollinson, an entrepreneur working in the athletic space, described the progress she made thanks to the grant hours: “I participated in a workshop to further business relationships with 8 clients. Thank you!!! Having a babysitter took all the pressure off attending the event.” If our free childcare grant wasn’t available, she would have missed this opportunity.

Anastasia, [an entrepreneur who] runs a fintech company [shared the following feedback]: “I met two prospects who seem eager to do business with me. I also got to network with some individuals whom I can receive referrals from, and who I can also use the professional services of to help grow my business. Without this grant, I would not have gone. I was so grateful for the opportunity to work on my business!”

What are you hoping to see in the future when it comes to empowering women entrepreneurs?

It would be great if this program were expanded to provide childcare support for women earlier in their entrepreneurship journey. Although I don’t think that women need more business training per se, I do think that some information in terms of thinking about the types of businesses that are scalable might be useful. 

I do think that childcare funding could also be shared between in-home babysitting and work spaces where childcare is in-house to provide several different types of support and to allow women to network with other entrepreneurs more easily. 

Without a doubt the largest, most obvious barrier to women entrepreneurs growing their businesses in Ontario is the lack of funding capital. Trusting women entrepreneurs to allocate that capital in a way that suits their business best—whether it be childcare or marketing or further training—is crucial and imperative to closing the entrepreneurship gap.

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