At Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, we’re deeply interested in understanding how best to engage the full diversity of talent that exists in Canada. There are great benefits to be gained through the full economic participation of groups like women, newcomers and indigenous peoples, yet these groups face numerous barriers in their journey to participating in all that the innovation economy has to offer, including the economic, employment, and innovation-driving engine of entrepreneurship.
How might policymakers, funders and others in the innovation ecosystem begin to break down these barriers and enable a more level playing field? That’s exactly the question that much of our research tries to answer, including the Empowering Women Entrepreneurs project that started in summer 2017 and wrapped up in summer 2019. This project sought to better understand the barriers that women entrepreneurs face as well as identifying potential interventions to address those barriers.
We’re excited to share our learnings from this multi-year project with you, but first some background (you can read more about it here). Using a framework we developed based on the latest literature around women’s entrepreneurship, we hosted a co-design workshop where we invited women entrepreneurs, business support organizations and other key players in the ecosystem to validate and improve our framework as well as identify opportunities for overcoming barriers identified through our research.
From there, we conducted interviews to help us craft a call for proposals that reflected the needs and opportunities surfaced through the co-design process. Working with a panel of judges, we selected three projects to fund from among the many exciting submissions. You can read more about each project in the Funded Projects section of the project page as well as hear from the people involved in each project in our spotlight series of blogs on the Accelerator for Women in Entrepreneurship (AWE), the childcare support pilot for women entrepreneurs, and the Ontario Inclusive Innovation (i2) Action Strategy. It is from our work selecting, funding and supporting these three projects – each special and unique in its own way – that the below lessons, in no particular order, are drawn.