Earlier this year, we announced that our Policy Innovation Platform team would use a design-led approach to create and implement a Call for Proposals to provide better supports for women entrepreneurs, including social entrepreneurs, in the province of Ontario.
We were excited to engage directly with women entrepreneurs and the ecosystem players who serve them in identifying what an impactful Call for Proposals could look like. We’ve done and learned a lot over the last several months, which we’re pleased to share in advance of launching the Call before the end of 2017.
Assessing the evidence base
Our initial step was to pull together the latest literature on the barriers facing women entrepreneurs and to develop a framework that we could use to discuss those barriers with women entrepreneurs and ecosystem players. We grouped barriers along four dimensions: cultural barriers, access to capital, access to mentors and networks, and access to training. During our research, we also honed in on the unique challenges faced by women seeking to grow their businesses.
For more information, read our discussion paper.
Heading straight to the source
In late September 2017, we brought together women entrepreneurs and ecosystem players from across Ontario for a Design Workshop. We invited participants to respond to, critique, and build on our framework for understanding the barriers women entrepreneurs face, and to identify targeted opportunities to overcome those barriers within the context of the Call for Proposals.
We anticipated a vibrant conversation, and we were not disappointed! Complex challenges do not have simple or single solutions, and so unsurprisingly, participants to the workshop shared a wide range of opinions as to what exactly the root problems are and how best to solve them.
Despite some divergences in opinions, we were encouraged to see broad agreement in a few key areas. First, there was a desire to strengthen how the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Ontario supports women. There was also broad agreement that any initiatives supported through a Call for Proposals should build on and leverage the existing ecosystem within the province rather than create new infrastructure.
Second, participants agreed that supported initiatives should have as direct an impact as possible on women entrepreneurs. Ideas included: providing better business coaching for business growth, training advisors and mentors in unconscious bias so that their interactions with women entrepreneurs are more effective, and developing maternity and childcare solutions that enable women entrepreneurs who are also parents to thrive.