NEW RESEARCH: Despite a lack of supports, Canada’s women entrepreneurs are finding new and creative paths to growth

An in-depth survey of the experiences of women founders as they scale their companies, revealing divergent pathways to growth and new recommendations for better supporting women-led firms.
October 27, 2020
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A new national survey of high-growth women entrepreneurs, conducted by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E), in partnership with the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), reveals the greatest priorities and challenges of successful women founders, and new recommendations for better meeting their needs in the midst of the economic recovery.  

When it comes to what makes a successful entrepreneur, a very narrow definition still dominates. Women currently comprise 28% of all entrepreneurs in Canada, according to a 2019 BDC study, but only a small percentage of high-growth firm founders. High-growth companies, defined as having an average annualized growth of at least 20% in the past three years and at least 10 employees, are an essential source of job creation and revenue growth in Canada. 

The Brookfield Institute, in partnership with Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), set out to better understand women’s experiences and the barriers they face as they scale their companies. In Growing their own way: High-growth women entrepreneurs in Canada, a new in-depth qualitative study, researchers interviewed two dozen women entrepreneurs across Canada, representing a range of ages and sectors. “We learned that these high-growth founders are no less successful than their male counterparts,” writes researcher Kim de Laat, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE), “but their pathways to growth often look very different.” 

Also among the key findings: 

  • The “growth at all costs” mindset is not for everyone. Many participants say they choose to ensure their growth process is manageable and realistic for their own well-being and that of others.
  • Systemic barriers persist. High-growth women founders confront many of the barriers persisting in the wider entrepreneurship ecosystem; for those identifying as racialized persons, these barriers are compounded.
  • The available funding options aren’t meeting founders’ needs. High-growth women founders face difficulties in accessing financing that accommodates their unique needs, both from venture capital firms and banks.
  • Family matters. Some take a life-course perspective—basing decisions about how and when to grow their companies around family planning. Those doing so are no less successful or ambitious than others.
  • Networking can take many forms. Part of creating different pathways to high-growth includes engaging in networking formats that factor in responsibilities such as childcare.
  • Bravado is not the same as confidence. Many of the women interviewed perceive a gap between how they convey their confidence (for example, through measured deliberation), and an expectation that entrepreneurs are brash and arrogant.

“This research, along with recent studies by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, reinforces the fact that women entrepreneurs have different aspirations, experiences and needs,” says Wendy Cukier, founder of Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute and the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, and a professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that we recognize the importance of women entrepreneurs, in general, and those leading high-growth companies, in particular, in economic recovery. And we need to ensure that they have access to the support they need to thrive.”

Download the full report, Growing Their Own Way: High-growth women entrepreneurs in Canada, at

For media interviews, contact Jessica Thomson, marketing + communications specialist at BII+E, at

The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) is an independent and nonpartisan policy institute, housed within Ryerson University, that is dedicated to building a prosperous Canada where everyone has the opportunity to thrive in an inclusive, resilient economy. @brookfieldiie

The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH): With ten regional hubs and a network of more than 250 organizations, WEKH is a national network designed to address the needs of diverse women entrepreneurs across regions and across sectors.  @wekh_pcfe


October 27, 2020
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