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Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

This project is designed to improve support for women entrepreneurs in Ontario, while exploring novel methods for co-creating and funding interventions in complex policy domains
Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

Project Team

Alex Conliffe
Director, Policy Innovation Platform
Heather Russek
Acting Director, Policy Innovation Platform
Meghan Hellstern
Senior Projects Officer

Why we’re doing this project

One of our work streams at BII+E looks at how to build an innovative and inclusive economy that leverages the full diversity of today’s talent. The benefits of having more high-growth companies in Canada and in Ontario are substantial, and yet so are the hurdles that women and other minority groups must jump over to scale their businesses. This project aims to understand the barriers that these entrepreneurs, particularly women, face in terms of starting and growing their businesses while also exploring how novel forms of co-design and community-led intervention can address complex systemic issues like economic exclusion. Our policy innovation goal is to make sure that best practices are shared across the ecosystem, enabling more entrepreneurs to better access the resources needed to successfully grow their businesses.

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Our Process

In July 2017, we announced that our team would use a design-led approach to create and implement a Call for Proposals with the aim of providing better support for women entrepreneurs in the province of Ontario. To design the Call for Proposals, the team conducted three steps:

  • Assessing the Evidence Base – We pulled together the latest literature on the barriers facing women entrepreneurs to develop a framework that we could use to discuss those barriers with women entrepreneurs and ecosystem players. For more information, read our Discussion Paper.
  • Design Workshop – We invited women entrepreneurs and ecosystem players to critique and build on our framework for understanding the barriers women entrepreneurs face, and to identify targeted opportunities to
    overcome those barriers. For more information, read our
    Design Workshop Summary Report.
  • Stakeholder Interviews – We engaged in numerous conversations to translate what we learned and heard into a Call for Proposals.

The resulting Call for Proposals was launched in December 2017 to fund projects that address the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in growing their businesses, and to increase inclusion in Ontario’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. In collaboration with a team of judges, we reviewed the many outstanding submissions addressing the needs identified by the women entrepreneurs and ecosystem players who participated in designing the Call.

In May 2018 we announced three projects that would be funded under the Call for Proposals (see Funded Projects for more information). The three projects will be funded through to summer 2019, after which point we will produce a summary report to share the lessons learned and best practices generated through these projects and the overall granting process.

Funded Projects

Accelerator for Women in Entrepreneurship (AWE)

Innovation Factory (iF) is a not-for-profit Regional Innovation Centre funded by the ONE, established in 2011. Located in Hamilton, Ontario, in the heart of McMaster Innovation Park, iF is a key part of Hamilton’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The organization serves 350-450 clients annually, from across Hamilton, Brantford and Waterdown.     

The Accelerator for Women in Entrepreneurship (AWE) delivers targeted workshops and events to enable women to grow their businesses, with a particular focus on increasing the level of future representation in advanced manufacturing.

The Childcare Support Pilot for Women Entrepreneurs

HELM, formerly known as Datenight Babysitting, is 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. The service currently operates across the GTA – in Toronto, Mississauga, Burlington, Oakville, Scarborough, Hamilton, as well as Ottawa, and has plans to expand into other major centres across Ontario.  

The Childcare Support Pilot for Women Entrepreneurs 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.

The Ontario Inclusive Innovation (I2) Action Strategy

The Ontario Inclusive Innovation (I2) Action Strategy is a joint initiative between Telfer Centre for Executive Leadership at the University of Ottawa, and the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University. I2 Action Strategy seeks to create the most inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem in the world. It is developing a gender-based certification program and workshops for intermediaries within the entrepreneurship ecosystem. The strategy also includes an industry white paper on the state of women’s enterprise support in Ontario, and a one-day conference to showcase evidence-based practices for empowering women entrepreneurs.

Alex Conliffe
Director, Policy Innovation Platform
Heather Russek
Acting Director, Policy Innovation Platform
Meghan Hellstern
Senior Projects Officer

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Deep Dive

4 Results

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May 17, 2018

How can we best support women entrepreneurs in Ontario? Our recent call for proposals inspired some powerful ways to improve support for our women entrepreneurs
Unlocking the potential of Ontario’s women entrepreneurs

Dec 13, 2017

We're using a design-led approach to create and implement a Call for Proposals to provide better supports for women entrepreneurs, including social entrepreneurs in Ontario
Designing a call for proposals + building an ecosystem for women entrepreneurs to thrive

Dec 13, 2017

A summary of key insights from our workshop on women in entrepreneurship, which we hosted to inform the design of a call for proposals
Empowering Women in Entrepreneurship + Social Enterprise

Aug 15, 2017

Launching a design-led initiative that seeks to support the economic empowerment of women at all income levels
Empowering Women Entrepreneurs to Unlock Their Full Potential
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