Like walking on a tight rope, scaling up a business is a fine, precarious mission that requires great effort and skill. Not to be confused with growing a business, it’s when a company takes on more sales or higher output while keeping operating costs relatively low. Scaling up is a difficult task for any entrepreneur, but it’s made even more challenging for women—like walking that tight rope without a balancing pole.
Women are already underrepresented in business, owning just 15.7 per cent of small to medium enterprises. Women-owned businesses are also not growing or scaling up as quickly as they could be, generating just $1.4 million in annual average revenue versus $3.3 million for male-owned businesses, according to Statistics Canada. And according to entrepreneur.com, women are twice as likely as men to shut down their business because of finances.
There are many reasons for this discrepancy and despite living in the year 2020, an unconscious bias towards women is still one of them. The lack of female representation in venture capital firms and in most existing entrepreneurial models cause patterns of exclusions due to this bias, says Kayla Isabelle, executive director of Startup Canada, the national rallying community and voice for Canada’s 3.5 million entrepreneurs.
Additional struggles that women encounter are difficulties finding capital, balancing family life (as women still shoulder the bulk of childcare), and access to important business networks and relationships.
“Rather than trying to fit women into the existing systems, we need to see more organizations like SheEO who are creating innovative systems meant to support, mentor and finance women innovators by addressing this segment’s particular needs,” says Isabelle.
During International Women’s Day in March 2020, Startup Canada launched their own Women Entrepreneurs program. In partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation, it aims to bring together 10,000 women entrepreneurs to connect them with valuable resources. Notable programming elements include the Thrive podcast, local meetups and boot camps throughout Canada, and a resource guide to connect women with mentors, funding, training and other avenues of support. The organization also released a series of articles entitled “Women Entrepreneur Icons” to celebrate success stories.
One success story Isabelle is particularly proud of is Maayan Ziv, founder of AccessNow, a tool that uses crowdsourcing to collect and share accessibility information about places around the world. Ziv was a 2016 Startup Canada award recipient where she met the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, and as a result, she achieved significant funding for her organization.
“Representation is an important step towards equality, so we hope that sharing stories from successful women will inspire others who read them to pursue their own goals,” says Isabelle. “I think women are natural community builders and seeing that innate power in action with such hard work and devotion is incredibly inspiring.”
Whether walking a tight rope or scaling a business, each step may be difficult, but with one foot in front of the other, it can be done successfully.