Today was a big day, moving between two big events – StartUP Day on the Hill (This week is Small Business Week in Canada) and the Elevate Women National Conference (Today is Person’s Day in Canada), needless to say I forwent the fancy footwear for the practical stuff so that I could speed walk across Parliament for the two events.
StartUP Day on the Hill:
The day started off with a Pre-Show Panel: Rethinking Economic Development through Start-up Communities
StartUP communities are volunteer entrepreneur led and inclusive hubs that partner and network with local community groups in the communities they operate in and with each other across Canada (50 so far) to bring needed resources to local entrepreneurs.
StartUP community leaders are a point of contact for entrepreneurs, they act as a guide on the journey of entrepreneurship and share knowledge and best practices and act as enabling communities.
Panelists talked about everyone being a leader and mentor – everyone has expertise that can serve others as well as the importance of thinking globally, not just locally.
To create a StartUP community where you are – visit the StartUP Canada site.
Next was the Opening Remarks in which Victoria Lennox, CEO and Co-Founder of StartUP Canada talked about how at yesterday’s meeting with Parliament about pre-budget asks the Liberals, NDP, and Conservatives all rallied and approved support for all the asks.
The Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion talked about how it’s her job to help companies start-up, scale, and reach new markets and that some of the ways that would be happening are through – the small business tax being lowered further in January to 9%, the Women’s Ecosystem Fund, announced in September, as part of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy, and the Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative.
The next session on Scaling the Entrepreneurial Economy talked about the challenges and opportunities that Canada currently faces.
While there are a lot of consistencies with start-up communities in Canada and globally working to take advantage of digital transformation, one of the biggest challenges for Canada is how Government keeps up with innovation, it was mentioned how the government needs to become more entrepreneurial.
The issue of the Government working to create a climate for growth and enabling investments, without itself picking winners and losers came up and how Government and entrepreneurs need to make a commitment to working together consistently on meaningful collaborations and not just one off projects.
Along with this came the point that while the Government is creating enabling programs and hubs of information, the promotion and marketing of the resources leaves something to be desired.
The Honourable Mary Ng did a read of the room asking who knew about innovation.canada.ca and The Trade Commissioners service, and very few hands went up, suggesting that improvements need to be made in promoting the resources that are available.
The topic of thinking globally and not just locally came up again.
Another point that came up was around innovation and how it’s traditionally viewed, and this is one of the items that became a theme throughout the day and across events, the idea that innovation has been made synonymous to Tech and vice versa. The point being made in this panel is that innovation goes beyond big tech and should build upon existing platforms like natural resources and farming.
Jeff Cates, President and CEO of Intuit Canada mentioned how there’s still the challenge of 50% of small businesses failing within 5 years and he pointed to the missing core skill of financial literacy as a cause.
As opportunities, The Honourable Mary Ng mentioned how the Government collaborates with global communities and how that Canada is the only G7 Country who has a trade agreement with all the other G7 countries and that programs such as the can export program are in place to help entrepreneurs take advantage of the trade agreements.
It was mentioned how the government hasn’t traditionally been SME friendly to work with especially where procurement is concerned and that improvement to red tape needs to be made.
Being that this is a blog centered around financial literacy for female entrepreneurs one of the sessions I was most interested in was the next one on Canada’s biggest Opportunity: Women-Led Business Growth.
The first question asked to the panelists was what are three words to summarize the current environment for women-led business? The responses were as follows:
- Inclusion equals growth
- On the rise
- Opportunity lies ahead
- Not there yet
- Under-funded, stuck, innovative
There have been strides in that there is now acknowledgement that you can’t build the economy by leaving 50% of the population out and there are now more programs starting to be created.
When asked about the most significant barriers faced, the responses were as follows:
- Procurement in government
- Venture capital
- Access – to capital, mentorship, opportunities
- Confidence level of women in business
With regards to how to deal with the barriers one of my favourite points was made by Julie-Barker-Merz, Senior Vice President, South Western Ontario Division, BMO Financial Group. She talked about the need to change the way women-led businesses are funded and given access – we need to look at systems differently and make new ones that meet their needs. There needs to be a sea change.
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services, Procurement and Accessibility talked about re-thinking procurement and how it needs to be more open and less cumbersome as that process is a major barrier right now.
There was talk about how accelerators and incubators need to be set up differently to provide the kind of support that women need, tailoring programs to give more confidence to women and to be more inclusive – to open up the process without using labels.
There was also mention about how we need to espouse what women bring to the table vs. changing how they come to the table and a bit of a debate on carve-outs for women.
Carve-outs for women are needed. In order to have a sea change there needs to be specific programs and targets. A full cultural shift also needs to happen but this takes more time and leadership, other capital players like VCs need to see the opportunity from the beginning.
Again, the topic of innovation came up – because innovation is typically synonymous with tech and product innovation, that’s where the money goes; however there’s also process and service innovation and that’s where more women-led businesses tend to innovate.
Talk about unconscious bias was also brought up – talking about how the first step to deal with it is first to bring conscious awareness to the bias, then to provide gender smart training (acquired diversity), and have more women at the table (inherent diversity).
Throughout the day there were also policy hearings and policy hack-a-thons on various entrepreneur areas – of specific interest to me was Advancing the Growth of Women-Led Businesses. You can participate in a policy hearing online until the 30th of October by going here.
The other panel that I was really excited about was Expert Panel: Closing the Deal: Capital 101 for Women Entrepreneurs, on which Vicki Saunders, Founder of SheEO was a panelist.
When asked how they support women getting capital – Sheri Griffiths, Regional Vice President of Business Banking, BMO Financial Group – talked about the $3billion ear-marked for women entrepreneurs over the next three years. The SheEO model, which I’ve talked about before on FinanciElle is a completely new model for funding female led business through 0% interest free crowd-sourced loans backed by an group of radically generous activators who also provide support.
When asked about insights into the common experiences faced by women in the struggle to get funding, the following points were made:
- Bankers are still thought of as just lenders, even if they can’t provide you directly with funding, they can make connections and introductions
- There’s a confidence gap faced by women
- The old way of thinking that you need to know how to do everything needs to be dispelled because it’s not true – focus on what your passion and expertise are and surround yourself with the skillsets you don’t have to support other areas
When it comes time to building relationships with bankers and funders, Karen Greve Young, CEO of Futurpreneur mentioned how first time entrepreneurs are not equipped – they don’t know their revenue model or about cash flow, so there needs to be more programs to build their financial education before trying to build a relationship with a funder. She also mentioned how it’s important to go for smart support, not just money.
Sheri Griffiths from BMO mentioned how banks are seen as just lenders but they should be seen as concierges – they are a tool to get access to other resources, the relationship is not just about lending.
Eva Lau, Managing Partner of Two Small Fish talked about it taking time to nurture relationships.
When asked how to ask for help without portraying weakness, a little experiment was done – when the audience was asked who would help the women who asked the question, if asked, pretty much everyone raised their hand; when asked, who would ask for help themselves, very few hands went up. My favourite response was from Vicki who said that when you don’t ask for help you’re robbing other people of the choice/ability/opportunity to help. She said to think of giving and receiving as the in breath and out breath, if you’re only giving …
I was happy to see and attend the Workshop: Making Your Company Profitable. The main takeaways I would like to share from the session are:
- You need to own your books – you don’t have to prepare them but you need to know what they’re saying
- While financial drivers are important, non-financial drivers like employee engagement, customer satisfaction, culture, productivity… are your differentiators
- When looking at financial reports – you need to apply different perspectives – future bank funding perspective, tax management perspective… and plan and align how you to manager your reports for future needs
- Your banker should be your business partner – they can help with business building ideas and services, introductions to potential customers, suppliers and other funding sources, economic trends and forecasts, specific information on special industries, information on companies for sale or looking for acquisition, and export opportunities
Elevate Women National Conference:
The theme for this year’s conference was Go Further.
I was able to attend the portion of the conference that was on Leadership and Economic Growth.
The first talk I was able to see was the Leadership Journey by Dr. Mamta Gautam where she applied her leadership lessons based on the L.E.A.D.S Framework. The 10 lessons she shared were:
- Start with Passion and Purpose – start with why? Passion is energy
- Be open – be flexible and open to possibilities, see where life takes you
- Align with your values
- Pursue collaboration – share ideas with others, increase confidence to level of competence
- Seek evolution, not revolution – build on past achievements
- Set long-term goals – be persistent and patient, do not personalize, focus on doing the right thing not just getting credit but own your ideas and amplify others
- Set direct, take action – work hard and deliver
- Build professional networks – be inclusive, collaborate
- Create personal networks – have a mentor, be a mentor – have your own mentor/sponsor/coach, self-care
- Orchestrate change
Françoise Gagnon, CEO of ADGA Group, talked about taking on the Family business in Defense, a primarily male dominated area in which she had little experience.
She talked about the importance of surrounding yourself with the right supportive people who will answer your questions and help you fill in the blanks.
She talked about how being in her position, her leadership capability was put into question and she referred to this study from Harvard Business Review – nuff said.
Now she’s working on a program ADGA Women, to support other women coming into the company to deal with various stumbling blocks like Financial Literacy, reading the numbers and being able to challenge them.
When it came time to the Economic Growth, the first speaker was Sophia Leong, Executive Director of Telfer MBA, who spoke on The Next Generation of Leaders.
The piece that stuck with me was that leadership is about engaging people to the state where they want to do something, to do this you need to feed their holy trinity and they need to feed yours:
- Feed the brain – with knowledge, positive experiences
- Feed the heart – make them feel like they want to do it
- Educate the Gut – create a strong sense of self
The next talk by Janice McDonald, Founder of the Beacon Agency – Game Changers: The Growing Influence of Women Entrepreneurs.
Similar to with StartUP on the Hill, innovation was brought up and how innovation has somehow become short hand for tech, which means women entrepreneurs tend to get excluded. She spoke about how partnership and collaboration are key to female entrepreneurs, because it’s so hard to access capital, they need to get creative.
I thought it was refreshing (and necessary) to have a panel of men talking about supporting gender diversity. The panel made up of Michael Tremblay, President and CEO of Invest Ottawa, Deputy Chief Steve Bell, Ottawa Police, and Kaveh Anooshiravani, Founder and Managing Partner of Kindness Kapital Ventures touched on creating mandates/missions, creating taskforces to support programming, recognizing people financially who exhibit values as nominated by peers, having a plan and measuring progress against it, having constant dialogues, creating support systems and positioning women to take on Sr. roles.
All in all, a very successful day of learning.