Why Supporting Women at Early Stage can Increase Women in Entrepreneurship

One of the most pressing challenges of women entrepreneurs is to access the right support system, networks and mentors at early stages of business planning. It’s hard to be taken seriously when you just have an idea. You know it’s a great idea, and it’ll be impactful, but you still need to work on proving this business is needed.

Photo by Christina @ WOCintechchat.com

When I first incorporated Parkdale Centre in 2017, women were 18% of small business owners. Not a big percentage at all. We launched Women in Leadership program, because I wanted a space for women to go to when they’re initially thinking about an idea and have a supportive network to reach out to in the most crucial part of business planning, very early on.

To date, Women in Leadership program has run 4 cohorts since January 2019, helping 75 start and / or launch a business/project. According to a recent study, Women entrepreneurs now account for 28% of small businesses. That’s a large increase over the course of two years.

One of our core focuses during 2019 was to increase the number of women in business, with a strong focus on marginalized women: Black, Indigenous, women of colour, newcomers, LGBTQ, and differently-abled individuals. We’re not given the same opportunities as everyone else in the space, and therefore, we need to have our own space where we come in and figure things out. More importantly, a space where you have a community of support to lean on.

Right now, the Women in Leadership program is that and more! It’s a community of some of the most underestimated talented, driven and resilient individuals I ever have the honour of meeting and knowing in my entrepreneurship journey. The Women in Leadership program provides an opportunity for women to figure out their idea, and bring their vision to life. When we support women at the earliest stages of business development, we can ensure that they will have the right support network, mentors, a solid roadmap, and a strong action plan on goals and metrics they need to hit in order to meet their business milestones.

Here are some of the core areas we focus on throughout the 12 week program:

  • Building Confidence in Entrepreneurship
  • Creating & Building Your Digital Presence
  • Advocating for Yourself, Well-Being &  Self-Care
  • Relationship Building Skills
  • Business roadmap,
  • Marketing, Advertising your product and business
  • Understanding the Fundamentals of Business

As you can see, there are what people would call “soft skills”, and what I would call organizational and leadership skills, and there are also practical business skills. It’s important for women just starting out their businesses to have access to both! The confidence, leadership building and organizational skills are huge factors in supporting women to build and run a successful business.

You likely have heard about the recent study that suggests that men apply for jobs they’re only 60% qualified for, whereas women apply only when they’re 100% qualified. The Confidence Gap is real and it is our job not only to address it, but to create more opportunities for women to build and work on these skills with a supportive network, because we’re not alone.

Women need to see that other women are going through similar struggles and hurdles, and that helps them not only to provide solutions for each other, but also to not work in isolation. Entrepreneurship is such an isolating industry, and sure there are networking events, and co-working spaces, but we still need to have a space where we can go and get the support we need, and understand how to go doing xy and z.

Entrepreneurship is not the same for everyone, and if you identify as a woman, most likely, it’s harder for you to find a place to go to where you feel understood, heard and more importantly, taken seriously! I’m running an information session in January about Parkdale Centre’s Women in Leadership program, if you’re in Toronto, and are looking to start a business, consider joining us.

We are often surprised when we see the number of women-led anything is small. However, it’s important that we make it a priority to support women at really early stages in their business, because we will then begin to see the impact of this support long-term. When we support women at an early stage, we’re telling them that their idea matters, and that they can do it. Sometimes, that alone can make a big difference.

Providing financial support for early stage women in business has also been one of our priorities. Access to capital is the number one reason why women choose not to start a business. Marginalized women often have the least chance of accessing capital because of all the barriers they face when applying: good credit, money in the bank, revenue/customers, assets, and so much more! It’s a very cyclical systemic issue: how can one have revenue and customers, when you need to access capital to purchase products? How do you have good credit when you never had a chance to build yours up because you’re a newcomer, or low-income?

There are so many hurdles! So a part of the Women in Leadership program is that we’re working to support women to access micro-financing to start their business. The micro-financing is with Alterna Savings, and it allows women to apply to give them an opportunity to start their business, and leverage the micro-financing for revenue-generating aspects of their business. The goal is not to get the entrepreneurs in more debt, the goal is to support them to generate more revenue and grow their business.

Which is why having a solid roadmap to start a business is often key! What are you focusing on in 2020?


Applications are currently open for Winter 2020 Women in Leadership Cohort #5 also in partnership with eBay. Apply here or sign up for an upcoming information session to learn more here.

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