Equality in startup community
Accelerate Okanagan - Mar 12 - Columnists

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Last week, Accelerate Okanagan and Wavefront hosted the second-annual Canadian Accelerator Summit in Kelowna.

More than 115 accelerator, incubator, mentor, and community partners from across Canada gathered to learn, connect, and share best practices around growing a thriving and sustainable tech ecosystem.

Part of the day’s agenda included a special presentation from MP Alaine Lockhart. Lockhart was the first woman ever elected to represent her riding and has served as a member of the Standing Committees for Agriculture and Agri-food, and for Veterans Affairs. She is an experienced entrepreneur as well as a dedicated community organizer and volunteer.  

“I see the untapped potential of women entrepreneurs,” said Lockhart. “For too long, women have been underrepresented in business. Gender equality and empowerment is a big priority for this government, and this is reflected in the new budget.”

The recently released 2018 budget laid out the third chapter of the government’s plan to invest in Canada’s middle class and has a strong focus on creating a more competitive, diverse and inclusive Canada.

Bardish Chagger, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, acknowledged that thanks to the hard work, ingenuity, and creativity of Canadians, the country’s economy has been remarkably strong, growing at a pace well above that of all other G7 countries.

Since November of 2015 Canadians have created almost 600,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate has fallen from 7.1 percent to 5.9 percent.

“I am pleased to see that Budget 2018 makes meaningful investments to maximize the economic potential of women and under-represented groups,” said Chagger in an open letter last week. “While also taking meaningful steps toward reconciliation, protecting our natural environment and supporting our shared values as Canadians.”

Chris Heivly, the entrepreneur-in-residence with Techstars and keynote speaker at the Summit, also spoke about the importance of diversity.

“Let’s face it, the people that hold most of the power and the money in the community are usually like me, they’re old white men right?” said Heivly. “It is the responsibility of the people in these positions to rewire their thinking and take more of a ‘give first’ approach.”

Heivly went on to explain that it is this kind of upgrade in attitude that will promote more inclusivity when it comes to gender, race, age, and even educational attainment.

“Frankly, the activities that most of us have mastered or been working on, especially around tech, are really good for 25-35-year-old white male computer science majors. What we need to work on is building other doors and windows to let others in. We need to give them the same kind of access.”

In the spirit of this and in celebration of International Women’s Day and the Year of Women, we’ve included a recap of just some of the ways the new Federal budget is doing just that.  

  1. Support Women-Led Business Ventures

Canada’s first national Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy will focus on four areas of action:

  • Supporting the growth of women-owned businesses;
  • Increasing access to capital;
  • Improving women’s participation in federal business innovation programs;
  • Enhancing data and knowledge on women-led entrepreneurship.

Budget 2018 includes $105 million to deliver nationally coordinated, regionally tailored support to women entrepreneurs. Canada’s crown corporations are eager to set a global example in ensuring they are accessible for women entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Continuing its work for women entrepreneurs, the Business Development Bank of Canada set a new target of $1.4 billion in loans to women-owned businesses. The BDC is also increasing the Women in Technology Fund to $200 million from $70 million—already the largest fund of its kind in North America and now the largest in the world.

Export Development Canada is making available $250 million in export financing for women-owned businesses. To expand trade opportunities, we are also adding $10 million to the Business Women in International Trade program.

We are also investing $9.5 million in data and research, through a competitive process, because we know we can better understand the ongoing challenges women entrepreneurs face in getting ahead.

  1. Supporting Innovative Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners

To support innovative SMEs throughout our economy, Budget 2018 provides the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), one of Canada’s most successful commercialization programs, with an investment of $700 million over five years and $150 million annually thereafter.

The budget also invests $62 million over five years to improve access the National Research Council’s specialized facilities and equipment, scientists, and technical services to small businesses.

An additional $13.5 million will be invested over five years for 15 new Innovation Advisors to support Canadian high potential firms in the Accelerated Growth Service.

The federal government is one of Canada’s largest purchasers of goods and services. To help make the procurement process easier to navigate, Budget 2018 invests $196.8 million over five years to allow Public Services and Procurement Canada to establish an online procurement environment.

To help ensure that our businesses have the skilled workers they need to grow, Budget 2018 invests $4.6 million over five years to enhance the Startup Visa Client Service Experience by processing applications more efficiently for private sector employers and applicants. And as of this year, the Startup Visa will become a permanent tool to bring more diverse entrepreneurs to our country.

  1. Supporting Expansion and Reaching New Markets

When it comes to trade, the Canadian government wants to support high-growth Canadian technology businesses looking to expand to key markets. Budget 2018 provides $10 million over five years, and $2 million per year afterward to renew the Canadian Technology Accelerators program.

To help Canadian firms unlock growth opportunities through exports, the Trade Commissioner Service will undergo transformative enhancements to modernize tools and offer innovative services. To support Canadian firms and increase exports to new markets, Budget 2018 also provides up to $75 million over five years, to build a stronger Trade Commissioner Service presence in Asia, especially in China.

If you are an entrepreneur looking for support or a way to plug in, let’s talk. Our doors and windows are wide open and everyone is welcome.

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