By Elizabeth Howell
Photos by Chris Roussakis

Carleton University is serving as the regional hub for the new Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), a federal government-supported national network and accessible digital platform for sharing research, resources and best practices aimed at increasing female entrepreneurs in Canada.

Led by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, in collaboration with the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Ted Rogers School of Management, WEKH is developing a platform to build a more inclusive innovation ecosystem.

On Wednesday, June 12, 2019 at Ottawa’s Impact Hub, a standing room only crowd of more than 120 stakeholders met to celebrate the launch, share insights and discuss challenges facing women entrepreneurs.

“I’m very pleased that Carleton is participating in this initiative,” Lorraine Dyke, Carleton’s associate vice president (Academic), told the group.

“Carleton has a longstanding commitment to gender issues, to women at work, and to supporting the success of women in business.”

Attendees included Mary Ng, minister of Small Business and Export Promotion, and Kanata-Carleton MP Karen McCrimmon. Ng noted that only 16 per cent of small and medium enterprises in Canada are led by women, but these women contribute $150 billion to the economy and employ 1.5 million Canadians.

“You are working to create those equal systems of support for our women entrepreneurs and together we are all doing our part to break down barriers women still face today,” said Ng.

“They exist and they impact women . . . but that’s what this work [at the hub] is about: to learn from it and break it down.”

WEKH, along with the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada, is supporting research conducted by Clare Beckton, executive in residence at Carleton’s Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work, and Janice McDonald, founder of consulting firm The Beacon Agency, who will conduct a national survey of women entrepreneurs on exports.

The questions will address why businesswomen export, the benefits and barriers to export, and what resources women use to conduct their businesses. The goal is to increase the number of women-led businesses who export.

In April, Ng announced the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, a $2-billion government spending initiative that aims to double the number of female-owned businesses by 2025. WEKH is one of several measures the Trudeau government is taking to accelerate the number of women entrepreneurs.

Wendy Cukier, founder of Ryerson’s Diversity Institute who is leading WEHK, noted that in addition to supporting women entrepreneurs, what is critical is opening up the broader innovation ecosystem.

“We need to challenge the very definition of entrepreneur. It’s highly gendered and associated with technology for example, with people like Gates, and Musk and Zuckerberg, even though these account for a small percentage of entrepreneurs. When we broaden the definition of entrepreneur to include self-employment, to include services, to include social enterprises and artists, suddenly the women appear.”

The event included a panel discussion with Cukier, Tracey Clark (president and CEO of Bridgehead Coffee), Melissa Cook (program manager, PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise) and Sharon Nyangweso (a communications and gender impact consultant) to take audience feedback on making entrepreneurship more welcoming for diverse women.

Topics the panel discussed included how to be more inclusive of minority groups and how workplaces can be more female-friendly. The Impact Hub provided free child care to event attendees.

“Collaboration is really the bottom line for us,” said Gina Babinec, Impact Hub’s programs lead.

“We bring as many voices as we can together and that strengthens the work we do and the collaboration individual entrepreneurs can do.”

Carleton is one of nine regional hubs for WEKH, which incudes VentureLabs at Simon Fraser University, Mount Royal University, the University of Manitoba, the PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise, Université de Montreal, Yukon College, OCAD University and Dalhousie University.

Friday, June 14, 2019 in
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