Chief Executive Officer at Startup Canada
As of late 2021, Canada was home to 737 venture capital firms, hundreds of specialized support organizations, and thousands of individuals working everyday to empower entrepreneurs across the country. Despite the enormous amount of support and resources available to Canadian founders, most early-stage entrepreneurs have the same problem – persisting inaccessibility of this vital information in a clear, digestible format.
That’s where non-profit national conveners, like Startup Canada, come in. In an ecosystem with a lot of players, both in the public and private spheres, with their own agendas and areas of expertise, there is a growing need for more streamlined, centralized overviews of available support across the entrepreneurial landscape.
According to the projections of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, between seven and 21 percent of all Canadian SMEs could permanently close as a result of COVID-19. March of 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, marked a big shift in how Canada’s entrepreneurship support ecosystem showed up for their community.
Prior to the pandemic, Startup Canada worked tirelessly to be an in-person connector, hosting more than 10 large scale pitch competitions, award ceremonies, and workshops across the country from 2019 to March of 2020. At a time when the entire world was forced to pivot to digital programming, Startup Canada recognized an opportunity to lean into the unknown, and explore new ways to create real, tangible impact during a time of extreme hardship for founders. As the pandemic progressed, our team recognized three main areas of need: foundational and centralized knowledge for early-stage founders, convening partners to mobilize for disproportionately impacted demographics through annual specialized programming, and local/industry specific communities.
Access to foundational knowledge
Entrepreneurs have the vision and drive to succeed – what they don’t have is access to streamlined resources and connections that will accelerate their business through the foundational elements. In fact, 84 percent of 2021 Startup Canada Census respondents mentioned it took them over 100 hours to research and learn about different components of their business. The newly launched Business Owner’s Toolbox is helping founders navigate the support that exists across the entire ecosystem through one centralized solution.
Consolidating Support with Specialized Programming
Recognizing that COVID has disproportionately impacted certain demographics and industries, convening partnerships with specialized support organizations and private sector partners was a vital step in assisting our community. Specifically, we work with Rural on Purpose to support rural founders, Okwaho Equal Source and NACCA for Indigenous support, BDC and Sleepout to support the mental health of founders, the CGLCC for LGBT+ founders, and Scotiabank in an effort to empower women-identifying entrepreneurs.
Startup Canada has four flagship programs intended to serve specific needs within the country’s startup landscape – Startup Women (support for women-identifying founders), Startup Global (export support), Startup Gov (advocacy to government), and the Startup Communities (grassroots local and industry specific networks). The focus isn’t on building new shiny programming, but leveraging these specialized programs as a space to consolidate existing ecosystem support through engaged, like-minded partnerships. In February of 2022 we expanded these previously time gated programs to run annually, empowering our community with unlimited access to specialized information, resources, and support.
Throughout the pandemic, our team has worked tirelessly to expand the Startup Communities network from coast to coast. In 2021, many local, industry specific, and demographic-based communities were onboarded, bringing the total to 46 unique, grassroots networks. Community Leaders consistently show up for their networks, putting on 32 events that engaged 4,000 in 2021 empowered by the BDC Mental Health Fund, and the Mastercard, UPS, and the Startup Canada Community Empowerment Fund.
In order for Canada’s inspiring startups to recover and scale post-pandemic, they need access to strong communities, engaged connections, and clarity into what support exists. Conveners and connectors can help alleviate the time and energy needed to understand and thrive in the ecosystem – after all, entrepreneurs have enough to worry about.
About Kayla Isabelle
Kayla Isabelle is the Chief Executive Officer at Startup Canada, the gateway to Canada’s entrepreneurial ecosystem that points you in the right direction, eliminates barriers, and champions your needs to private and public sector partners. Startup Canada’s mission is to connect Canada’s entrepreneurs with the tools, community, and support they need to start and build their businesses. Kayla has dedicated her career to supporting entrepreneurs, both in Canada and internationally. As an award-winning strategic communications consultant and change management facilitator, Kayla is passionate about leveraging the power of storytelling in the entrepreneurial community.