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It’s About More Than Investment: Advocacy for Women Entrepreneurs

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Kayla Isabelle

CEO, Startup Canada

Women-owned businesses receive less funding than their male counterparts, with only 2% of total venture capital dollars going to women in 2021. This disparity is due to multiple factors, including the under-representation of women in financial lending institutions, pervasive societal biases, and more. These tangible barriers have created negative outcomes, including women-owned ventures making 58% less, on average, than male-owned ventures. Women also take on more risk when starting up, with a PayPal study indicating 70% of respondents financed their ventures solely via personal credit.

The Startup Women Advocacy Network (SWAN) is a group of early stage woman-identifying entrepreneurs from each province and territory who advocate for women founders across Canada. The 2022 cohort has been involved in closed-door government roundtables, in-person entrepreneurial events, webinars, and other direct advocacy.

We asked SWAN about women’s entrepreneurship and collective advocacy networks. Here’s what some of them said:     

Why is government advocacy vital? Tell us about the roundtables.


Lourdes Still

Founder, Masagana Flower Farm & Studio

“The amount of information I got really simplified things for me. Outside of SWAN it probably would have taken me days if not weeks to gather this information. I had a seat at the table.” – Lourdes Still, Masagana Flower Farm, Manitoba.


Sophia Yang

Founder & Executive Director, Threading Change

“While there’s a lot of support available to entrepreneurs, sometimes it feels like we are preaching to the choir. We need to ensure we’re being heard and that governments understand support for founders is not one size fits all.” – Sophia Yang, Threading Change, British Columbia.

Why are women’s advocacy networks vital?


Lesley Quinn

Founder, Stellar Somm Wine Experts

“The biggest benefit has been this feeling of community – it’s vital to not feel so alone and to remind yourself that you have resources because being an entrepreneur is hard.”  – Lesley Quinn, Stellar Somm Wine Experts, PEI.

“The biggest benefit has been increasing my visibility on the national level as a BIPOC woman founder.” – Lourdes Still.


Bernice Clarke

Founder, Uasau Soap

“It’s hard to do business or to be taken seriously as a woman, especially as a minority Inuk woman like myself. We need support to show us that we matter and that we are safe.” – Bernice Clarke, Uasau Soap, Nunavut. 

How do you challenge the startup ecosystem to do better for women?

Jessica McNaughton

Jessica McNaughton

Founder & CEO, memoryKPR

“We challenge you – if you’re an investor, invest in women. If you’re a consumer, buy from women. Women-owned businesses outperform total success rates in profitability, social good & longevity.” – Jessica McNaughton, MemoryKPR, Saskatchewan.

“We challenge investors to put their money where their mouth is and ensure when there’s access to capital, it’s also for impact-led projects.” – Sophia Yang.

Nadia Ladak_Marlow

Nadia Ladak

Co-Founder & CEO, Marlow

“I hope we can empower more women entrepreneurs than ever with the mentorship, capital, and resources required to achieve success.” – Nadia Ladak, Marlow, Ontario.

Investing in women is a wise decision, but we can do more. We need to address the multi-level barriers that exist and work collaboratively to restructure systems that were historically built by and for men. In this, it’s vital we ensure the voices leading the charge are women themselves. The value of advocacy vehicles composed of industry and demographically diverse women can’t be overstated.

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.

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