President, NHM Connect
Government relations (GR) is deemed by many as an intimidating space – it’s complex, multi-faceted, and often paved with red tape and seemingly closed doors for new players. I have dedicated my career to being a connector in this space and breaking down these barriers. Over the last few years, an area of focus has been working to improve the intersectional space of GR and the startup ecosystem through a number of initiatives housed under Startup Canada’s program Startup Gov
Despite the steps we have taken, problems continue to persist, including a lack of interaction between early stage startups and government, a lack of awareness in the startup ecosystem as a whole, and red tape that continues to impede direct access to government. These problems are only exacerbated for women founders and hinder our collective efforts to improve circumstances for entrepreneurial success in Canada. Entrepreneurship is not a partisan issue – everyone should have a vested interest in a healthy, collaborative startup landscape.
Increasing Awareness & Entrepreneurial GR Engagement
For early stage entrepreneurs, GR is typically the last thing on their minds as they navigate the turbulent waters of developing a venture from the ground up. It’s often only when startups become stable and somewhat sustainable that founders can look to the greater ecosystem. This is made clear in the average startup fail rate of 38.8% past five years of operation – pointing to why government support is needed earlier.
This raises the question of how the support ecosystem can train early stage founders to interact with their government fully and earlier on in their journeys. Startup Canada is very intentional in who we work with and how we work with them – ensuring all advocacy is authentically by and for entrepreneurs. The Startup Gov program aims to be a 360-degree view on the topic of GR for all stages of business and, specifically, streamline both founder awareness of and engagement with government via the following core pillars:
- Awareness – What is involved in the GR space and how can it help my business?
- Education – How do I best utilise this information to accelerate the development and success of my business?
- Access – Facilitating access to these key government offices, departments and officials.
- Advocacy – Recommendations by and for entrepreneurs directly to government as a collective.
For women, programs like the Government of Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy can be the difference between thriving and seizing operations. The support programs exist, but the problem is twofold: many don’t know about these programs, and those that do are often denied access due to strict requirements that are difficult for early stage ventures to meet. Awareness of these programs, and the utility of said programs, needs to be improved to enable more aspiring founders to start businesses and for existing founders to know their government is there to help them.
Enabling Access & Reducing Red Tape
Champions shouldn’t exclusively exist in the private and non-profit space – it’s about increasing awareness and engagement as a whole as well as creating new avenues for connection and reducing barriers – bureaucratic, cultural and otherwise – to direct access.
In 2022, Startup Gov coordinated access to the government via roundtables, ensuring representation from all major parties at entrepreneurial events, and facilitating one-on-one connections between founders and key MPs. If myself and the support space can conduct this work on a larger scale, the sky’s the limit. Founders have the “asks” and solutions, they simply need the connections and building blocks.
Certain communication strategies in the GR space are not well known to founders and, as a result, entrepreneurial voices are left out when it comes to important activities such as pre-budget consultations. Other mechanisms are more widely known, but are under-utilised. Knowing who your MP is and requesting a meeting to relay your value in their riding may seem basic, but can be incredibly fruitful in terms of curating information quickly and gaining a well-connected ally for your business.
The red tape surrounding GR does not need to be this difficult. Direct access to parliamentarians and their offices is free and paid for by public tax dollars. If you’re an entrepreneur, where is your return on this investment? It’s about empowering founders, especially women, enough to know their voice truly matters.
The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs is a catalogue that quantifies the differences in economies’ financial, political, and cultural environments with respect to women founders. While Canada has improved its ranking from 2020 (7th) to the top three in 2022, this isn’t good enough. Canada should always be in the top three, and its women founders should have sureties and security that their government is listening and proactively creating circumstances for success. It’s hard to build a skyscraper if your foundation isn’t stable and reliable. A key aspect of actualizing this goal is bridging the gaps that exist in the GR space for founders and improving regular connection and collaboration.
The health of our women’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is vital for everyone’s bottom line – it powers our economy, accelerates the goals of support organisations, and empowers all women to thrive. Creating streamlined processes for communication, connection, and advocacy to government should be a top priority for all. Startup Canada is pushing this vision forward one platform and connection at a time – but imagine what we could accomplish with increased collective efforts and clear, fully accessible government supports.
About Natasha Morano
Natasha Morano is the President of NHM Connect, an Ottawa-based government relations consultancy, and the Corporate & Government Affairs Director 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.