New Windsor-Essex program takes aim at business world’s gender imbalance
WINDSOR -- A new first-of-its-kind program for Windsor-Essex aims to help more women launch their own businesses.
The Venture Women program is an idea accelerator meant to boost female participation in business, especially within the emerging technology sector, and tackle the male-centric business culture.
“We don’t have many women startups from our programs and also from the region,” says Wen Teoh, executive director of the Entrepreneurship, Practice, Innovation Centre (EPICentre) at the University of Windsor.
EPICentre has launched the program to improve the just 16 per cent of Canadian businesses owned or led by women, according to federal government statistics.
“Entrepreneurship [has] been a challenge, that’s for sure,” says Saskia Scott, the owner of Sweet Revenge Bake Shop in Olde Riverside.
Scott is a red seal pastry chef and employs as many as 15 people during wedding season.
She says, male or female, entrepreneurship is difficult, but admits she has had unique encounters as a woman in the business environment.
“A lot of people do expect the business to be owned by a man,” says Scott. “They’ll call and say, ‘Oh, can I talk to the owner? Is he in?’ And then I’ll correct them and then after that we usually don’t have any issues.”
The lack of gender parity in business leadership is a reality the government is trying to change with a $2-billion Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES), meant to double the number of women leading businesses by 2025.
Teoh says there remain barriers in the business world specific to women. She points to a story told to her by a visiting CEO from the Detroit area.
“When she pitched her idea she was told to get a male to represent the company, so we’ve seen that because of the culture out there that is very male-dominated,” says Teoh. “We want to change that perception.”
A total of $692,000 in WES funds have flowed to Windsor-Essex, administered by the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation.
This week, the four-year Venture Women pilot program — backed by $34,000 a year in WES funding — held three days of “entrepreneurship boot camp” for the teams taking part.
Teoh says there are 13 applicants in the first year of the program who will receive mentorship, guest workshops and up to $2,500 in prototype development grants.
She sees the effort towards gender parity not just as a social issue, but as an economic one. Teoh says there is untapped potential in female entrepreneurs.
“The more we see ideas and the more we see from different type of businesses, then we can diversify our economy,” says Teoh.
Scott recommends anyone considering launching their own business to start small and scale up.
She adds the rewards will be worth the effort.
“There [are] definitely weekends where I’m like pulling my hair out, we’re going crazy,” says Scott. “But, our team, we always pull through and then when we see the look on customers’ faces … that makes our day and really, really is just so rewarding.”
Final pitches for the Venture Women program are set for March 30, which come with a chance at a $3,000 prize.