Funding Opportunities for Women Founders

March 8th marks International Women’s Day, and we thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to take a closer look at a few funding opportunities from government entities, not-for-profit organizations and accelerators focused on supporting women business founders nationwide.  This article provides a summary of some significant funders and support organizations in Canada that women-owned businesses should be aware of, as well as a few specific details on some of the opportunities they offer.  

Canada-wide 

BDC: Women in Technology (WIT) Fund 

The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) is a crown corporation that offers various resources for entrepreneurs looking to innovate in new and existing markets. It works with small and medium-sized businesses in various stages of growth with a focus on flexible financing, advisory services, and capital. 

The BDC Capital Women in Technology (WIT) Fund is a venture capital fund entirely dedicated to investing in Canadian, women-led technology companies and helping to build a robust ecosystem to support women in tech today and in the future. This fund offers seed to series B investments to eligible businesses and provides venture partner networking and international growth opportunities. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis. 

Export Development Canada (EDC): Women in Trade Investment Program 

Export Development Canada (EDC) is a crown corporation that assists companies of all sizes with trade knowledge, financial solutions, equity, insurance, and developing connections. Its mission is to help Canadian businesses achieve success by offering financial solutions and international expertise.   

The Women in Trade Investment Program offers export support to women-led and owned companies seeking to explore  or already in international markets. This program provides resources for every stage of the exporting journey and helps participants manage risks and cashflow. EDC also offers Select Credit Insurance and access to expert advice to help exporting businesses stay competitive on the global market. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis. 

SheEO 

The SheEO Canada Fund is a federally incorporated Canadian not-for-profit. The fund is also present in Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Their business model brings together women and non-binary individuals from different backgrounds and ages (called SheEO Activators), who contribute to a Perpetual Fund that is then in turn loaned out at zero percent interest to women or non-binary individual led ventures. The program also provides networking, coaching and mentoring to the selected ventures. SheEO is not currently seeking new applicants for its portfolio at this time, but there is at least one application round per year.  

DMZ: Women Founders Bootcamp  

Based in Toronto, The DMZ is an incubator that supports innovative tech startups by connecting them with customers, capital, experts, and a community of entrepreneurs and influencers.  

The Women Founder Bootcamp is a six-week program that helps early-stage tech founders validate their business idea, establish a minimum viable product, and build a roadmap for implementation to launch a startup. The goal of the program is to help these founders increase their businesses potential and meet eligibility requirements for DMZ’s core programming. 

Quebec 

McGill Dobson: McGill Dobson Entrepreneurial Women Lean Startup 

The Dobson Centre is the hub for entrepreneurship at McGill University and brings together members of all faculties to create innovative startups in a variety of domains. Its accelerator programs are intended for McGill affiliated individuals that are currently students, alumni, faculty, or staff.  

The McGill Dobson Entrepreneurial Women Lean Startup Program is a new version of Dobson’s existing Lean Startup Program specially designed for women innovators and aspiring business founders. The 8-week program offers participants the opportunity to learn from the experiences of successful female founders, training workshops, and coaching. The goal of the program is to equip aspiring founders with frameworks that will help them develop a business plan and set realistic goals for their projects.  

At the time of publication, the deadline to apply for the next cohort of Women Lean Startup program is April 17, 2022.  

Groupe 3737: Fempreneures 

Founded in 2012, Groupe 3737 assists entrepreneurs from all backgrounds start and grow profitable business. Their services are mainly intended for immigrants and underrepresented entrepreneur groups.  

The Fempreneures program is a continuation of the Elevation program, with an emphasis on female entrepreneurship. 3737 created this program specifically for women entrepreneurs in response to the many studies showing that women remain underrepresented in entrepreneurship and face distinct challenges.  

This accelerator program mainly offers training and peer support.  

EVOL: Business Startup Loan 

Evol is supported by the Quebec Ministry of Economic Development and the Government of Canada. It supports the development, acquisition, and growth of diversified and inclusive businesses with positive impacts on society in accordance with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and seeks to contribute to the development of more diverse and sustainable businesses led by members of underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship. EVOL defines these underrepresented groups as those who identify as one or more of the following: women, racialized people, immigrants, First Nations, Inuit, LGBTQ2+ community members and people with disabilities.    

EVOL offers business startups loans  ranging from $20,000 to $75,000. Entrepreneurs applying for funding will have the opportunity to finance the acquisition of tangible and intangible assets, working capital, development and marketing of products, and more.  

Alberta 

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE)  

In 1995, Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) identified critical gaps in access to financing and services for women entrepreneurs. To fill these gaps, WD committed funds to create Women’s Enterprise Initiatives (WEI’s) in the four western provinces, including Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE). 

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) is a not-for-profit organization that enables women to develop successful businesses. Founded in 1995, it provides advising, financing, mentoring, and networking services to women at all stages of their business ventures. 

AWE offers business loans for women-owned businesses in Alberta. It offers financing between $30 000 and $150 000 to start or grow a business, as well as business advising and access to networking with like-minded entrepreneurs. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis. 

British Columbia 

WeBC 

Similar to the Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), WeBC is also part of the Women’s Enterprise Initiatives (WEI’s). It is a not-for-profit organization that has supported women business owners across British Columbia for over 25 years. WeBC offers financing, as well as mentoring, webinars, business skills development, and advisory services. 

WeBC offers business loans for women small business owners.  It provides funding of up to $150 000 with various repayment options and terms of up to 5 years. Loans can be used for leasehold improvements, equipment, operating capital, and more. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis. 

Funding Opportunities for Black-Owned Businesses

To celebrate Black History month in Canada, we took a closer look at a few funding opportunities from government organization, public-private partnerships and non-profits specifically intended for black and other minority business owners across the country. This article offers an overview of some key funders and support organizations Black business founders in Canada should know about as well as some details on some of the opportunities they offer.  

Futurpreneur Canada: Black Entrepreneur Startup Program  

Futurpreneur is a non-profit organization that offers financing, mentoring and support tools to business owners aged between 18 to 39 years old. 

The Black Entrepreneur Startup program provides startup loan financing from $5,000 to $60,000 and up to two years of one-on-one expert mentorship. Recipients also have access to resources and the opportunity to engage with a national network of Black entrepreneurs, leaders and Black-led community organizations at a variety of entrepreneurship events.  

This program is funded by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and BDC.  

The FACE Coalition: Entrepreneurship Loan Fund 

The FACE coalition is a Black-led non-profit organization focused on providing resources and information to the Black community across Canada. They support sustainable economic initiatives and help develop strategic partnerships to accelerate the creation of generational wealth in Canada’s Black communities. The Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund was created to provide funding for Black business owners seeking investments, working capital, or additional resources to expand their businesses.  

The fund offers micro and macro loans to eligible entrepreneurs. The micro loans are administered by Vancity Credit Union and Alterna Savings and are available in Ontario and British Columbia. Their macro loans, on the other hand, are funded by BDC and the Government of Canada and are available across the country. Macro loan amounts range from $25,000 to $250,000 and principal payments can be deferred for up to a year. 

This loan fund was created as a part of the Government of Canada’s Black Entrepreneurship Program 

EVOL: Business Financing

Evol is an organization financially supported by the Quebec Ministry of Economic Development and the Government of Canada. It supports the development, acquisition, and growth of diversified and inclusive businesses with positive impacts in accordance with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and seeks to contribute to the development of more diverse and sustainable businesses. With a combination of financing and personalized guidance, as well as adapted complementary services, EVOL supports under-represented groups in entrepreneurship and their businesses. EVOL defines these underrepresented groups as those who identify as one or more of the following: women, racialized people, immigrants, First Nations, Inuit, LGBTQ2+ community and people with disabilities.  

EVOL offers two business lending options: startup loans ranging from $20,000 to $75,000, and growth and acquisition project loans offering between $20,000 and $450,000 in repayable financing.  

Afro Caribbean Business Network Foundation: Micro Loan Fund

The Afro Caribbean Business Network Foundation supports African and Caribbean entrepreneurs with their business projects. They develop funding programs and compile tools and resources to help all kinds of entrepreneurs. Their network of experts also provides assistance for all stages of business planning and development. 

Their Microloan Fund offers low interest loans to African and Caribbean. The program offers micro-loans ranging between $500 and $2,500.   

DMZ: Black innovation fellowship

DMZ supports several technology incubator and accelerator programs around the world. Their programs support tech startups by offering them expert mentoring, access to capital and a community of entrepreneurs and influencers. 

Their incubator program supports early-stage tech startups by helping them start their business in earnest. Startups join with a minimum viable product and some form of market validation, and over the course of 8 to 12 months receive the hands-on support needed to further develop their product, build their team and create a sales strategy.  

The Black Innovation Fellowship offers a number of added benefits and opportunities in addition to the incubator’s regular programming and is specifically destined for black tech startup founders. These opportunities include tailored workshops, exclusive marketing and networking opportunities and dedicated support from DMZ’s Black Innovation Programs staff.  

Getting to Know Canada’s Innovation Superclusters

What is the innovation supercluster initiative?  

In 2018, the Government of Canada announced the launch of 5 innovation superclusters. These organizations were meant to foster innovation in key economic sectors, increase collaboration between the private sector and researchers, create jobs and increase Canada’s competitive advantage in technology development 

The Federal Government planned to invest $950 million over 5 years when launching the program. As of December 2020, close to $1.2 billion had been invested in over 265 approved projects across Canada (Government of Canada).   

The requirements to be selected as one of the superclusters were quite stringent: each organization had to demonstrate they would be able to match the government funds to finance selected projects. The superclusters also had to be led by a new or existing not-for-profit, represent firms of all sizes (from both the public and private sector), and include at least one academic institution (Government of Canada).  

While a variety of relevant activities can be funded by the different superclusters, the eligible costs applicants can expect to see covered are restricted to administrationoperational and direct project costs. Research and development activities, recruitment of new talent, market expansion, equipment purchase and installation and more can constitute eligible projects.   

Each supercluster offers its own programs, with targeted goals, timelines, and specific funding amounts. Below, you will find out more about each cluster, their industry focus and the programs they offer. You will also discover how some of them leveraged Canadian innovation capabilities and technologies to face the pandemic.   

Scale AI Supercluster  

Scale AI is “an investment and innovation hub focused on accelerating the application of artificial intelligence (AI) for supply chains” (Scale AI). Its main hub is in Montreal.  

At launch, they received $230 M in federal funding, with an additional $54.3 M coming from the Quebec Provincial Government. The key industry sectors in which they work to implement AI technologies include areas such as retail, manufacturing, transport, logistics and construction.  

Although this cluster is based in Quebec, Scale AI is expanding its program offering to other regions of Canada. In 2020, they launched initiatives in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec as part of their Acceleration Program, with even more projects planned in 2021. Announced in 2019, the Acceleration Program’s goal is to support—via cash infusions to certified entrepreneurial institutes—100 startups a year across the country.  

To apply for broader project-based funding, applicants must collaborate with other members of the cluster to create a proposal that meets Scale AI’s objectives. This cluster is also developing training initiatives: Scale AI and partner organizations across Canada offer individual skill development, as well as custom training programs for businesses 

According to their 2019-2020 annual report, 75% of their investments so far have gone to SMEs (small and medium enterprises), and 73% of investments were made in Quebec.  

Next Generation Manufacturing Supercluster  

This supercluster, also known as NGen, leverages the innovative capabilities and talent pool found in Southern Ontario and Quebec. Machine learning, robotics, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D printing technologies, along with even more applications of advanced manufacturing capabilities, are all relevant to this cluster.   

NGen’s goal is to “leverage Canada’s technology and industrial strengths to accelerate the development, adoption, and scale-up of world-leading capabilities in Canadian manufacturing.” (NGen) Regular project funding from this cluster usually varies between $50k to $20M depending on the nature of the demand and the need for program funds.  

During the summer of 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NGen launched the Made Smarter Strategic Supply Challenge. The goal of this call for proposals was to scale up the Canadian production capacity of health products and devices instrumental in fighting the global pandemic.  

In January of 2021, the Financial Post reported that NGen awarded over $27M to a number of projects. This does not include any co-investments, which bring the total funding amount invested in this call for proposals to over $60M. (Financial Post)   

Digital Technology Supercluster  

Based in British Columbia, this cluster aims “to solve the world’s biggest problems by developing, deploying and scaling Canadian made digital technologies in ways never seen before”. (Digital Technology Supercluster) Like the other superclusters, they support companies across Canada. Members of the cluster are found in 9 provinces, with 40% being located outside of BC.  

The wide-ranging possibilities offered by data science and digital technologies are reflected in the diversity of industries – health sciences, cybersecurity, agrifood and more – targeted by this supercluster. 

Their Capacity Building program is focused on helping Canadians expand their skills and opportunities. It is divided into 2 kinds of projects: strategic initiatives and exploratory projects. Funding recipients for the strategic initiatives will obtain between $2M and $4M, whereas the exploratory project can access between $50K and $500K.  

They also offer a Technology Leadership program, dedicated to using data science to address important, global issues such as the accessibility of health services, climate change and more. The program will co-invest up to $30M in 5 to 7 projects in each targeted field.  

Protein Industries Canada Supercluster  

The Plant Protein Supercluster’s headquarters are in Alberta. This innovation cluster seeks to develop new plant-based protein alternatives and strengthen Canada’s agri-food economy, leveraging Western Canada’s agricultural strengths. As of the publication of their 2020 annual report, an estimated 569 jobs had been created by 17 funded projects.  

Protein Industries Canada offers two main funding programs to member organizations: The Capacity Building Program and the Technology Program. The first is focused on cross-industry initiatives to create long-term benefits for the agricultural and food processing sector. This is done through collaborative projects aiming to train a more skilled workforce, increase intellectual property literacy, improvements in infrastructure and more. The Technology Program creates partnerships to create new and innovative plant protein products that will develop Canada’s value-added food processing potential.  

In response to COVID-19, Protein Industries Canada made changes to their technology program. Until March 31st, 2021, projects could see eligible salaries funded at 75% – as opposed to the usual 50% – and applicants could receive advances on their funding.   

Ocean Supercluster  

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, based in Atlantic Canada, has the mandate to leverage Canada’s uniquely vast and resource rich ocean economy potential. To do so, this supercluster collaborates with several industries, from aquaculture and transportation to offshore energy, national defense, ocean resources, and more 

Their Ocean Startup Project aims to double the number of ocean technology startups operating in Atlantic Canada. The program is in partnership with notable accelerators like Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) and Innovacorp. Bootcamps, innovation competitions and dedicated accelerator programs are being created to meet this goal. Like other superclusters, they also have a Technology Leadership program to fund collaborative projects with total costs ranging from $500k to $20M.   

Their most recent call for proposals, the Ocean Supercluster Resilience (OSCR) program, took place in February 2021. A response to the massive disruptions caused by the global pandemic, this program accepted EOIs for projects able to increase the ocean economy’s resilience by addressing supply chain efficiency, sustainability issues and more. Projects will see up to 50% of their eligible costs covered, and selected applicants should be announced shortly.   

Have questions about these Superclusters, or think your company is a good fit for any of their funding programsDon’t hesitate to reach out to our team 

 

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