A Game Changer for Women and Non-binary Entrepreneurs

By Lindsay Stewart Glor

Sludge, bias, and bottlenecks. When it comes to accessing funding, these three things can stop women entrepreneurs in their tracks, pushing them towards self-financing and away from more traditional lending options. With a commitment to supporting the growth of women and non-binary entrepreneurs, Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) has released a series of online supports for financial institutions and advisors, to help them better understand, identify, and address the sludge, biases, and bottlenecks inherent in their lending practices. 

“We wanted to provide lenders with a clear way forward,” says Alison Kirkland, CEO of WEOC. “It can be difficult to understand and identify the issues within your own organization and we hope that spending some time exploring these resources will enable lenders to make simple changes that will have a significant impact.”

Developed using recommendations from WEOC’s 2022 report: Bootstrap or Borrow? Improving Equity and Access to Financing for Women and Non-Binary Entrepreneurs in Canada, the robust suite of digital resources includes a multi-part podcast series, animated videos, a sludge audit checklist, and a seven-part article series. 

Last year, just as the Bootstrap or Borrow resources were being developed, WEOC stepped into the lending space itself, with the launch of the WEOC National Loan Program, made possible through the Government of Canada’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy.

“We definitely had the opportunity right away to put what we learned from the report into action,” laughs Kirkland.

The loan program, which is currently distributed as a partnership with loan fund partners in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Newfoundland & Labrador, offers entrepreneurs loans in any amount up to $50,000, flexible terms, as well as tailored business advising, training, and loan aftercare supports. 

“It’s a holistic approach to lending that looks beyond credit scores to understand the individual context around each business,” explains Kirkland. “I think this approach could be a game changer for many women and non-binary entrepreneurs in Canada.”

The first WEOC loan went out in November and since then more than $1 million has been disbursed to women and non-binary entrepreneurs in diverse industries across Canada. The response from entrepreneurs has been overwhelmingly positive. 

“The experience overall has been fantastic,” says Leah Murphy, owner of Star Payroll in Newfoundland & Labrador. “There wasn’t that intimidation factor of working directly with the bank, where you feel like there may be less of an opportunity to ask questions when you’re unsure.” 

Murphy worked with Newfoundland & Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs (NLOWE), the WEOC loan fund partner on the East Coast. 

“NLOWE was pivotal in helping me get my first business off the ground and in helping me get the WEOC application to the point where I could submit it and get it approved quickly,” says Murphy. “There was a lot of back and forth with NLOWE initially, with them asking clarifying questions, so when the application went through, I was shocked at how quickly it came back, and the funds were processed.”

To find out more about the WEOC National Loan Program, including partners in your regions, please visit weoc.ca/loan-program. 

What is Sludge?

“Excessive or unjustified frictions that get in the way of people being able to get the things they want to receive and are qualified to receive.”