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Nadia Ladak, CEO of Marlow, calls on entrepreneurs to “dream big”SUPPLIED

Nadia Ladak met one of the first rules of entrepreneurship by identifying a gap in serving a market – a market that happens to comprise half the world.

“It’s an issue that affects half the population yet there had been little to no innovation in the space,” says Ms. Ladak.

The Toronto entrepreneur is CEO of Marlow, a startup that produces lubricated tampons made with environmentally friendly materials. Her company grew out of the Ivey New Venture Project Course in her last year of school at Ivey Business School at Western University.

“Our professors told us to find a problem we’re passionate about solving, and we didn’t even realize that is how most great businesses start.”

To date, she has been able to raise $1-million from investors and another $400,000 in grants. The Marlow team also appeared on the most recent season of the CBC show Dragon’s Den, where they received a deal with dragon Arlene Dickinson. As part of a new generation of Canadian entrepreneurs, Ms. Ladak’s advice to would-be and fledgling startups is simple: “Dream big.”

A robust entrepreneurial class is critical to Canada’s collective economic prosperity. Yet, Canada is lagging the U.S. in the growth of startups, and the gap has widened the past few years, says Eric Morse, professor of Entrepreneurship at Ivey Business School, and executive director, Western Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship.

“Since the pandemic, there has been a 30 per cent increase in startups in the U.S. and a 30 per cent decrease in Canada,” he says.

There are 100,000 fewer entrepreneurs in Canada today than there were 20 years ago, according to the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). Startups need more funding, education and resources, but “A lot of people don’t know how to get started,” says Dr. Morse.

Local business development centres can help and the Government of Canada offers resources on getting ventures off the ground, including financing programs. Aspiring entrepreneurs can also access a free online course called The Founder’s Journey, where Ivey professors run through the step-by-step process of launching a business.

Funding is often a challenge. Entrepreneur Erik Mikkelsen says that Canadian venture capital (VC) firms have loosened their purse strings in recent years, but that to secure it, it’s vital to demonstrate real innovation.

“Canadians are thought to be more risk averse than their American counterparts, and Canadian VCs are saying they’re not seeing entrepreneurs take enough big swings,” he says.

When he pitched his first entrepreneurial idea in Canada, Mr. Mikkelsen was told he was too young. The graduate of Ivey Business School at Western University turned to funders in the U.S., where he found greater acceptance. Today, based just outside Dallas, Texas, he’s president of video surveillance company Stealth Monitoring and managing partner of a private investment firm.

Beyond the pursuit of seed capital and growth capital, Canadian entrepreneurs need to expand their ambitions, says Glenn Yonemitsu, managing director, High-Impact Firms, BDC. He notes that American startups often think early on about the global market. Whereas in Canada, new businesses typically think in terms of growing regionally or in other parts of the country. “We think about going east-west,” he says. That narrows the opportunities when there are nearby American or other global markets waiting to be tapped.

More support for female entrepreneurs can also bolster Canada’s entrepreneurial class. Only about 17 per cent of Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises are women-owned, reports Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. And these founders often face particular obstacles.

Half of women business owners report challenges in accessing financing, according to a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. More female than male entrepreneurs also said they had trouble finding, applying for and qualifying for government programs. Other research shows that women receive only 2 per cent of venture capital funds globally.

Ms. Ladak observes that female founders tend to get a lot of negative-based questions when looking for funding. “For example, a female founder might be asked, ‘Why wouldn’t someone just copy your idea?’ Versus a male founder who might be asked, ‘What’s your plan to grow this business and outrun the competitors in the next five years?’”

With the added barriers, she says some women could be more reticent to starting a business. “There’s a lot of risk that you’re taking.”

In her case, she decided to quit a stable job to work full time on the startup, with no funding, product or prototype. It was an audacious decision.

Dr. Morse says Ms. Ladak’s business is a prime example of the kind of social enterprises that often appeal to a new generation of entrepreneurs. For them, values matter as well as profits. He notes an increase in startups that are focusing on obtaining B Corp status, given to companies that meet high environmental, social, and governance standards.

For entrepreneurs in any field, hustle and boldness matter, but so can some seasoning, says Dr. Morse. Before pursuing their business ventures, Mr. Mikkelsen was an investment banker at Barclays Capital and Ms. Ladak was a management consultant at KPMG.

“What you miss out on when you start [a business] young are experience, network-building, understanding customers and the particular problems facing a sector that you only get from spending years in an industry. Still, there are as many arguments for starting early,” Dr. Morse says.

Mr. Yonemitsu notes that Canadians tend to be 10-15 years older than Americans are at the time of their first entrepreneurial venture. You can chalk that up to Americans being more daring, he says, except that UK and Australian entrepreneurs start their businesses at a younger age than Canadian ones too, on average.

“We should be encouraging more people to try sooner and earlier,” he says.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Ivey School of Business. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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