Women are in the minority when it comes to business ownership in Canada, but they punch above their weight.
According to Statistics Canada, women are the majority owners of fewer than 16 per cent of small- and medium-sized enterprises in Canada. Yet research shows women-owned businesses contribute $150-billion to the Canadian economy and employ more than 1.5 million people. According to Economic Development Canada, greater equality in business could add $150-billion to the country’s gross domestic product by 2026.
How can you follow in the footsteps of Canada’s most inspiring business owners? The Globe Women’s Collective asked five successful women entrepreneurs for their best advice for women hoping to emulate their achievements:
Shahrzad Rafati founded Vancouver-based BBTV Holdings Inc. in 2005. The global media and technology company provides end-to-end tech solutions including monetization for content creators ranging from individuals to the NBA. BBTV is the second-largest video property in the world, second only to Google for unique viewers.
Last year, Ms. Rafati took the tech company public with a $172-million IPO, the largest in TSX history for a firm run by a female chief executive.
“As an entrepreneur, you have to be open to failure when you do things for the first time, but you need to fail fast and you need to learn from your mistakes quickly,” Ms. Rafati says. “That’s why our mantra at BBTV has been quick failures. Even now, 17 years later, the space has so much room to grow and it’s still evolving very quickly. Quick failures are such a core part of our DNA, and have helped us to achieve market leadership.”
Beyond quick failures, Ms. Rafati says there are some key pieces of advice she often passes along to entrepreneurs.
“First, go after large pools of opportunity and don’t solve a small problem if you can solve a larger one – it can take the same amount of time and effort to get there,” she says.
“Second, follow your passion, work hard, set a clear vision and don’t be afraid to pivot as you will never get it right the first time.”
Ms. Rafati’s third piece of advice is to pay close attention to the company you keep. “Surround yourself with amazing people as you’ll need supporters to keep you on track.”
Lastly, it’s all about keeping a “positive mental attitude and keep moving forward,” she says.
Michele Romanow, known widely as one of the dragons on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, is a serial tech entrepreneur who started six companies before her 35th birthday. She is currently the co-founder and president of Clearco, formerly Clearbanc, a fintech company that offers capital funding for ecommerce, mobile apps and software-as-a-solution startups.
“My one key piece of advice is to just start!” Ms. Romanow says. “The perfect moment doesn’t exist when starting a business. If you have an idea, act on it. You can always iterate it or pivot as you grow.”
Leigh Joseph, a member of the Squamish First Nation whose ancestral name is Styawat, is an ethnobotanist, researcher and founder of Skwálwen Botanicals, a skincare products company that combines her scientific and ancestral knowledge to produce sustainably harvested natural botanicals for her line of beauty products.
Ms. Joseph says her advice for other women entrepreneurs is to take the time to observe and think about what it is they are passionate about and what “holds meaning” for them.
“Sometimes this process isn’t easy,” she says. “Sometimes it’s born from difficult places or struggles that highlight a particular contribution we wish to make in the world through our business.”
Ms. Joseph says her passion has been about finding a pathway to reconnect with her Indigenous culture and identity through learning about and harvesting plants. “Developing my business was a way to bring together cultural expression [and] creativity and to share stories of beauty and resilience from an Indigenous perspective.”
She notes that starting and growing a business organically is hard work and takes a commitment to continuously learn and adjust. “Having the foundation of the greater ‘why’ of your business will carry you through these times,” Ms. Joseph says.
“And don’t forget to celebrate your successes,” she adds.
Cindy Roma is the co-chief executive officer and partner of Newfoundland-based Telelink, a response centre that offers round-the-clock messaging, safety monitoring and emergency response communications, help desk and tech support to a wide range of sectors including oil and gas, utilities and government.
Her advice for women entrepreneurs is to connect and network with other entrepreneurs and “don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back. Nobody has it all figured out, and the more entrepreneurs you can meet, talk to and understand, the more you’ll find that we’re all figuring it out as we go.”
She notes that the connections you make through networking can benefit you in more ways that you imagine.
“Your connections will open doors, keep you grounded, and hopefully inspire you to you reach new heights,” she says.
Janét Aizenstros is the founder and chief executive officer of Kitchener-based media tech company Ahava Group Global. Some of the company’s many properties include Ahava Digital, a consultancy helping companies grow relationships with women consumers, Twenty One Consulting, a consultancy helping women founders scale, as well as agencies focused on illustration, film production, music and more. Ms. Aizenstros is the recipient of the 2021 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Excellence Award.
“Successful women never pretend to be someone else, nor do we try to fit in with the crowd,” says Dr. Aizenstros. “We move to our own rhythm. We don’t ask permission. We don’t wait for someone to give us the opportunity. We take the opportunity.”
Successful women are willing to jump over obstacles and “tango with adversity” if necessary, Dr. Aizenstros says.
“We move forward with purpose and vision, never looking at the past. We are relentless even with silent tears. This is what sets us apart from everyone else.”
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