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opinion

Eric Morse is executive director of the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship, Ivey Business School. Neil McLaughlin is group head, personal and commercial banking, Royal Bank of Canada.

An entrepreneur’s journey often begins without capital, a team or market. But almost all start their ventures with an abundant supply of optimism. It’s what helps entrepreneurs see their opportunity well beyond its risks, providing them with the confidence and capacity to remain resilient.

Character traits aside, there is no predetermined capability for any individual to start and grow a business. Even as our schools, business community and media rightfully celebrate their successes, we must be careful not to promote or perpetuate notions of the so-called “entrepreneurial mystique.”

The start-up stage is challenging enough without any such artificial barriers that could dampen Canada’s entrepreneurial spirit – especially now as an estimated seven million Canadians are thinking about starting their own business. Encouraging them to join the existing 3.5 million self-employed Canadians will help create a more inclusive, sustainable and prosperous country.

Entrepreneurship is a great economic equalizer, creating a pathway for underrepresented groups to participate in the mainstream economy. Some 40 years ago, women entrepreneurs accounted for little over 10 per cent of all Canadian entrepreneurs; now it’s one-third. Parity between new female and male entrepreneurs could be reached by 2030, according to a 2019 BDC report.

The same study also noted entrepreneurial activity among newcomers was double the rate of the Canadian-born population. What’s more, they “create more net jobs and their firms grow more quickly” compared with the same group.

Additionally, a subset of high-growth entrepreneurs are helping to diversify the Canadian economy by reimagining or creating new industries altogether. These “gazelles” are more likely to export their goods and services, which in turn generates new wealth in their home markets. To be sure, sightings are rare in Canada though the growth of clean energy exports in recent years are notable. A concerted effort to develop an ecosystem for this entrepreneurial group would have a multiplier effect on future economic growth.

Today 90 per cent of private-sector workers are employed by entrepreneurs and their companies, making up a significant number of small and mid-sized companies that contribute more than $1-trillion to Canada’s GDP alongside a steady revenue stream for public programs.

But the benefits of a vibrant entrepreneurial culture extend well beyond the economy. The speed and singular focus of small and nimble ventures are well-equipped to help Canada solve big, societal challenges, such as accelerating our transition to a net-zero economy. Certainly, at Ivey, many students believe entrepreneurship is the fastest way to develop innovative solutions for a whole host of issues.

However if our country wants to deepen its entrepreneurial culture, and inspire more individuals to start their own businesses, it is crucial we find ways to engage with Canadians beyond the traditional business school setting.

To this end, Ivey has partnered with RBC Future Launch and The Globe and Mail to create a free, self-paced online course that helps aspiring Canadians gain the knowledge and confidence to build and run their own business. Over the course of the eight, 20-minute modules, award-winning faculty and established entrepreneurs help participants understand key concepts, such as what a good idea looks like; how to acquire customers; and how to secure funding to grow their businesses. There is also a module on starting a social enterprise.

This course is being introduced at a critical juncture. Canada’s economy experienced a significant decline in “self-employed” workers during the pandemic. A strong recovery is now under way – the number of new business entrants in 2021 was up by more than 5.5 per cent compared with 2019 – but many aspiring Canadians remain on the sideline.

Respondents to a recent Ownr survey help explain why. Start-up costs were cited as the primary barrier to those who want to run their own business, but close to 40 per cent of respondents said they were “not sure how to start” their venture. For these and other would-be entrepreneurs, turning aspiration into action should be a national objective.

All the more reason why we must demystify the founder’s journey in building a business. Peter Drucker, one of the leading thinkers of management, put it plainly: “It’s not magic, it’s not mysterious, and it has nothing to do with the genes. It’s a discipline.”

And, we believe, like all disciplines, it can be taught. Indeed it must be taught in our schools and beyond. Because the stronger our entrepreneurial sector is, the better off Canada will be.

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