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The number of female entrepreneurs is growing slowly in Canada, but still accounts for just a small proportion of all small-business owners and remains an "untapped resource."

A new study by Royal Bank of Canada economist Laura Cooper shows women were majority owners of only 15.6 per cent of all small and medium-sized businesses in Canada as of 2011, an increase from 14.9 per cent in 2007 and 13.7 per cent in 2004.

Ms. Cooper said Canada should increase the appeal of entrepreneurship for women with access to female entrepreneur networks and promoting female role models, saying it could add a huge boost to the economy, which see 40 per cent of its gross domestic product come from small and medium-sized businesses.

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"The relatively low share of majority female-owned firms suggests female entrepreneurs represent an untapped resource of growth potential," she said.

The report shows female entrepreneurs are an aging cohort, with the proportion of female-owned companies with owners over age 65 nearly doubling in the past four years to about 10 per cent. Almost 60 per cent are owned by women over age 50.

Young female entrepreneurs are failing to offset the aging trend with a low share of business owners under the age of 40. However, Ms. Cooper said the share of relatively young companies of any ownership dropped between 2007 and 2011 and could reflect the economic downturn that began in 2008.

Female-owned firms tend to be smaller on average, with 62 per cent reporting they have four employees or fewer. Only 5 per cent say they sell abroad while the rest focus on local markets.

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