Canadian groups urge governments to implement funding for underrepresented entrepreneurs amid COVID-19

Women in Tech

The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC) and Dream Legacy Foundation have shared policy recommendations with the provincial and federal governments that could support underrepresented founders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recommendations were released along with a survey that heard from entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups across the country, including women, minorities, and business founders with disabilities.

“It’s critical that we don’t use COVID-19 as an excuse to erase the gains we’ve made in business diversity.”

The initial results of that survey revealed the broader impact of COVID-19 on these entrepreneurs, with 85 percent of respondents saying they have lost contracts, customers, or revenue during the crisis. The survey findings were used to form recommendations to policymakers.

“We are hearing countless stories of founders’ pain and frustration trying to navigate government and private sector funding since the breakout of COVID-19,” said Danielle Graham, a survey partner, entrepreneur, and investor. “Especially in a purely virtual world, our pre-COVID relationships and networks are even more critical to engaging these underrepresented communities.”

The organizations’ first recommendation is to implement emergency funding for underrepresented entrepreneurs. Eight-five percent of people surveyed reported a loss in contracts, revenues, and customers during the pandemic, with racialized founders reporting the highest percentage of losses at 80 percent.

RELATED: Number of Canadian startups significantly impacted by COVID-19 slightly higher than global average

CanWCC and Dream Legacy Foundation said this emergency funding should be tailored to each group’s needs and should be administered by “leaders and organizations within each community.”

BetaKit has learned that the federal government is planning to announce emergency COVID-19 measures specifically for women entrepreneurs. A government spokesperson has confirmed to BetaKit that plans for the measure have been finalized, with details expected to be announced shortly.

“The narrative right now around business and economic stimulus is very homogenous.”

“There is no time for the government to conduct an ecosystem map or environmental scan to understand the unique needs of each of these groups,” CanWCC and Dream Legacy Foundation said. “Community leaders and organizations have the expertise to navigate these complex ecosystems already.”

The second recommendation is to integrate mental health support into emergency responses. Mental health was consistently reported as one of the top three challenges for founders across the communities surveyed. The report noted that sources of these mental health concerns include financial insecurity, physical health, loss of a loved one, conflict in the home, including domestic violence, loss of social support, and general anxiety about the future.

The organizations said mental health support requires both rapid short-term intervention and long term planning for ongoing care. These supports could include subsidized mental health services, on-call mental health and wellness providers, or a partnership with an online service that provides mental health services.

Some steps towards this have already been taken at the private sector level. For example, the Ontario Psychological Association recently partnered with Think Research to provide virtual mental health services in the province.

RELATED: Federal government allocates $306 million to Indigenous businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

The report’s third recommendation is to enact universal, subsidized child care. This, the organizations said, would enable women with young children to participate in the labour force in higher numbers, which would positively impact economic growth and productivity.

Spending additional time on care and domestic work was reported as a key challenge for women, Indigenous people, and people living with disabilities or increased accessibility needs, according to the survey.

The report noted that prior to COVID-19, women and girls performed more unpaid domestic and caretaking labour than men, adding that time spent on caretaking and household work means less earning capacity and reduced productivity.

“The narrative right now around business and economic stimulus is very homogenous. It’s critical that we don’t use COVID-19 as an excuse to erase the gains we’ve made in business diversity,” said Nancy Wilson, CEO and founder of CanWCC. “We want every level of government to include the voices and experiences of all business owners when drafting policy and allocating financial support.”

With files from Meagan Simpson

Image source Unsplash.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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