Women join ranks of Ontario’s entrepreneurs: Study

A new report suggests women are joining the growing ranks of Ontario’s entrepreneurs in increasing numbers, outpacing the rest of the country.

The Ontario edition of the Global 2015 Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) found that 14.4 per cent of Ontario respondents were involved in setting up a business, putting it ahead of larger economies like the U.S. and Australia.

For every 100 male entrepreneurs in the province, the survey suggested that there are 92 female counterparts.

This number put Ontario ahead of Canada and many of the other 62 economies included in the global survey.

But the study, conducted by the Ryerson University’s Brookfield Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship — also indicated that women in Ontario are dogged by stronger fear of failure than their peers elsewhere in the world.

It found 52.4 per cent of female respondents in Ontario said fear of failure would prevent them from starting their own business, well above the 40.7 per cent of male respondents in the province and 47 per cent of female in the rest of Canada.

Study co-author Charles Davis, an associate dean at Ryerson University’s Faculty of Communication and Design, said attitudes among survey respondents indicated that Ontarians felt they worked in a province that was conducive to launching a business and that they themselves had the skills to get the project off the ground. Their optimism, however, only extended so far.

People don’t believe that it’s possible to grow firms big in Ontario,” Davis said in a telephone interview. “They believe that it’s possible to grow a sustainable, profitable firm, but they don’t have big ambitions.”

Large-scale growth was not part of Jean Blacklock’s initial vision when she left the corporate world and struck out on her own in 2011.

When she founded the Prairie Girl Bakery in downtown Toronto, she hoped simply to fill a vacancy in the city’s food scene by offering freshly baked, home-quality goods in a market dominated by fast-food or pre-packaged options.

Her small store, which opened in 2011, soon outstripped her original vision. Three shops now operate throughout the city, allowing the bakery to offer a wider array of cupcakes and cookies more quickly.

Her experience has led Blacklock to share the survey’s conviction that Ontario is a sound place for entrepreneurs to get a leg up.

She attributes much of her success to the fact that she opened up shop in a highly populated area, adding Ontario’s comparatively high population relative to other parts of the country would create similarly favourable conditions for other aspiring business owners.

“It is really basic. It’s not really magical, but . . . it’s just math,” she said. “I think Ontario is a strong point in that matter.”

Blacklock said fear of failure did not ultimately stop her from pursuing her vision, but said it is part of reality as an entrepreneur in Ontario or any province.

Anxiety has kept her from expanding into the potentially lucrative markets found in major shopping centres, she said, adding the exorbitant rent costs and lengthy leases have held her back from exploring some of those potential opportunities.

Davis theorizes that fear of failure among Ontario’s women may be higher because of greater “family management responsibilities,” but Blacklock said her experience suggests anxiety over future success is shared equally among all entrepreneurs.

“Every time we see (other small business owners), we chat about . . . how scary it is,” she said. “I’m hesitant to say that it’s different for a woman. That’s not been my observation.”

The GEM report found that most of Ontario’s entrepreneurs are concentrated in consumer services, with retail, hotels and restaurants accounting for 26 per cent of all entrepreneurial enterprises in the province.

The report pointed to other conditions that make Ontario fertile ground for entrepreneurs, such as good commercial and physical infrastructure and a culture that promotes entrepreneurship based on opportunity, not necessity.

But the report also said there’s room for improvement in gaining access to new technologies, saying the process of seeing products move from university labs to the market is slow and inefficient.

The report also indicated that business owners want to see more government support to help them obtain new tech.

By Michelle McQuigge

Drew Sauveur
Author: Drew Sauveur

Local business owner and resident of Durham Region

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