By: Meghan Hellstern | Senior Projects Officer
This is the second commentary in a series of three highlighting each of the community-led interventions that received grants as part of the Brookfield Institute’s Empowering Women Entrepreneurs project. Missed the first? Read it now.
The following text is a lightly edited set of responses from Brigitte Huard, Program Manager for the Accelerator for Women in Entrepreneurship (AWE), which delivers targeted workshops and events that enable women to grow their businesses, with a particular focus on increasing the level of future representation in advanced manufacturing. Brigitte works at Innovation Factory (iF), Hamilton’s catalyst for tech innovation. Since 2010, Innovation Factory has been accelerating the success of start-ups, providing business services, training and mentorship to help increase revenues, attract investment and create jobs. The organization serves 350-450 clients annually from across Hamilton, Brantford and Waterdown.
What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned or surprises you’ve encountered throughout this project?
I have been amazed by the engagement I’ve observed in this program. It is apparent from the registration, feedback and participation levels that this type of initiative is needed and highly valued by the business women in our community. The women in this group are determined to meet their goals and to help their peers succeed as well. It is truly inspiring.
What are some examples of the impact your Empowering Women Entrepreneurs project has had?
- In mid-December, JVS Toronto reached out to ask if we could assist in identifying an accountant, specifically a woman, who could be a guest speaker on the topic of sales and/or cash flow forecasting for the new My StartUp Program, which is a self-employment training program for women who have been involved with the criminal justice system. We were able to connect them with an ecosystem entrepreneur and chartered accountant who has regularly attended AWE sessions She was a great fit as she just led a similar mentorship session at the Hamilton YWCA.
- A new iF client asked about finding more opportunities for her team of eight web developers during an AWE session…turns out the event did just that! One of our clients in the audience was looking to engage a developer to build out her mobile platform. They connected during the networking portion and the two of them worked together, both growing their respective businesses.
- A community entrepreneur who is a beauty professional has attended sessions on a regular basis… She happened to sit next to an iF client whose company created a platform to connect beauty seekers with beauty professionals! At a later session, she shared this feedback about the AWE program: “This Accelerator has been a lifesaver and kickstarter for me to pursue and progress in my business. Each session I learn new things even when I think we’ve covered so much in previous sessions…”
What are you hoping to see in the future when it comes to empowering women entrepreneurs?
I would like to see more financial support for, and investment in, women-owned business. I would like for that support to be truly tailored to the unique challenges and opportunities that women in entrepreneurship face. I think it’s absolutely critical to validate our approach to entrepreneurship and to embrace it for what it is, not what we think it should look like based on the existing male-centred model. I want investors to check their biases, boards to check their gender balance, and for women CEOs to make the same pay as their male counterparts.
The research for this program shows that women gravitate towards businesses and solutions that are human-centred. Currently, these types of businesses are simply not getting the attention and respect they deserve. As we continue to develop tech solutions at record speed, and move further away from human labour towards automation, things could quickly go awry in terms of our humanity. I believe women are singularly poised to create much needed balance, if enthusiastically supported.
This article originally appeared on The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship. Read the original post here.