British Columbia

Competition puts spotlight on women entrepreneurs at a time when many need help

Women face unique barriers when starting their own businesses, and those barriers have been exaggerated due to the pandemic, says the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, which is running their 5th annual entrepreneur competition.

Prize includes $25,000 and a dedicated mentor

The Forum for Women Entrepreneurs is soliciting applications for their fifth annual Pitch for the Purse competition. (Forum of Women Entrepreneurs)

An annual entrepreneurship competition for women has taken on new significance this year thanks to the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on women workers. 

In April, women's participation in the Canadian workforce — the share of the working-age population that is working or looking for work — fell to 55 per cent, a level last seen in May 1986. More than 1.5 million women in Canada lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. 

Paulina Cameron is CEO of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, a charity that runs the Pitch for the Purse competition. The competition is accepting applications from women entrepreneurs who have a business pitch. The prizes include $25,000 for the finalist, $5,000 for the two runners-up, and dedicated mentoring.

Cameron says women entrepreneurs — who were already in a tough position before the pandemic — have suffered big losses.

"We saw that women didn't have the buffers to weather the unexpected and significant storm that ... hit, so many had to shut down right away," Cameron said.

On average, Cameron says, less than four per cent of venture capital in Canada goes to white women entrepreneurs, with negligible amounts going to Indigenous or Black women. 

"We know that women are three times more likely to be discouraged to borrow funding. And as a result of that, they often are running smaller businesses ... and don't have the same capacity or access to the resources that they need to bring their great big visions to life," she said.

Patrice Mousseau, the founder of Satya Organics and a 2018 finalist in the competition, says starting her business was a major struggle.

"I'm a single mom. I'm also an Indigenous person. And for me, finding finance to start the business was extremely difficult and continues to be," Mousseau said. 

Patrice Mousseau is the founder of Satya Organics and a 2018 finalist in the competition. (Forum of Women Entrepreneurs)

While her company has grown significantly from its original start-up, Mousseau says that's because women are forced to be creative and resourceful.

"Women in business tend to do more with less, because we have less," she said. "What could we do if we were actually supported, at least to the level that our male counterparts are being supported?"

This year's competition — which will be virtual — is a way of supporting and mentoring women during a tough time, Cameron says.

"You know, still the image around that is a young man with a hoodie and flip-flops and a baseball cap in his basement running a tech business from his computer," said Cameron.

"Success does not look one certain way ... there are so many different stories and narratives."

Applications are open until Oct. 23. The competition winners will be announced in February.

With files from On The Coast