Feds announce $4.2M for women-led businesses in southwestern Ontario, and provincial network

Seven businesses are getting up to $100,000, while Pillar Non-Profit Network is getting $3.5 million for a women's entrepreneur network.

The network will to connect women to training programs, coaches and investors

Minister Marie Ng was in London on Friday, announcing a total of $4.2 million dollars in funding for the Women of Ontario Social Entreprise Network and seven women-led businesses in southwestern Ontario. (Travis Dolynny/CBC London)

Underrepresented women are at the heart of a new Ontario-wide social enterprise network, which is getting more than $3.5 million dollars from the federal government.

The Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion, Marie Ng, made the announcement at Innovation Works in London on Friday morning.

Pillar Non-Profit Network will deliver the network, dubbed the Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network, or WOSEN.

"Women … [need] to know how to navigate the system to get capital, how to get a business mentor that might help them with the business journey," she said. WOSEN aims to provide an "eco-system" of support to meet those needs. 

Andre Vashist, the director of social innovation at Pillar, says the network will focus on underrepresented women, including newcomer women and Indigenous women. He says it'll offer them training programs, deep dives with business coaches, and it'll create an investor network.

It aims to support 150 new women-led social enterprises, expand 75 others that are already up and running, and offer training to 250 people in 12 communities. 

The Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion, Marie Ng, announced seven women-led businesses in southwestern Ontario that were receiving up to $100,000 from the federal government on Friday.

"The way things have been done has been okay, but it can be done better," said Vashist. "I'm excited to be working with organizations that have this idea of equity and inclusion at the top of their agenda, as well as combining that with social enterprise."

The federal government is also giving grants to seven women-led businesses in southwestern Ontario.  Shaw's Ice Cream in St. Thomas, Stiris Research in London, A Couple Of Squares in London, Scribendi in Chatham, DOZR in Kitchener, and Reko International Group in Windsor are getting up to $100,000 through the Women Entrepreneurship Fund.

Ng says they received more than 3,000 applications for the grant money from across Canada, and a total of 300 entrepreneurs were chosen.

 "They need to have been in operation for at least a couple of years because this money is to help them directly grow their business, or grow them through exporting," she said.

The interest in funding, Ng added, will help her meet a mandate to double the number of female-led and female-owned businesses by 2025.

She said 99 per cent of Canadian businesses are small and medium sized, yet only 16 per cent of them are spearheaded by women. 

"Studies like [the one] done by the McKinsey Global Institute tells us we can add up to $150 billion by simply adding women into the economy. So this is a really smart and strategic investment."

The funding announced Friday flows through the federal government's Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. The strategy was announced in the 2018 budget, along with a $2 billion investment.