Canada's economy hinges on female entrepreneurs

It may seem difficult to believe, but there was a day when the deck was stacked against a businesswoman from the word go.

She would face bank financing refusals, unco-operative suppliers, apprehensive clients, dismissive attitudes and everyone's advice to give up her dreams.

Things may have improved, but women still perceive more barriers to doing business than their male counterparts, which may explain why only a small portion of today's Canadian entrepreneurs are female. And that's not just a problem for women.

The country's economy hinges in part on female entrepreneurs because a vast majority of women's businesses are small to medium-sized ventures, which make up 40 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product.

And what's really needed is young blood.

Female entrepreneurs are aging. Companies owned by women aged 65 and older have nearly doubled in the past four years to about 10 per cent. Almost 60 per cent of companies are led by women over age 50.

Young female entrepreneurs aren't offsetting the aging trend. They even dropped between 2007 and 2011 (but that may be a product of the 2008 economic turndown).

The disheartening figure led Royal Bank of Canada economist Laura Cooper to suggest that Canada should increase the appeal of entrepreneurship with access to female entrepreneur networks and by promoting female role models.

However, there are still plenty of women bucking the downward trend, such as new Kamloops business owners Stephanie Dowling and Shauna Campsall.

The 26-year-olds opened The Edge Hair Studio in Upper Sahali a few months ago.

Dowling said she always planned to own her own business while growing up in
Saskatchewan and had even saved $15,000 for the purpose.

"I didn't really have any doubts. I was ready for it. I was excited and I knew that this was the next step," she said.

Dowling's mother set a good example by opening hair salons in various towns in which they lived.

Now, Dowling is providing an example to others - especially her restaurant colleagues where she continues to work because "it's fun."

"One of the girls the other day said, 'Ever since you've been doing all this, the girls say Steph works so hard. We really admire what she's doing,' " said Dowling. "To hear that girls my age were talking about it . . . recognizing where my hard work had gotten me, it was nice."

Their gender hasn't been problematic since they're in a female-dominated industry, but Campsall said their age may lead to a tendency for some to talk down to her.

But she has a solution for that.

"Diving into something like this you definitely have to be strong and not waver on your opinions and know what you want," said Campsall.

She figures she got her resolve and confidence from her parents. The couple co-owns the High Tech Water company in 100 Mile House. Since Campsall's dad runs the town as its mayor, much of the company leadership falls on her mother, Heather Campsall.

Heather and Mitch Campsall say they made an effort with each of their children to impart a sense of confidence.

"I never set any limits on the girls. We just said whatever they can find some sort of happiness in," said Heather.

And the lesson is more realistic than it was a few generations ago.

"I think more and more, women are finding ways to do their own thing. It's definitely better than it was when I was young," said Heather.

That kind of support is key to boosting an essential piece of the Canadian economy, according to RBC economist Laura Cooper.

Mentorship can have a direct hand in launching a new venture. Such was the case for Happy Honeybees daycare centre owner Jessica Price, 24.

For her early childhood education program practicum at Thompson Rivers University, Price's instructor paired her up with daycare owner Courtney Greenman, who was only 29 years old at the time.

"I would really never be where I am without her," said Price, who's now in her fourth year in business with three employees.

Price opened her daycare in the same building as Greenman's operation.

But far from seeing each other as competitors, the women - perhaps embodying a feminine trait - co-operated to find a way to offer their clients even more than either could individually.

"Some things work for some parents, so she'll recommend me to some parents who don't fit with her and I'll do the same," said Price.

After 10 years in business, the bubbly 32-year-old Greenman is obviously joyful with her path in life.

Her mother, who stayed home to raise her children, also influenced Greenman immensely.

"My mom forced (financial independence) on me," said Greenman.

That paid off in spades when Greenman partnered with a much older - and much less
financially responsible - woman to open a daycare centre.

Were it not for her mother's lessons, Greenman may have missed the fact that her partner was racking up thousands of dollars in debt on the business credit card.

She quickly broke away and launched her own successful venture.

"Now my mom's so proud that I was able to do this on my own," she said.

Kamloops is doing its part in sparking an entrepreneurial spirit in young women by enlisting role models at Thompson Rivers University's School of Business and Economics - like Booster Juice franchisee turned business coach Natalie Peace.

The City, through its business development arm Venture Kamloops, also helps by connecting go-getters with grants and opportunities specifically for young women like last week's announced partnership between the B.C. based Women's Enterprise Centre and the Canadian Youth Business Foundation.

Venture Kamloops also helps entrepreneurs develop ideas, business plans, marketing strategies and more. It then connects the individual with a panel of experts in various fields who critique and help flesh out aspects of the venture.

Programs are available for all residents, and executive director Jim Anderson said in general, young women show extra zeal.

"The ones that we've dealt who are still in business and doing well show a level of commitment and passion for their idea that is exceptional without a doubt," he said.

No matter how prepared, however, unexpected challenges sneak up.

"Working for somebody is a lot different than having people work for you," said Price.

"Keeping (employees) happy and dealing with benefits, wages, taxes, time off - you really have to think about it."

Nevertheless, each of the young women who spoke to The Daily News said the payoff couldn't be measured.

"It's important for young ladies to be independent and not scared to take risks," said Dowling, "and to know that at any age, anything is possible."

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