Toni Desrosiers, Founder of Abeego, never thought she would find herself in the position of speaking to her banker about family planning. But that's exactly what happened when Desrosiers was looking for funding to help launch her company. In 2008 she invented a breathable beeswax food wrap, a product that keeps food fresher for longer. "I was asked what my family planning situation was — if I got pregnant, how would I guarantee I could pay back the loan," says Desrosiers.

Breaking through barriers

Shelby Taylor, Founder and CEO of Chickapea, a producer of vegan gluten-free pasta made from chickpeas and lentils, experienced a similar situation when looking for investors for her company. "I received questions and concerns from potential investors regarding my commitment to the business given that I have a young family," she explains. "Not a single male entrepreneur I know has been asked how they plan to balance work and family life."

Not a single male entrepreneur I know has been asked how they plan to balance work and family life.

Both women faced some skepticism from potential investors and unsolicited advice from those who presumed they were naïve. Their stories echo a stark reality faced by women entrepreneurs regardless of the size or the success of their companies. Last year, Fortune magazine reported that in the world of venture capital, all-female start-ups received just 2% of investment dollars in 2017, compared with 79% for all-male teams. But funding isn't the only obstacle to success.

"One of my biggest challenges was internal," recalls Taylor. "I'm constantly working to find my own work/life balance. I remind myself that I'm showing my children that they can accomplish their dreams, no matter how big."

Shelby Taylor and her family
Shelby Taylor, Founder & CEO of Chickapea, with family

Seizing growth opportunities outside Canada

Deciding to take a company global involves more risk, but Desrosiers believes there's room for women who are willing to put in the work to become internationally known. She has seen interest in her products grow over the past few years. "In 2017, demand for our wrap grew by 300%," she notes. "We doubled that in 2018, and at the end of January, we've already crushed our targets for the first three months."

Aside from market potential, Desrosiers also believes that it is her responsibility — as the founder of a new product category — to lead the vanguard in production and new markets. "In five years, we want to be in 7.7 million households around the world, creating products with zero waste."

For Taylor, Chickapea's growth outside of Canada was a natural progression as the company found a manufacturer for its pasta in the US and now, Italy. "Moving into Italy, and consequently Europe, opens up a lot of doors for us," says Taylor. "We want to have a global imprint and bring a healthy product to the world."

The Government of Canada’s 2018 budget announced a $250 million envelope to provide financing and insurance solutions to women-owned and -led businesses that export or plan to export their products outside of the country.

Partners in growth

Export Development Canada (EDC) assisted both Desrosiers and Taylor to grow their businesses outside of Canada, primarily through financial guarantees.

The Government of Canada's 2018 budget announced a $250 million envelope to provide financing and insurance solutions to women-owned and -led businesses that export or plan to export their products outside of the country.

Mairead Lavery has been a business leader for years and is the first woman President and CEO of EDC. "Women are the engines of entrepreneurial growth," she states. "Today, about half of all new businesses are created by women. In fact, women are starting new businesses at 1.5 times the rate of men."

But the organization offers more than financial and insurance support. Women generally face two additional challenges to access to financing and growth capital: knowledge and skills in areas related to foreign markets and connections with the right people, locally and internationally.

"After 75 years, EDC can confidently say that we can assist in all three areas," Lavery comments. "We want women to know we're here to help them go, grow, and succeed beyond Canadian borders. A combination of the right mindset, the right action plan, and the right people will get you far in business and in life."