Over Canada Day weekend I celebrated the success and potential of women entrepreneurs in Canada — including the positive environment we have in Canada for women to be entrepreneurs. In fact, this week we learned that Toronto ranks #6 overall among the top 25 cities for women entrepreneurs in the world, as measured by the 2016 Women Entrepreneur Cities Index.

The ranking, sponsored by Dell, measured the top global cities’ by their ability to foster high potential women entrepreneurs. Building on a four year base of research into women’s entrepreneurship, the WE Cities index is the first of its kind. The index measured 70 indicators, in five categories of city characteristics: capital, technology, talent, culture and markets.

Insights for the model were developed earlier this year, at a research symposium hosted by the Dell Women Entrepreneurs Network. Chaired by Dr. David Ricketts, of the Technology and Entrepreneurship Centre at Harvard, the symposium brought together thought leaders, women entrepreneurs, academics and media.

The WE Cities findings wove into the conversation happening this week with women entrepreneurs from around the world, participating in the Dell Women Entrepreneurs Network Global Summit in Cape Town, South Africa. For those who may not be familiar, DWEN is an initiative that supports and nurtures a community of female entrepreneurs by providing access to technology, networks and capital.

The highlights

The WE Cities ranking for Toronto is a reflection of Canada’s position as a global leader enabling women’s entrepreneurship. First as Tara Fine, Channel Chief for Dell Canada, points out “Canada is already strong in the commercial aspects of the top 50 Future-Ready economies. The WE Cities Index, extends this base to look more specifically at gender data.” As we know, the “true north strong and free” includes the freedom for any woman to start and build a business in Canada — a freedom not all women enjoy in the world.

Toronto ranked #10 in terms of the Talent dimensions — reflecting our high quality education and diverse talent base in the GTA. The city also ranked #7 in Market characteristics with capabilities to access domestic and international markets.

The characteristic that propelled Toronto up to an overall ranking of #6 in the WE Cities Index was our #1 Ranking of all the cities in the world in the category of Culture. There are a few factors included in that characteristic. At the DWEN Summit, when I asked the question of why the #1 ranking in culture, the key factor that Elizabeth Gore, Dell’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) identified was Canada’s parental leave policies.

Women entrepreneurs have the option in Canada of contributing to Employment Insurance to enable some income support during maternity. My own business certainly was supported by Canada’s favourable policies allowing parental leave for fathers, with my husband taking a full parental leave to be with our sons when they were babies, enabling me to travel to meet with clients, stay engaged and build my business to a Profit W100 ranking.

And while Canadian parental leave policies can sometimes be a challenge in the early stages of small businesses where a key person could be on leave for up to a year, this kind of challenge can also provide learning to the entrepreneur. In fact, when managed well, a parental leave provides an opportunity to evaluate and get clearer about organizational structure, job roles, division of tasks, talent growth opportunities and bring new skill-sets into the business.

Can we do more to nurture success for women entrepreneurs in Canada?

Of course! There’s still much work to do. One of the key recommendations of the DWEN symposium was to improve access to capital for women entrepreneurs. Although the numbers are showing some slight improvements in recent years, it is critical to be both breaking down the barriers to traditional funding, and supporting new ecosystems of capital.

In my consultation in the tech sector, venture capital participation by women in Canada appears to be no better, and may even be less, than in the US. Opening up new sources of capital, like crowdfunding which, according to Dell’s EIR, Gore is critical. “Within crowdfunding, women are accessing over 60 per cent of the funds vs. the 3 per cent within venture capital.” She also advocates the “power of legislation has now enabled $17 billion of crowdfunding,” adding “Entrepreneurs need to advocate for broader sources of capital, as they see the need.”

At the same time, she explains that new forms of capital must be “responsible,” indicating that monitoring and studies of new crowdfunding and other capital platforms is important. Gore also recommends women entrepreneurs explore private or family equity where long term relationships and alignment with business goals can form the basis of investment.

In dialogue with Canadian women entrepreneurs, including Diana Goodwin of aquamobileswim.com, it’s preferable to scale their businesses with access to sources of capital that will truly partner with their business, believing in their strategies with necessary accountability but not bog down the entrepreneurial venture with excessive reporting requirements.

We have so much to celebrate in Canada this year — including the women entrepreneurs who have already created success in our great country — and those women entrepreneurs who are inspired to start, build and scale their business to create economic success for themselves, their teams, and for Canada.

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  • The positive environment that we have in Canada for women to be entrepreneurs really deserves praise.