It’s been dubbed the “she-cession”, a nod to the uncomfortable fact women are among the demographic groups hardest hit by COVID and the responses to it.
But some women are striking back against the specific economic impacts of the global contagion that hit them so hard – they are identifying new business possibilities in the pandemic.
That’s the experience of a Toronto-based company called Ownr: it operates as a Business Incorporation Platform, established to help entrepreneurs formulate their own business and overcome some of the common barriers faced in entrepreneurship and business ownership.
While much attention is rightfully given to the struggles of existing businesses during the pandemic, such as personal care services or restaurants, Ownr CEO and co-founder Shadi McIsaac says the pandemic has nevertheless created some positive circumstances for new ventures to launch.
That’s despite the fact the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact, as seen in statistics showing women have been hit earlier and harder by job loss, and their job prospects are recovering more slowly.
Canadian government data suggests 16,000 female workers left the labour force in the past year – but men’s participation has climbed 91,000 during that same period. From an ownership perspective, the numbers are not much better: just 16 per cent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Canada are majority women-owned.
As important as Canadian women entrepreneurs are to the country’s economic success, women still face unique and systemic barriers to starting and growing a business, and they remain underrepresented in the economy – pandemic or not.
As the co-founder of a company that helps start-ups and early-stage companies succeed, Shadi McIsaac knows first-hand how entrepreneurship can give women the ability to shape their own lives, provide for their families and make a positive contribution to the community.
She also knows how challenging it can be for any entrepreneur.
“We started Owner with RBC Ventures, so there were a few more avenues for support,” McIassc explains. “But I first went through the process of starting my own business with a kind of D-I-Y approach: Could I do it? What is the sequence of events in business formation? What would be the legal status? Should I incorporate? Where would I go for help if I needed some?
“At first, I went to the Internet, of course, to check various resources and information portals. Much of it was very logical, but a lot of it was personal inspiration. In the end, I felt there must be a better way of doing this, more efficiently, more affordably.”
So Ownr was founded in 2017 in a bid to bring forward that “better way”, to make the process of registering or incorporating a business less onerous. It now operates the largest platform for incorporating businesses in Canada, with tens of thousands of new corporations and sole proprietorships launched. Between March 2020 and the end of January 2021, the company reports, it registered 16,000 new Canadian businesses on its platform. In Ontario alone, it registered more than 11,000 new businesses. Despite the pandemic, Ownr realized a 200 per cent growth in its customer base overall.
McIsaac says the health crisis has created opportunities to start a business for the first time for many Canadians, women in particular.
Facing systemic as well as individually impactful challenges, McIsaac says women’s participation in the economy was hit in “a profound way” during the pandemic, with Stats Can reporting a 54 per cent job loss among women in the past 18 months.
On the flip side of that coin are opportunities to re-enter the workforce in a new capacity or with a unique goal, one that entrepreneurship could make tangible with the right approach and right support.
Ownr was well-positioned to offer that support at a time when small businesses needed it the most, with advice, resources, and services geared to the entrepreneur and geared to the shutdown: Ownr’s internal digital resources, including a solid tech team and supportive platforms, could easily be brought to bear even if face-to-face meetings were not so easy to arrange.
As entrepreneurs are often advised, ground all your decisions in the core mission of your company: solidify current strengths and build towards broader goals.
That’s what Ownr did when it acquired a company called Founded Technologies, for example, which develops tools to automate business-related legal tasks.
“Ensuring a company remains compliant is incredibly important,” MacIssac said. “It’s also time-consuming and resource-intensive. Lawyers and accountants can be expensive. We use technology to support not just the ongoing company lifecycle, but specific legal tasks and everyday business information requirements. We can generate documents, minute books, corporate resolutions and more to help Canadian entrepreneurs more quickly register and grow their brand.”
Ownr also provides support for women who are looking to start their own business in the comprehensive online resources section of its website. It has shared useful descriptions of software packages and external links to other tech tools that support entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes, be they direct clients or not.
As well, Ownr is aware of specific information about government programs, grants, and other monetary supports for women entrepreneurs in Canada.
McIsaac references the federal budget and plans therein to support women entrepreneurs by providing nearly $150 million (over four years) as a key part of Canada’s recovery and future success.
It can be difficult for many to take the leap, but Ownr can specifically support female entrepreneurs, provide awareness of planned investments into the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (and other relative initiatives), and help improve access to financing, mentoring, and training.
Launched in 2019, the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) is a $2 billion investment by the Government of Canada that seeks to double the number of women-owned businesses by 2025.
Ownr can certainly help them, too.
Following our interview, Ownr released its 2021 Entrepreneurship Revival report showing one out of every two women entrepreneurs held a corporate 9-to-5 job before launching their business; the biggest reason for pursuing entrepreneurship? To have more purpose in life (18.5 per cent) and contribute to society and solve a problem (16.6 per cent).
Could be a “she-lution” in the making!