The federal government has pledged $25 million to create Canada’s first-ever LGBTQ entrepreneurship program, an investment that one pioneer called a “game-changer.”
Small Business and Economic Development Minister Mary Ng said the program will help build a more inclusive economy and society.
“This is the first program of its kind in the world,” she said after the announcement at the Global 2SLGBTQI+ Business Summit and Supplier Diversity Forum in Kingston, Ontario.
“It’s unique because of the unique challenges these entrepreneurs face. Who you are and who you love shouldn’t hurt your business. In fact, it should help you succeed.”
The entrepreneurship program will be run by the CGLCC, a chamber of commerce for Canada’s LGBTQ community, and will include three main components: a business scale-up program, an ecosystem fund, and a resource center.
Darrell Schuurman, co-founder and CEO of the CGLCC, said that “entrepreneurs who identify as 2SLGBTQI+ play a critical role in contributing to Canada’s economy” but still face hurdles in starting and growing their businesses.
“All entrepreneurs have had their fair share of battles, but this program recognizes that there are additional unique challenges and barriers faced by companies with different ownerships and 2SLGBTQI+ entrepreneurs,” he said.
“Some companies have even lost contracts because of their ownership. People sometimes hide who they are and don’t fully show their true selves in their business, negatively impacting the growth of their business and ultimately the economy.”
Sylvie Ouellette, CEO and co-founder of data management and analytics company Versatil, said the program will be a game-changer for LGBTQ entrepreneurs.
When she launched her company 13 years ago, Ouellette said she didn’t feel comfortable being her true self at work, despite holding several senior executive positions in large companies.
“Unfortunately, when we started our business, I had to go back in the closet,” she said. “We were two women starting a business in a male-dominated industry. We didn’t want to say we were lesbians too… It felt pretty lonely.”
Her business is now a successful multi-million dollar venture, and Ouellette said she’s been slowly putting more of her “authentic self” to work.
She said the LGBTQ Entrepreneurship Program will help support new entrepreneurs with the resources, networks and mentorship needed for greater integration into the economy and success.
“It’s very important because it will help the Canadian economy be more inclusive of the LGBTQ business community,” said Ouellette.
The Federal Department of Economic Development says there are more than 100,000 LGBTQ businesses in Canada that are owned and operated by more than 435,000 employees and generate more than $22 billion in economic activity.
It also says one in four LGBTQ entrepreneurs have experienced discrimination or lost their business because of who they are, and many struggle to access funding.
Meanwhile, the program – including verification of LGBTQ status – will be administered by the CGLCC.
“It will be driven by the community to serve the community,” Ng said.
The CGLCC is currently running a supplier diversity program with a certification process for LGBTQ-owned businesses.
Schuurman said the organization would use a similar process to verify eligibility for the LGBTQ entrepreneurship program, including a list of qualifications and evidence of sexuality and/or gender identity, such as personal references.