Brett Bundale – The Canadian Press
Posted: June 15, 2023
The federal government has committed $25 million to create Canada’s first-ever LGBTQ entrepreneurship program, an investment one trailblazer 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, Ont.
“It’s unique because of the unique challenges these entrepreneurs face. Who you are and who you love should not hurt your business. In fact, it should help you be successful.”
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 knowledge hub.
Darrell Schuurman, co-founder and CEO of the CGLCC, said “entrepreneurs who identify as 2SLGBTQI+ play a crucial role in contributing to the Canadian economy” but continue to face barriers when starting and expanding their businesses.
“All entrepreneurs have had their share of struggles but this program recognizes that there are additional unique challenges and barriers faced by diverse-owned businesses and 2SLGBTQI+ entrepreneurs,” he said.
“Some businesses have actually lost contracts because of their ownership. People are sometimes hiding who they are and not fully bringing their true selves to their business and it has a negative impact on the growth of their business and, ultimately, on the economy.”
Sylvie Ouellette, CEO and co-founder of data management and analytics firm Versatil, said the program will be a game-changer for LGBTQ entrepreneurs.
When she launched her business 13 years ago, Ouellette said she didn’t feel comfortable being her true self at work, despite having held several senior executive roles in large corporations.
“Unfortunately, when we started our business, I had to get 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 company is now a successful, multimillion-dollar enterprise and Ouellette said she’s slowly brought 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 inclusion in the economy and success.
“It’s very significant because it will help Canada’s economy to be more inclusive to the LGBTQ business community,” Ouellette said.
The federal Economic Development Department says there are more than 100,000 LGBTQ-owned and -operated businesses in Canada that employ more than 435,000 workers and generate over $22 billion in economic activity.
It also says one in four LGBTQ entrepreneurs have faced discrimination or lost their business because of who they are, and many struggle to access funding.
Meanwhile, the program — including the 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 currently runs a supplier diversity program that has a certification process in place 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 qualifiers and proof points of sexuality and/or gender identity such as personal references.
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