Supporting the ecosystem of women-led businesses

Local Impact

Supporting the ecosystem of women-led businesses

The WE-CAN Project at Queen’s reflects on the past three years and looks to the future as it continues to empower women entrepreneurs in Kingston and region.

May 15, 2023


[Photo of a group of attendees at the WE-CAN Wrap-Up Event]

Only 17 per cent of Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses are owned by women. The federal government has been working to change that, recognizing that to advance equality and economic participation, resources, funding, and programming must be invested to empower women-owned businesses. In 2019, the government allocated $3.2 million from its Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) Ecosystem Fund to the WE-CAN Project to design and deliver programs and services to accelerate, train, mentor, and provide resources to women entrepreneurs and women-led companies in Kingston and the surrounding region.

Over the past three years, more than 1,300 women have been supported by the WE-CAN Project led by Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) in achieving their entrepreneurial goals. Recently, the project celebrated its entrepreneurs and partners at a wrap-up event to mark the conclusion of the funding—which was administered by FedDev Ontario—and to outline plans for the future.

"WE-CAN programs and services attracted a broad cross-section of women entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups, and sectors, who have come together to discuss, collaborate, support, encourage, and provide connections for each other," says Janice Mady, Director, Research and Innovation Partnerships.

Empowering women

WE-CAN was designed to empower and equip women entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups or sectors with the resources and community needed to take their businesses to the next level. This included women from BIPOC communities, newcomers to Canada, women entrepreneurs with disabilities, and women entrepreneurs who are under 40, as well as women in tech.

Participants in the project had access to several free resources at Queen’s, including numerous workshops, bootcamps, incubation and acceleration programs, trademark guidance, and intellectual property services from QPI, legal services from Queen’s Business Law Clinic, specialized training services from the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC), and the opportunity to be included on the Queen’s Diverse Supplier Directory.

V. Ophelia Rigault, EDI Speaker, Trainer & Consultant
V. Ophelia Rigault, EDI Speaker, Trainer & Consultant speaks at the WE-CAN Wrap-Up event.

Through partnerships with the City of Kingston, Kingston Economic Development Corporation, St. Lawrence College, KEYS Job Centre, L-SPARK, and Okwaho Equal Source, WE-CAN delivered a wide range of programs, coaching, and online and in-person workshops focused on all business development needs, from marketing to fundraising. Over the course of the project, WE-CAN clients have reported attracting more than $14.69M in private and public funding and investments.

"Community building has always been at the heart of WE-CAN," says WE-CAN Project Manager Kerry Ramsay. "Participants have access to a wide range of communication and collaboration tools, from online groups to virtual cafés, Masterminds, in-person events and accountability partnerships."

Past clients feel strongly about recommending WE-CAN to other female business owners with 90 per cent saying they would endorse the program and 95 per cent saying WE-CAN had a positive impact on their business.

"The Kwe-Biz Program for Indigenous Women offered through the WE-CAN Project was instrumental in helping me to start my business," says Pamela Devonshire of Lightning Spark Books. "The facilitators were there for me every step of the way on this incredible journey. Their mentorship program also helped me hone and improve my public speaking skills for events such as Pow Wow Pitch and Kwe Biz's pitching and business plan competitions. Kwe-Biz also helped me establish a business and marketing plan. This ongoing support helped to keep me on track to meet the various milestones of the initiative."

Brooke Woboditsch, President, CCS Inc.
Brooke Woboditsch, President of CCS Inc. delivers remarks at the WE-CAN Wrap-Up Event.

Future plans

Due to the success of the initiative, which was originally funded for three years, WE-CAN will continue to offer several programs and free resources to local entrepreneurs in the greater Kingston region and Bay of Quinte.

"Although the WES-funded WE-CAN Project concluded on March 31, we were very pleased to announce during the Wrap-up Celebration event that QPI is continuing to invest in the WE-CAN Project," says Mady. "We will provide a limited selection of in-demand programs and services to women entrepreneurs in the Kingston and Bay of Quinte regions during FY 2023-24, while pursuing new funding opportunities to expand the offering of programs and services."

To learn more about the WE-CAN Project and how to participate, visit the QPI website.

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