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Tools, Community, and Support for Canadian Startups


Episode Summary

With over 900,000 businesses in Canada and 95,000 new companies registered every year, it’s clear that the Canadian startup scene is booming. Adding to that, small and mid-sized businesses contribute 50% to Canada’s GDP and employ 13 million Canadians—so embracing and supporting Canadian entrepreneurs is more important than ever.

On this episode of Behind the Growth, Imran is joined by Liesl Mulholland and Isabel Nolan from Startup Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Canadian startups grow. Isabel leads Startup Women, empowering female-identifying entrepreneurs, while Liesl heads Startup Global, helping Canadian startups expand internationally.

Together, they’ll share the impact of their programs, initiatives, and vision for Canada’s entrepreneurial landscape. Whether you’re just starting out or already growing your business, this episode is packed with valuable insights to succeed in the ever-changing world of startups.

Featured Guest

  • Name: Isabel Nolan
  • What she does: Isabel is the program lead of Startup Women at Startup Canada.
  • Company: Startup Canada is an organization focused on helping entrepreneurs in Canada with their startups.
  • Noteworthy: In addition to her work with Startup Canada, Isabel collaborates with other organizations who are working towards furthering women in business. She has been working with Women in Tech Regatta — a gathering to connect (wo)men in tech to mentors, peers & resources — since December 2020, supporting their events in Vancouver and Seattle.

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Key Insights

When you support women, you support an entire nation. With that in mind, Startup Canada has designed a program called Startup Women to provide necessary tools and learning resources to aspiring early-stage women-identifying entrepreneurs. On the program, the initiatives, and its results, Isabel says, “We held over 27 events. We had our one-on-one meetings with startup women leaders, which is our take on mentorship. So yeah, last year alone it was over 4,500 entrepreneurs within the program.”

Our goal at Startup Global/Startup Canada is to make all relevant information easily accessible to all our program participants. Starting a company is time-consuming and complex and requires you to simultaneously take care of various aspects of the business. However, founders are often so busy working on the product or the service, they neglect the other aspects that are equally critical to the growth of their business. Therefore, entrepreneurs should consider seeking mentorship and advice from experts while looking for programs and funds offered at a state or province level. “With our partnerships with the Trade Commissioner Service, and the Export Development Canada, and these different organizations, we’re trying to bring everyone together in the same space in our Startup Canada ecosystem essentially, so that any entrepreneur knows, ‘Okay if I have a question, this is the first place I can come to and be able to navigate and see where the tools are, where the resources are.’ And while we’re not in an organization that necessarily provides one-on-one business consulting or business advice to businesses, we have that platform and give them that availability and access to persons at these organizations,” says Liesl.

Most of the entrepreneurs in our program come from the tech space and aim for the US market. Startup Global had around 6,000 participants last year. Aside from the United States, they are interested in exporting products and services to Germany, France, and the UK. Other stats show that “50% of the participants were women, and we’ve seen that increase over the years. About 40% identified as a visible minority, and about 5% as indigenous and First Nations. Some of the top industries we see are information tech and high tech. The second is healthcare. Social assistance in biosciences, agriculture, food, agri-food, and forestry would be number three. Number four would be AI. And then number five is educational services,” shares Liesl.

Episode Highlights

Startup Canada Is the Gateway to Canada’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

“Startup Canada is a national nonprofit. […] We’re here to connect entrepreneurs with the community and tools they’ll need to start and grow their businesses successfully in Canada and beyond, hopefully.

And since launching in 2012 — we’re just over ten years old — Startup Canada has grown to support more than 130,000 entrepreneurs annually. We have an ever-growing community of ecosystem partners from coast to coast to coast.

Startup Women, as you can tell by the name, is dedicated to showing up for women all year round. So this is the second year we are providing Startup Women as an annual program, offering support to early-stage women-identifying entrepreneurs across Canada,” explains Isabel.

“The Startup Global program connects entrepreneurs wanting to build global businesses with the network of international ecosystem partners. [….] We also offer in-kind support to our participants using a platform called Mentorly, where they can book office hours with experts who volunteer at their time throughout the year to set up one-on-one sessions with them. And we have a Startup Global portal.

So our partners, our co-presented partners, and our global ecosystem partners provide different resources and tools — all housed in our global portal — so businesses can register there and then have access to all of these tools there,” adds Liesl.

How Startup Women Supports Its Participants on Their Entrepreneurial Journey

“We have a variety of different topics to help with those early-stage building blocks. We’ve got one on how to build customer trust with the brand strategy, happening at the end of May. Perhaps that’s something that would be useful. We also have a few on financing and fundraising, depending on her needs.

We also do industry advisory circles — closed-door sessions meant to bring together early-stage aspiring entrepreneurs within each space. So, for example, in March, we did one for women in STEM, and we also are doing one for women in agriculture in May.

So it’s bringing together entrepreneurs from that space and having them listen to later-stage entrepreneurs within that space to learn from them, learn from their journey, and see, ‘Okay, how can I not replicate but follow along what they did and follow along their success.’

The program is a series of these topic-focused industry-specific events that they can be as engaged as they want, and we also have a resource guide on our Startup Women homepage that they can download and use,” says Isabel.

Requirements for Joining the Startup Global Program

“We have a global pitch competition, which we will be running throughout this year. With the pitch competition, the criteria are very specific in terms of revenue needs to be a million dollars, or a number of employees [should be] zero to nine, based in Canada or at least 50% – 51%, co-owners are based and running the business from Canada. So those are some specific criteria for the global pitch competition.

But in terms of the overall global program, for example, if someone has a startup business that has been in operation for more than three years. So three years, less than three years, is the Business Development Canada definition of what a startup is. We also go with that definition for the pitch competition.

But in general, if someone’s coming to us to access information or they want to sign up for a webinar, that is not going to be gatekeeping criteria — that your business is five years old, you can’t register for this webinar, or you can’t access the Mentorly platform,” says Liesl.

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