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Spotlight: LAMBAC introduces women is business enhancement project

A little over 15 per cent of businesses across Canada are owned or led by women, but with the introduction of a new support program for Northern Ontario women entrepreneurs, the LaCloche-Manitoulin Business Assistance Corporation (LAMBAC) is hoping to improve that number.

In July, the Gore Bay-based organization was approved for $1.375 million over four years to establish the Women in Business Enhancement Project, which will provide resources, support, networking and mentorship opportunities to women entrepreneurs across Northern Ontario.

Envisioned by Carolyn Campbell, LAMBAC’s loans and business development officer, the program has been created in line with the federal government’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy.

The $2-billion program, announced in the fall of 2018, is designed to double the number of women-owned businesses by 2025.

“Today, 16 per cent of businesses are owned or led by women, and that number needs to be increased,” Campbell said. “Women typically have had more traditional roles as caregivers, and women have a tougher time accessing financing to go into business.”

In general, Canada has a positive perception of women in business, Campbell noted, but there remain cultural barriers in place that put women entrepreneurs at a disadvantage.

The Women in Business Enhancement Project – which will be rolled out by all 24 Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC) offices across Northern Ontario – aims to reduce or eliminate those barriers, providing Northern women entrepreneurs with coaching, training and the finances to get their enterprises up and running.

“This project will encourage women that are looking at starting a business to attend the workshops in their area, networking with other entrepreneurs, gathering knowledge on how to successfully take their idea and build a business plan, learn about funding grant opportunities, and turn their dream into a reality,” Campbell said.

In addition to workshops on a variety of topics, entrepreneurs will also have the opportunity to hire professionals to help them address specific needs in their business. That could include an accountant, a lawyer, or exporting professionals.

Mike Addison, LAMBAC’s general manager, said having access to the skills and knowledge of professionals can make a big difference in an entrepreneur’s business startup experience.

“A lot of times, people start a small business and they don’t get good advice up front,” said Addison.

“So, they may not have their books set up properly, they may not be registering for HST when they need to, or they may not have their business structure set up properly through a lawyer – they may just be kind of winging it.

“We see a need to provide some professional help to get them started on the right foot.”

One problem in particular that seems to persist across Northern Ontario is the high cost of transportation, Campbell added.

“A lot of businesses could expand and could grow if they had some expertise in the transportation industry provided to them to teach them how to export, even out of Northern Ontario,” she said.

Another important support being offered through the program is mentorships. Campbell anticipates setting up networks of experienced businesswomen who will provide active mentoring, emotional support and training to new women entrepreneurs.

In particular, she wants to provide training and education opportunities to women in traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as agriculture, resources, science, and technology.

“We want to encourage women to develop a network of professionals that can help them and they can reach to for guidance,” Campbell said. “Networking opportunities can impact the success of a business in many ways.”

Women entrepreneurs interested in applying for assistance under the program will have to complete an application form and meet the criteria set out under the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy.

Submissions will be accepted during two intakes a year – the deadline for the first closes on Nov. 1.

Campbell said each application will be vetted based on its individual merits.

“We don’t want to have a ‘one-approach-fits-all,’ because in business, that never works,” Campbell said.

The Women in Business Enhancement Project was originally conceived as a program exclusive to LAMBAC clients.

But Campbell and Addison recognized the benefit it could bring to women entrepreneurs across Northern Ontario, and have now engaged all 24 CFDCs across Northern Ontario to participate in the project.

CFDCs like LAMBAC support small and medium-sized business and community economic development, administering local investment funds to help finance new or existing small and medium-sized business and social enterprises for startup, expansion or stabilization.

They also provide advice, consultations, and mentorship services, and liaise with other like-minded organizations.

The Women in Business Enhancement Project now gives this network of organizations one more tool to raise up women entrepreneurs across the North.

“Working collaboratively with all the CFDC offices in Northern Ontario is a large regional project; the professionals in place in all of these locations will ensure that there is coverage to this area that no other group could deliver,” Campbell said.

“We will work as team to deliver training that will help with the pursuit of marketing opportunities abroad, encourage expansion and growth, and be there in the end to offer financial assistance to make all of these things possible.”