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Boosting Women Entrepreneurs

Milena Radakovic, the Calgary-based president and owner of Nexus Exhibits and Canada ambassador of the international Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.

As people join together to celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) – with the goal to empower, celebrate and support women in business worldwide – the behind-the-scenes stats continue to tell a revealing story about the daily obstacles facing women entrepreneurs.

Globally, women account for 85 per cent of consumer purchases and control $20 trillion in global spending. At the same time, they perform 66 per cent of the world’s work (both paid and unpaid) yet only earn 10 per cent of the world’s income.

Specifically in Canada, despite recent advances, gender inequality is still an issue when it comes to entrepreneurship. According to government stats, just 16 per cent of small and medium-sized Canadian businesses are majority owned by women.

“True entrepreneurs are born with a provenly special outlook and skills,” says Milena Radakovic, the Calgary-based president and owner of Nexus Exhibits and the Canada ambassador of the international Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO). “An entrepreneur’s thinking is different than most business people. They are visionaries and problem solvers. They are ready and fuelled by taking on challenges and always thinking what the future holds.”

She points out that while most entrepreneurs face similar basic hurdles to getting businesses off the ground, women entrepreneurs have some uniquely specific speed bumps. “There are definitely biases toward women who own businesses.”

While it is good news the federal government is making a $2-billion investment through its Women Entrepreneurship Strategy to double the number of female-owned and female-led businesses by 2025, she cautions it’s still tough for women entrepreneurs to secure funding from the big banks and lending institutions. “Maybe it’s because women tend to be more conservative,” she adds with business savvy. “We tend not to inflate the numbers and overstate our projections.”

According to government stats, full and equal participation of women in the economy is essential to Canada’s future competitiveness and prosperity – but the data also revealed women face barriers in accessing capital, are less likely to seek debt and equity financing, and are more likely to be rejected or receive less money.

The global women-in-business focus received a major boost last month when the United Nations formally endorsed Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) and brought together a group of activists, philanthropists, corporate leaders, civil society and non-profit executives to support the growth in businesses owned by women around the world.

“We have to get the world to understand the importance of supporting more women in business,” Radakovic notes with enthusiasm. “Around the world, WED is designed to celebrate women entrepreneurs and encourage both investment in women-owned startups and shopping in women-owned businesses.”

Her ambitious goal is to bring the dynamic WED initiative to Alberta and harness the power of women to make a difference locally and worldwide. For this inaugural year in Alberta, Radakovic and her advisory board have planned a Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Summit at Mount Royal University in Calgary on November 14.

“The summit will feature prominent speakers and changemakers and raise awareness for the WEDO initiative,” she points out, “empower women and girls to become active participants in the economy, highlight the successes and the challenges of women entrepreneurs, offer a community of support and bring together like-minded individuals and organizations wanting to make a positive impact for women in business.

“It’s all part of celebrating the value and the potential of women in business and the entrepreneurial spirit in Alberta.”