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Growth Untapped:

Designing Funding with an Equity Lens

April 2021

Growth Untapped: Designing Funding with an Equity Lens


Kim de Laat

Kim de Laat

Ashleigh Montague

Ashleigh Montague

Chanel Grenaway

Chanel Grenaway


  • Shilbee Kim
  • Jessica Thomson
  • Sarah Doyle



Executive Summary

In partnership with The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) is examining the experiences of women founders as they scale their companies. One outcome of this partnership is the publication of Growing their own way: High-growth women entrepreneurs in Canada. This interview-based report was written with two goals: 1) helping BII+E’s key audiences of governments, funders, and business-support organizations understand the experiences of women entrepreneurs in Canada as they scale their high-growth firms; 2) identifying key barriers, gaps and opportunities. One of the study’s principal findings was that despite having achieved a degree of success, high-growth women founders continue to face challenges accessing capital.

Experiences with funding challenges at the high-growth phase are both problematic and unsurprising. They are problematic because high-growth firms are a major driver of job creation and employment. If women-led firms are unable to secure the capital necessary to continue scaling their companies, this has a ripple effect across the entire economy. In addition, barriers to funding are symptomatic of systemic economic inequalities. It is for this reason—the persistence of system-wide intersectional gender inequality in the economy—that the study’s findings are unsurprising.

In Canada, the gender wage gap ranges from 95 cents to 70 cents, and only 4 percent of firms have a woman chief executive officer (CEO). Earnings inequality is even more stark for those in equity-seeking populations: women of colour, especially first-generation immigrants, earn on average $5,000 less than white women and $7,000 less than men of colour.

Acknowledging and fostering discourse about intersectional gender inequality in the economy brings us part of the way toward making change. But if talk is not met with action, research findings of funding barriers and gender discrimination will persist. Funding entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds is ethically important; it is also critical for fostering innovation. The success of entrepreneurs from diverse and intersecting identities—for example related to race, ethnicity, class, disability, sexual orientation, gender, and geography—can generate new ideas about products, services, and practices. It can also expose those in the funding ecosystem to new and creative ways of meeting the needs of underserved markets.

It is for these reasons that BII+E and WEKH have collaborated on an action-oriented initiative for the funding ecosystem. Throughout the first quarter of 2021, the project team convened an advisory panel, including funding experts and entrepreneurs, to develop a practical, evidence-based toolkit for those within the funding ecosystem. It would consist of best practices and concrete tips on how entrepreneurial funders—including government organizations, financial institutions, venture capitalists, and angel investors—can integrate an intersectional gender lens when funding entrepreneurs. During the workshops, we shared research, discussed how best to translate it into action, and collaboratively iterated drafts of the toolkit, soliciting and integrating feedback.

The toolkit was subsequently workshopped with its intended audience—entrepreneurial funders—in order to surface issues and concerns. The final result is Growth Untapped: Designing Funding with an Equity Lens. This toolkit intends to provide actionable examples of changes that funders can make to potentially reduce biases and increase capital access for equity-seeking groups including, but not limited to, Black women; First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women; women of colour; trans women; and gender-fluid and non-binary entrepreneurs. Such changes would in turn increase economic growth and scale innovations.