She’s Next, empowered by Visa, launched in January 2019 and provides invaluable support to females looking to start a business or scale an existing one. With female business owners contributing more increasingly to the GDP, Visa has turned their attention to providing the resources necessary to succeed. Today, female entrepreneurs contribute $148 billion annually to Canada’s economy and the global growth rate of women starting a business is steadily increasing. On October 22nd, Visa hosted the ‘She’s Next, Empowered by Visa’ workshop, which saw hundreds of female entrepreneurs show up. We sat down with Visa President and Country Manager Stacey Madge to learn more about the She’s Next initiative while discovering some surprising statistics along the way. 

Attendees of the inaugural Canadian She’s Next, Empowered by Visa workshop were excited to learn from Rebecca Minkoff (centre), fashion designer and Female Founder Collective founder. (CNW Group/Visa Canada)

How can women utilize Visa as a resource?

Part of what we’ve done at the She’s Next event is we did a bunch of research on women, small businesses, and we’ve also done separate research on small businesses overall. And we’ve found that they have a real need around social media and digital presence. So we’ve brought together all of our experts around the room here today so that they can get advice on how they can best grow their business.

From what you’ve seen, how can a business leverage social media and the digital space to propel their business to another level?

So a fun fact that’s probably not well known is Canadians are going digital on a much faster rate than Canadian businesses are going digital. And to be frank with you, small businesses are the ones that are the most at risk. So the growth rate of digital compared to going into a store face-to-face is 18 times more. In some months, it’s even greater than that. If you peel it back and look at small businesses, the growth rate of in-store, which small companies rely on so much, is zero. At least, in the last year, it was zero. So they really need that digital presence in order to grow. If you look at women, in particular, only about 12 percent of their sales are through digital channels, and just over a third of women have a digital presence in some way. So it’s really, really important.

Another significant fact to look at is large businesses and instant gratification — where you can order from Amazon, and you can get it the next day — Canadians are increasingly going to large companies versus small businesses to satisfy their needs. So the rate of growth of large businesses to small is three times. So it’s really imperative that small businesses get the digital tools that they need to to help their business grow.

Also, if you look at Canadians, roughly 90 percent will do research online before they go to the store. So going back to your social media point, it’s imperative.

Moderator, Maria Locker, MOMpreneur Enterprise and panellists Rebecca Minkoff, fashion designer and Female Founder Collective founder; Gillian Riley, president and CEO, Tangerine Bank & Executive Sponsor of The Scotiabank Women Initiative; Fatima Zaidi, founder and CEO, Quill; and Taran and Bunny Ghatrora, founders, Blume share their experiences and insights at the first She’s Next, Empowered by Visa workshop in Toronto. (CNW Group/Visa Canada)

What are some of the most common roadblocks you hear from women trying to grow a business?

Number one is funding. Seventy-three percent of Canadian female small business owners, according to our research, had to self fund their ventures. Only about 14 percent were able to secure a business loan. So that’s one of the most significant barriers.

The second is that they lack the tools or expertise concerning accepting payments and digital tools like social media, digital marketing to help them grow e-commerce and to help them grow their business.

How can we begin to empower women in the workplace more?

I think women want to know that other people have been through challenging situations that they have. So being there to provide that support is really important for women. And something that I focus on is resilience — being able to get up when things are tough and get back to business. It’s important to find that person who will help support you in building back that resilience. That’s not just true for business. It’s actually true whether you’re advancing to more executive levels in a company.

Hundreds of women entrepreneurs gathered in Toronto today for the She’s Next, Empowered by Visa workshop, an event offering inspiration and support for Canadian women-led SMBs. (CNW Group/Visa Canada)

As a society, how far do you think we’ve come, and what can we still do now to try and bridge the gap between gender inequality in the workplace?

This is one of the things I’m most passionate about. We need to build resilience in our girls, right when they’re young. Even if a woman doesn’t come into a workplace having that resilience, we can build it while they’re in the workplace. I always use the analogy of my daughter on a hockey team. In the last number of years, she’s had an all-male hockey coach team and has played at a high level. Those coaches will yell at those girls if they mess up on the ice and then they have to get right back to the next shift and perform. But that’s resilience. That’s building resilience. It doesn’t have to be a hockey bench, but it can be a difficult meeting and helping build that resilience in women is paramount to success in business. Whether it’s going to the C suite or starting your own business. 

The second thing we have to do, and that we do at Visa, is you have to find the talent and pull them up whether they feel they’re ready or not. You have to identify them. You have to prepare them and you have to pull them up. Just promote them into more senior positions and allow them to grow in that position. We’ve done that with a few people in Canada to where you would go, wow, that seems early that that person is being promoted, doesn’t feel like they have the right number of years of expertise, and they should. But you know what? We believe in them, and we’re confident we’re going to take a risk.

Erin Kleinberg, co-founder, Métier Creative, Sasha Tong, Bell Media producer, and Stacey Madge, country manager and president discuss the importance of digital marketing to help grow small businesses. (CNW Group/Visa Canada)

What’s next in 2020? What Initiatives do you have in place, or what’s something that you’re looking to focus on? 

The number one thing that we’re looking to do is try to make a global movement out of She’s Next. We already did She’s next in Washington, D.C., L.A., Atlanta, New York, and then just recently in South Africa. So we’re taking it globally.

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