LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs still facing an uphill battle on the financial front
By James Peters
For these entrepreneurs, starting out with a new business is like joining a game of monopoly [already in progress].
-KAYLA ISABELLE, CEO OF STARTUP CANADA
It’s a well-known cliché that most small businesses fail in their first year, although there doesn’t appear to be any reliable data to support that claim. What doesn’t require any empirical evidence is the simple truth that start-ups and new business ventures are difficult, period. And difficulties facing new start-ups in the LGBTQ+ community are compounded by misunderstandings, mistaken beliefs and tiresome prejudices.
Kayla Isabelle, CEO of Startup Canada, puts it this way: “We recently authored an op-ed for Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber
of Commerce (CGLCC) that likened the situation to an unfair game of monopoly. The metaphor was useful for illustrating the inequity of the startup experience for many in the LGBTQ+ community today. For these entrepreneurs, starting out with a new business is like joining a game of monopoly [already in progress]. All the prime properties have been sold, the resources are depleted, and you started late, so you find yourself with nothing. And you also know you’re not going to win!”
Startup Canada “started up” in 2012, after a great deal of initial research and consultation with business owners across Canada. “Our consultations were with a very broad cross-section of large and small, experienced and inexperienced, diverse entrepreneurs,” Isabelle says. “Our nonprofit was created as a gateway or single point of entry into Canada’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. We were not yet a nation of entrepreneurs, so there needed to be some assistance for start-ups at the federal level. And that’s what we are – acentral organization where many different groups, interests and individuals can benefit from an amplified voice.”
“One of the reasons we partner with CGLCC relates to our mission to support, connect and amplify organizations that exist by and for underrepresented founders,” she adds. “And through our many other micropartnerships, we can better serve the needs of unique sectors and serve them more effectively. We’ve also done a lot of work to diversify and ensure that our own staff are representative of the LGBTQ+ community.”
“My day-to-day working life is about dealing with entrepreneurs at completely different stages – from the first year, to years or even decades [after],” says A.J. Stewart, Manager for Membership and Supplier Diversity at CGLCC in Toronto. “I primarily deal with small to medium-sized businesses with diverse suppliers. A diverse supplier is a person or persons from the LGBTQ+ community who owns at least 51 per cent of their company. I assist with certifying businesses as LGBTQ+-owned businesses – according to our guidelines – and give those enterprises access to our corporate members who are already big advocates of the community. This list of suppliers includes companies trying to ensure
they’re being fair and equitable with diverse-owned businesses.”
The hardest part is understanding how funding systems work – what’s offered through government and non-government organizations.
-LAURA WHITELAND, OWNER OF INCLUSIVE FINANCIAL
And what are some of the specific problems that beset LGBTQ+ businesses?
“Diverse-owned businesses have a much harder time collecting capital and ensuring a healthy cash flow, which is essential,” Stewart explains. “Most of the major banks collect very accurate statistics on a variety of business financial data, such as loans and venture capital financing. What the stats reveal is that LGBTQ+ businesses are definitely at a disadvantage. Perhaps these businesses are seen as riskier ventures. I believe there still exists an unconscious bias towards them – and loan officers may not even realize they’re doing it. So we try to make sure these organizations are aware of their biases. There’s some progress being made, but it’s very slow, even in today’s enlightened world.”
Speaking directly from experience as an entrepreneur, and a financial planner for the LGBTQ+ community, is Laura Whiteland, the owner of Inclusive Financial in Truro, N.S. “I’ve been a financial planner for almost 10 years, so I’ve seen some slow progress,” she says. “What financial support exists depends very much on the region, province, city and town. The national CGLCC is in Toronto, and there’s a variety of smaller regional chambers of commerce in certain locations. But where you’re doing business makes a huge difference to access.”
“I’m a start-up myself, so I have a direct connection to the hurdles and issues facing people in the LGBTQ+ community,” Whiteland continues. “There’s so many things to do and so much that needs to be prioritized that I can help with. But every start-up is unique, and there is no template. The hardest part is understanding how funding systems work – what’s offered through government and non-government organizations.”
“Many great organizations are making progress, but no one has the bandwidth to address the entire LGBTQ+ community,” Isabelle concurs. “That’s why Startup Canada wanted to assist with the research and bring together resources and organizations that support the community. We’ve put much of that information into a massive resource guide. So far, that guide appears to be one of the most utilized resource packages we’ve ever done.”
“Some progress is certainly being made in the financial arena. I’m an out financial planner and I think that alone is a huge sign of progress,” Whiteland concludes. “Every year, I think, we get further ahead.”
Monopoly, of course, is only a board game, typically won by the luckiest roll of the dice – in spite of what some players may pretend. But when it comes to the very real game of entrepreneurial opportunity and financial support, the LGBTQ+ community is simply asking to be invited to the game.