DEK: Growing a business can be challenging. The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ is a comprehensive program focused on helping women-led businesses succeed through education, mentorship and funding.


WHEN RATANA STEPHENS LAUNCHED NATURE’S PATH FOODS with her husband in 1985, she was earning a dollar an hour in the family’s restaurant.


But Ms. Stephens was faced with another challenge when trying to lock in funding to grow their burgeoning company.


“It was a time when a woman’s place was at home with her family, not running a business,” she remembers.


Today, Richmond, B.C.-based Nature’s Path Foods operates three manufacturing facilities, employs over 600 people and sells products in more than 50 countries, making it North America’s largest certified organic breakfast and snack food company.


But Ms. Stephens hasn’t forgotten the challenges of those early years. That's why she’s advocating for Scotiabank’s new program, which was designed to help female business owners succeed and overcome bias.


On December 5, 2018, the bank is launching The Scotiabank Women Initiative to advance women-led businesses through funding, mentorship and education. The program will provide access to financing for women-led businesses, give women entrepreneurs the opportunity to interact with senior business leaders and provide access to educational sessions about issues like governance, technology and recruiting.


Ms. Stephens says that if only she’d had access to a similar program, no one “would have underestimated my ability to both raise a family and run a successful business, just because I’m a woman.”


Its stories like this that sparked the creation of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, says Gillian Riley, executive vice-president at Scotiabank. Ms. Riley has spent much of her career listening to her network of women entrepreneurs share their challenges and successes.


“There’s a real opportunity to help women who are leading businesses grow and advance to the next level,” she says.


That support is needed now more than ever. Women-owned businesses represent over $117-billion in economic activity in Canada and employ over 1.5 million Canadians, according to a 2011 report by the Canadian Taskforce for Women’s Business Growth. Yet, female business owners report experiencing more difficulty accessing financing compared to their male counterparts. Women-led businesses in Canada receive only 4 per cent of venture capital investment funding, according to SheEO, a Toronto-based organization that provides networking and financing to women entrepreneurs.


“This new program will address some of the challenges woman face, provide opportunities and help address an important social challenge,” Riley says.


Scotiabank is empowering its salesforce to deploy capital to support the growth of women-led businesses, from small business to large enterprise.

Clients will also have access to mentorship opportunities through a professional advisory board of subject matter experts that will give advice on complex business problems. The Scotiabank Women Initiative will also host half-day sessions called Un-Mentorship Boot Camps™ that will “unteach” traditionally held ideas about how to succeed as a female entrepreneur. The sessions will also explore topics like government compliance and trade – important issues since women tend to do less business outside of Canada and may miss out on exciting markets.


“This is all about helping women grow their business and persevere through the challenging times,” says Ms. Riley.

The new initiative seems tailor-made for someone like Dr. Somayeh Sadeghi, who recently bought her second dental clinic in Pickering, Ont.

Dr. Sadeghi has had to deal with her fair share of trials, from patients who’ve questioned her abilities as a female dentist to challenges landing financing. She says she hopes The Scotiabank Women Initiative will give her the support, education, and mentorship she needs to efficiently expand the number of clinics beyond what she has now, but not at the expense of patient care and quality. 

“I wish someone had shown me how to plan for contingencies, which would have allowed me to react quickly to a failure and proceed directly to ‘Plan B,’” Dr. Sadeghi says of her early days as an entrepreneur. “I needed someone with a similar experience to say, ‘Perseverance goes a long way,’ and to show me that it is not how many times you fall, but rather how quickly you get right back up.”


Women are “natural connectors,” says Ms. Stephens. That’s why she thinks the mentorship and education offered through The Scotiabank Women Initiative will be game-changers, particularly for women looking for ways to grow their businesses faster.


“While it’s certainly brave to go on your business journey on your own, mentors can help smooth the journey and lift you higher.”


Participation in The Scotiabank Women Initiative or any program-related events does not constitute an offer or commitment by Scotiabank to provide any financial products or services.

™ Trademarks of The Bank of Nova Scotia, used under licence.