Canada’s entrepreneurial place in the global ecosystem

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Seven-and-a-half million people in 140 countries came together this week to inspire, support and promote the people who will define our economic future.

Canada is one of the stars of Global Entrepreneurship Week. We hosted about 400 events and many more online activities to celebrate the power and optimism of enterprise. Ottawa alone will have held close to 100 entrepreneurship events this week.

At schools and universities, on Parliament Hill, and through competitions such as the Canadian Mentorship Challenge, in which 10,000 people are being mentored, individuals and ideas are connecting in ways that are certain to spur and grow our country’s entrepreneurial activity.

Business owners are sharing their experiences in the Hello, My Name Is storytelling campaign. A six-year-old with a snow-shovelling venture became the Saskatchewan operator of a global online grain-trading business. A young Torontonian with a learning disability created a fashion management consultancy to fill an industry gap and overcome career challenges. And a recent university graduate launched her Halifax bike business because she wanted to learn, to be creative and to control her own destiny.

Canada is lucky. Some say our country’s youth unemployment is close to 20 per cent, but we don’t face the crushing 50-per-cent to 60-per-cent rates of Spain and Greece. Self-employment is an excellent alternative to unemployment, but that’s rarely what motivates our young entrepreneurs. Of the more than 700 people the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) helps to launch businesses each year, the vast majority have the ideas, the energy and the passion to bring their dreams to life, and they have an unwavering belief that they can solve any problems Canada might have.

Canadian entrepreneurs also benefit from one of the world’s most hospitable policy environments. In an international survey released this week by Global Entrepreneurship Week’s co-creator, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, no country rated as highly as Canada overall on regulation, access to resources and the environment for entrepreneurship.

Canadian entrepreneurs are starting from a place of optimism and relatively strong support, but work is needed to realize our potential. Entrepreneurship is sometimes seen as a dubious career path, access to financing and other support varies dramatically, too many young people lack the financial skills to properly manage a business, and too few aspire to conquer global markets. In early 2014, CYBF will convene partners from all sectors to chart an action plan to overcome these challenges and to expand entrepreneurship country-wide.

On Monday, the Prime Minister recognized the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week by noting that “entrepreneurs are the backbone of the Canadian economy.” He is right: small businesses represent 98 per cent of our companies, and even the largest and most successful businesses started small. Our job is to inspire and help more Canadians turn their business ideas into reality, to think big and global, and to bring their passion, energy and drive to all they do.

Julia Deans is CEO of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, a national non-profit organization that supports young entrepreneurs with financing, mentoring and business resources.

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