BDC launches $500M investment platform to help boost women led businesses

BDC

BDC has announced the launch of Thrive Venture Fund and Lab for Women, a $500-million investment platform that will support the growth and economic impact of Canadian women-led businesses, as women continue to face an uphill battle when trying to build and grow a business.

"This investment is intended to unlock the promise of Canadian women entrepreneurs, providing them with greater opportunities and ultimately, a better shot at success on the global stage," said BDC CEO Isabelle Hudon in a statement.

"We believe that tapping into the incredible potential of these women can become a significant driver of economic prosperity for the country."

The bank for Canadian entrepreneurs said Wednesday that Thrive builds on the success of its $200-million Women in Technology Venture Fund, launched in 2017, which has made 38 investments in women-led businesses.

BDC said the Thrive platform will provide a "comprehensive approach" to addressing barriers faced by women entrepreneurs.

These challenges will be tackled through direct early-stage investments and strategic investments in women-led-and-focused funds.

BDC said the platform will be made up of a $300-million direct investment fund and $100 million in indirect investment.

"The biggest barrier women entrepreneurs still face despite everything we've done to date is the systemic bias in the marketplace, both from a capital perspective, but also from a role model perspective, and from a resourcing and networking perspective," said Thrive Venture Fund's managing partner Michelle Scarborough, who is also managing partner of the Women in Technology Venture Fund, in an interview.

Women-led startups continue to receive far less funding compared to those led by men. In Canada, around five per cent of venture capital dollars go to women-led businesses, Scarborough noted.

While Thrive is "sector-agnostic," Scarborough explained that technology will need to be a core tenet of the businesses that receive investment dollars.

Her and her team are hoping to begin making and announcing investments in the coming months.

"Part of our job as an investor is not just to invest the capital that we have, but also to syndicate and work with many other investors in the marketplace that can add value to these companies and these entrepreneurs as they build for the future," she added.

The other component of the new platform is a $100-million lab, an initiative designed to develop innovative equity investment models for women-led companies that may not necessarily be on a traditional path to securing venture capital funding.

"What we want to do is work in collaboration with many of our partners in the ecosystem already, and some new ones, and really look first at the pre-seed stage companies led by women who are looking for that early capital, but are not yet ready to make a decision on whether or not they want venture as they build the company, and be able to provide an equity offering to them," said Scarborough.

"So we'll start there, and then we're going to look at how we expand from there. But we're really designing this with these women entrepreneurs at the table and with partners at the table so that we create something that meets needs and also has some longevity and sustainability over time."