Women entrepreneurs account for only 16% of business owners in Canada. The Women Entrepreneurship Centre (WEC) at Wilfrid Laurier University is dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs of every age, stage and culture to grow their businesses.
We had the opportunity to talk with Sara Bingham, Associate Director of the WEC and recent recipient of The Globe and Mail’s Changemaker Award to get her take on empowering women entrepreneurs, her passion for coaching, and her hopes for the future.
See a need, fill a need
Bingham has been a serial entrepreneur since first grade when she set out to create a better version of the Brownies program in rebellion against learning to knit.
It’s her background as the daughter of a teacher and a nurse, the oldest of three girls and her training as a therapist that lead her to her passion for coaching and leading women entrepreneurs.“‘See a need, fill a need’ has been a guiding principle in my life,” said Bingham, when asked about her influences as a leader.
“As a leader, you need to set expectations that people can do in a specific time frame. Do not tell someone that you want them to do something, but that you expect them to do it. That holds you accountable and changes the way you think about what you can accomplish, said Bingham. “I see the potential in women entrepreneurs and I love being able to nudge it out of them in a supportive way.”
Since her Brownies stunt, she’s been smashing the glass ceiling as the founder of WeeHands, a company dedicated to teaching babies sign language, and the author of The Baby Signing Book. She is also the founder of Feminist Founders, a support network of business founders, with chapters in Waterloo, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and San Francisco and the leader of Lean In KW, providing networking and peer support for professional women in the technology and health care industries. She is the former executive director of Women’s March Canada, a global network of activists working to defend women’s human rights.
All of these experiences lead Bingham to Laurier’s Women Entrepreneurship Centre, where she’s continuing to make and inspire change in the business world.
Laurier’s Women Entrepreneurship Centre
As an entrepreneur, having a community around you that supports you makes a huge difference. A supportive community allows entrepreneurs to have guidance, new connections, new insights, and more.
“When women gather and talk about their experiences, they realize they can do it, they can be entrepreneurs. When they’re working on an island, it’s hard to get feedback and hear those success stories and get inspiration from women overcoming challenges to build their businesses,” said Bingham. This is why the program is so impactful.”
The Women Entrepreneurship Centre is a 3-year project to engage and support women entrepreneurs within the community, including a focus on Indigenous women. When Laurier first received funding for the project, the goal was to help 485 women. Now only in their first year running during a global pandemic, WEC has already blown past the halfway point of that goal.
Through 1:1 Business Consultations, Indigenous Women's Entrepreneurship Workshops, "Start My Business" Bootcamps, "Grow My Business" Accelerators, and “Soar” Networking Events, WEC has helped over 273 women become entrepreneurs and leaders within their communities.
And it’s not just tech companies, the program includes the implementation of programs for women entrepreneurs and will specifically support non-tech entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. From health and wellness services to jewelry making, marketing agencies, artists, designers and more, the WEC program is empowering women entrepreneurs, fostering leadership, and building community to connect women with the right people, skills and support to make it happen.
“Women entrepreneurs start businesses because they are passionate and knowledgeable,” said Bingham. “We get to give them the business foundation to succeed.”
The future of women in business
For the future of the program and women in entrepreneurship, Bingham says she hopes to see more support for women entrepreneurs and more women-specific programming.
“Women entrepreneurs face a different set of challenges that aren’t in the traditional business playbook,” said Bingham. “From domestic violence, sexual harassment, safety, representation, health and economic security, a woman’s experience is unique. This calls for unique programming.”
As the program progresses, Binham expects to continue to run online programming, as these needs are not Waterloo Region-based but global. While the program is based in Southern Ontario, women from all over the world are enrolling and starting businesses through the program and will continue to do so as it progresses.
“If our community recognizes the need for this program and sees what it’s doing to fill this gap and create equal opportunities for women in the community as a whole, the programming can and should continue to flourish.”
To keep up with entrepreneur stories and support women entrepreneurs, follow Laurier WEC on social media, sign up for their newsletter, learn more about WEC program participants, become a mentor, or consider donating to support women entrepreneurs in the program.