Breaking Barriers: A Deep Dive into Female Owned Businesses Toronto

Once a city dominated by suits and ties, Toronto’s business landscape is rapidly changing shape thanks to a wave of fierce female entrepreneurs. In their recent report, State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada 2023, WEKH researchers estimate that 18 per cent of businesses, including small, medium and large businesses, are majority owned by women in Canada, a remarkable shift from just a generation ago. These trailblazing women are breaking barriers and altering the face of commerce in the Greater Toronto Area.

In this article, we explore the meteoric rise of female-owned businesses across Toronto and the women driving this exciting movement. From niche retail stores to tech startups and everything in between, women are founding and leading successful companies across nearly every industry imaginable. By spotlighting innovative female business owners, we reveal the challenges women continue to face as entrepreneurs and the keys to their hard-won achievements.

Key Takeaways:

  • Female-owned businesses are a driving force in Toronto’s economy.
  • Toronto is home to a diverse range of female-owned businesses spanning various industries.
  • Many female-owned businesses in Toronto are committed to supporting other women and creating opportunities for female entrepreneurs.

1. History of Female Owned Businesses in Toronto

Toronto has a rich history of female entrepreneurs who have made significant contributions to the city’s economy. From the early 20th century to the present day, women have been breaking down barriers and starting their own businesses.

In the early 1900s, women in Toronto were primarily employed in domestic service, factory work, or clerical positions. However, some women began to break out of these traditional roles and start their own businesses. Jean Lumb, for example, opened her first business, a fruit store near Bathurst St. and St Clair Ave. West, at the age of 17. Within a few years, her business was successful enough that she was able to bring her parents and siblings from Vancouver to Toronto. In 1959, Lumb and her husband opened Kwong Chow Chop Suey House in Toronto’s Chinatown, which became a popular spot.

During the mid-20th century, women-owned businesses in Toronto began to expand beyond traditional roles such as dressmaking and hairdressing. In the 1950s, women began to enter the retail industry, opening up clothing boutiques and gift shops as well as other entrepreneurial endeavours. Olivia Poole’s Jolly Jumpers, inspired by the cradleboards, were being mass produced in 1950.

By the 1970s, women were starting businesses in a variety of industries, including technology, finance, and real estate. A prime example could be Beverly Mascoll who founded Mascoll Beauty Supply in 1970 with just $700 and began selling Black beauty products out of the trunk of her car. Mascoll was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for her business and community work.

2. Current Landscape of Female Owned Businesses

Toronto has seen a significant increase in the number of female-owned businesses in recent years. According to the GEM 2022/2023 Global Report, the gap between men and women in reported ownership of established businesses has declined in the past years. The rate of businesses established by women increased from 68% of the men-established businesses rate to 77% of the men established businesses rate in 2022.

This is confirmed by the fact that the Canadian women entrepreneurs have shown a greater increase in total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA) rate compared to men from 2021 to 2022. The TEA rate for women in 2021 was 65% of the TEA rate for men; it increased in 2022 to 81% of the rate for men.

Despite all the challenges mentioned below, female entrepreneurs in Toronto and wider Canada are making strides in various industries, including technology, healthcare, and retail. According to one study done in 2021, there were 56 Soonicorns identified, and several of those had at least one woman co-founder.

Additionally, the top three women-led Canadian Soonicorns are all valued at over USD 600 million and have the potential to reach Unicorn status within a few years.

Overall, while female-owned businesses in Toronto still face challenges, the city is making significant strides in supporting and promoting gender equality in entrepreneurship. With continued support and investment, female entrepreneurs in Toronto will continue to make a significant impact on the economy and society.

3. Challenges Faced by Female Business Owners

Despite the increasing number of female-owned businesses in Canada, women entrepreneurs still face barriers such as lack of access to capital, limited networking opportunities, and gender bias in the business world. As a result, Women are 2 times less likely to start a business than men.

One of the biggest challenges for female business owners is access to funding. According to a study by the Women’s Enterprise Organization of Canada, female entrepreneurs are less likely to receive loans or investment capital compared to their male counterparts. According to another study published by the Harvard Business Review, venture capitalists also ask male and female entrepreneurs very different questions that demonstrate implicit bias.

Another challenge for female business owners is networking. Women may have fewer opportunities to network with other business owners, which can limit their access to mentors, advisors, and potential customers. Additionally, women may face gender bias in the business world, which can make it difficult to gain respect and credibility.

Finally, balancing work and family can be a significant challenge for female business owners. study by Mastercard found that 3 in 10 (29%) female entrepreneurs say they are struggling to maintain a work-life balance, compared to 17% of men. Women are more likely to be responsible for caregiving and household duties, which can make it difficult to devote enough time and energy to their businesses. This can lead to burnout and can limit their ability to grow and succeed.

4. Influential Female Entrepreneurs in Toronto

Profiles of Leading Entrepreneurs

Toronto is home to a thriving community of female entrepreneurs. These women have built successful businesses across a range of industries, from tech to fashion to food. Here are just a few of the leading female entrepreneurs in Toronto:


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    1. Eva Wong – Co-founder and COO of Borrowell, a financial technology company that helps Canadians make smarter financial decisions. Wong has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and was named one of Toronto Life’s 50 Most Influential Torontonians.
    2. Janet De SilvaJanet De Silva is President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, which is one of the largest and most influential business organizations in North America.
    3. Kristen Voisey – Founder of Cocktail Emporium, a specialty cocktail store that offers everything from bitters to glassware. Voisey’s store has been featured in publications like The Globe and Mail and Toronto Life.
    4. Michele Romanow – She is the Cofounder of Clearco (formerly Clearbanc), which is a Toronto based provider of revenue sharing solutions to fund new online businesses, and other e-businesses.
    5. Shaemin Ukani – Co-Founder and Managing Director of Arrow Professional Services, a staffing firm specializing in professional roles including administration, accounting & finance, marketing, sales and IT roles based in Toronto, Ontario.

    5. Support Systems for Female Entrepreneurs

    As a female entrepreneur in Toronto, you are not alone in your journey. There are many support systems available to help you succeed. Here are some government initiatives, non-profit organizations, mentorship, and funding opportunities that you can take advantage of.

    Government Initiatives

    The Government of Canada has invested over $1.7 million in the PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise to support more than 170 businesses, create and maintain 190 jobs, and provide training to 1,500 women entrepreneurs.

    Farm Credit Canada provides financing to women entrepreneurs in agriculture, agribusiness and agri-food to start or grow their business.

    Canada has invested more than $6 billion in its Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. WES aims to increase women-owned businesses’ access to the financing, talent, networks and expertise they need to start up, scale up and access new markets.

    CanExport provides financial support to help your Canadian business develop and access exciting new export opportunities. Dedicated support is provided to businesses owned or led by underrepresented groups in trade (including women and Indigenous) when applying for funding.

    Read more: Women Entrepreneur Grants: Do You Know These 45 Programs for Women-Owned Businesses?

    Non-Profit Organizations

    The Firehood was established in response, to support women in Canada to increase their participation, leadership and prosperity in the tech ecosystem.

    SheBoot is an Ottawa-based six-week bootcamp that prepares founders to pitch their business and secure investment.

    The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub is a one-stop source of knowledge, data and best practices for women entrepreneurs.

    Women Business Enterprises Canada aims to build and grow a strong Canadian ecosystem that connects women-owned businesses to procurement opportunities through advocacy, certification, development, and promotion.

    Mentorship and Funding Opportunities

    Futurpreneur Canada provides financing, mentoring and support for aspiring Canadian entrepreneurs aged 18–39.

    Canadian Technology Accelerators Development program to help Canadian companies with an existing technology, product or service to explore vast opportunities in foreign markets. Specific cohorts are organized for women-owned and led businesses.

    Startup Women is dedicated to showing up for women all year round, Startup Women is an annual program offering support to early stage women-identifying entrepreneurs across Canada through topic-focused webinars, industry advisory circles, and interactive 1:1 meetings with Startup Women leaders.

    The Business Development Bank of Canada also offers funding, advisory services, and networking opportunities to women entrepreneurs in Canada. The organization provides financing, consulting, and advisory services to help women entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.

    Women Entrepreneurship Loan Fund is providing loans of up to $50,000 to women business owners and entrepreneurs so they can start up, scale up and access new markets.

    6. Tips for Aspiring Female Entrepreneurs

    Starting a business can be challenging, but with the right mindset and approach, you can achieve your goals. As an aspiring female entrepreneur, you have unique opportunities and challenges that you can leverage to build a successful business. Here are some tips to help you get started.

    Building a Strong Support Network

    Building a strong support network is essential for any entrepreneur. Surround yourself with people who believe in your vision and can provide guidance and support. This includes family, friends, mentors, and other entrepreneurs. Attend networking events and join groups that cater to female entrepreneurs to expand your network.

    Accessing Resources and Funding

    Accessing resources and funding is crucial for any business. Research government grants and funding programs that are available to female entrepreneurs. Look for incubators, accelerators, and other organizations that can provide resources and support. Consider crowdfunding and other alternative funding sources to raise capital for your business.

    Navigating the Entrepreneurial Journey

    Navigating the entrepreneurial journey can be challenging, but it’s important to stay focused and motivated. Set realistic goals and develop a plan to achieve them. Stay organized and track your progress regularly. Be prepared to adapt and pivot as needed, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

    7. Frequently Asked Questions

    Toronto is home to many successful female-owned businesses across various industries. Some of the top female-owned businesses in Toronto include:

    • Sugarkane: Serves Caribbean- and Cajun-style eats alongside tropical cocktails made with Ting and sorrel.
    • The Detox Market: A natural beauty and wellness store that offers a wide range of products.
    • The Goods: A plant-based meal delivery service that offers healthy and delicious meals.
    • The Pink Studio: A boutique fitness studio that offers a variety of workouts, including barre, yoga, and pilates.
    • The Ten Spot: A beauty bar that offers a range of services, including manicures, pedicures, and waxing.

    There are many resources available for female-owned businesses in Canada, including:

    Toronto has a vibrant food scene, and there are many popular women-owned restaurants in the city. Some of the most popular include:

    • Aloette: A French-inspired restaurant that offers a variety of dishes, including steak frites and escargot.
    • Fat Pasha: A Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant that offers delicious falafel, hummus, and shakshuka.
    • Giulietta: An Italian restaurant that offers handmade pasta and delicious seafood dishes.
    • Kitten and the Bear: A tea room that offers homemade jams, scones, and tea sandwiches.
    • Pai: A Thai restaurant that offers authentic and delicious dishes, including pad thai and green curry.

    Yes, there are many notable female-owned businesses in Ontario, including:

    • Blyth Academy: A private school that offers a personalized and innovative approach to education.
    • Fresh City Farms: A farm and delivery service that offers organic and locally sourced produce.
    • Knix: A lingerie and activewear brand that focuses on comfort and inclusivity.
    • Second Closet: A storage and moving company that offers a convenient and affordable solution for storing and moving your belongings.

    8. Resources for Women Entrepreneurs in Toronto

    Funding Resources

    Industry Resources

    Other Resources

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