Do women entrepreneurs innovate differently than men?

Ottawa researchers set to follow up landmark report on female business owners with in-depth look at how women-owned companies in Canada approach innovation
Ottawa researchers Clare Beckton and Janice McDonald are teaming up on a new study of entrepreneurs.
Ottawa researchers Clare Beckton and Janice McDonald are teaming up on a new study of entrepreneurs.

With the federal Liberals promising to make their “innovation agenda” a key priority, Janice McDonald says it’s time to find out exactly how some of Canada’s most important, yet often overlooked, drivers of economic growth – female entrepreneurs – approach the concept of innovation.

A serial entrepreneur herself, Ms. McDonald has devoted a great deal of energy to studying women business owners and their contributions to the Canadian economy.

Last year, she and fellow Ottawa researcher Clare Beckton released a groundbreaking report on businesswomen and their approach to risk. The two are now teaming up again to study how female entrepreneurs from across the country view their role as innovators.

“What we believe, and what we’re going to test in the national study, is that women entrepreneurs innovate differently,” says Ms. McDonald, founder of business advisory group the Beacon Agency.

“We want to explore what is that difference and how does that difference play into how they run their businesses, how they compete. I think that will be an interesting discovery.”

Their 2016 study – which concluded that women entrepreneurs are just as willing to take risks as their male counterparts but often encounter resistance from investors who believe otherwise – became a topic of discussion across Canada and beyond.

This spring, Ms. McDonald briefly addressed the report’s findings as a featured speaker – and the only Canadian contributor – at the Women in Tech Festival in Mountain View, Calif.

“(The report) has continued to garner a lot of attention internationally, not just in Canada,” she says.

“We know that access to capital is very challenging for women entrepreneurs. Has that limited access to capital shaped outcomes in terms of how they’ve approached innovation?”

As for the new study, Ms. McDonald says she’s anxious to try to determine if factors such as a lack of access to capital make women more likely than men to devise inventive new ways of doing business out of necessity.

“When you are underfunded and perhaps don’t have resources, you get pretty darn creative,” she says. “It forces innovation. Given that we know that access to capital is very challenging for women entrepreneurs, has that limited access to capital shaped outcomes in terms of how they’ve approached innovation? We’re not saying that those two are necessarily linked. We’re just wondering, are they? If so, in what way?”

Ms. McDonald and Ms. Beckton have already begun preliminary background research for the new study, which is partly funded by BMO Financial Group. They expect to publish its results next year.