Women Entrepreneurship Strategy's Ecosystem Fund Application Guide

Information session

To answer questions about the program and the application process, ISED and the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub held an information session.

Watch the recording

Transcripts to follow.

Section A: About the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy and the Ecosystem Fund

Please note that current recipients of funding from the 2018 WES Ecosystem Fund call for proposals are not eligible to submit an application for this Call.

1. Introduction and background

Launched under Budget 2018, the Government of Canada's 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.

The WES Ecosystem Fund was designed to provide non-repayable contribution funding to projects led by not-for-profit organizations that would help close service gaps and strengthen capacity within the women entrepreneurship ecosystem in Canada.

Information on the 2018 recipients of funding is available here.

Through this call, the WES Ecosystem Fund will support not-for-profit organizations to strengthen capacity and address ecosystem gaps for diverse populations of women entrepreneurs. It will focus on fostering connections and cultivating networks, mentoring opportunities and resources/supports for women entrepreneurs.

Opportunities to compete for funding will be available for 2018 WES Ecosystem Fund recipients in the future. Please consult the WES webpage regularly for updates.

2. The 2021 WES Ecosystem Fund call for proposals

Through Budget 2021, additional funding has been committed to the WES Ecosystem Fund and a new call for proposals is being launched.

Under this new call, $25 million is allocated to support new projects that are focused on responding to systemic barriers and gaps for diverse, intersectional and/or under-served women. The expected project outcomes will contribute to improving the participation of diverse women entrepreneurs in the economy by supporting initiatives that ensure women entrepreneurs are able to access services that are responsive to their unique needs, context and experiences.

This funding will provide an opportunity to further foster connections and strengthen the network of supports within the entrepreneurship ecosystem for diverse women, and ensure supports, including mentorship and networking resources, are available and respond to the needs of diverse women entrepreneurs.

Through this call, funding will be available to support:

National/Multi-Regional Projects

  • Projects that are national in scope, or serve a minimum of 5 provinces and territories;
    • Priority will be given to projects that deliver services in all provinces and territories;
    • the Project budget must not exceed $4,000,000; and
    • Projects must have a minimum budget of $400,000.

3. General information

This application guide has been developed to assist in the completion of a project application form for the 2021 WES Ecosystem Fund. It provides information on how to submit the application, as well as the assessment criteria against which the project will be assessed.

This call is focused on meeting the needs of diverse, intersectional and/or under-served women and is intended to:

  • Strengthen supports in the women entrepreneurship ecosystem, including mentorship and networking; and
  • Support initiatives to address specific gaps, or specific populations of women entrepreneurs.

Applicants may only submit one application for funding.

Priority will be given to eligible organizations that deliver national services and apply as a partnership.

Prior to starting your submission, please read this application guide in its entirety to ensure a clear understanding of the WES Ecosystem Fund's objectives and eligibility criteria.

Applications should be submitted to wes-sfe@ised-isde.gc.ca by March 15, 2022 (12 pm PST).

Applications will only be reviewed after the deadline. To be considered for funding, applications must provide all the required information, outlined in this application guide. If your application package is incomplete, your application may be rejected. Late submissions will not be considered for funding.

If you experience technical difficulties or have any additional questions, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions page, contact the WES central inbox (wes-sfe@ised-isde.gc.ca) or call 1-800-328-6189. Please note that 48 hours prior to the deadline for applications (March 15, 2022, 12 pm PST) we are unable to guarantee  a response from the WES central inbox. During that time, queries on technical issues will be prioritized.

It is highly recommended that applications be submitted well before the deadline to ensure there are no unforeseen issues at the time of submission. Late applications due to technical issues within 24 hours of the deadline will not be considered acceptable grounds for late submission and may lead to your application not being considered further for funding.

Section B: Eligibility, costs and application process

4. Eligibility requirements

i. Eligible organizations

Current recipients of funding from the 2018 WES Ecosystem Fund call for proposals are not eligible to submit an application. Opportunities to compete for funding will be available for 2018 WES Ecosystem Fund recipients in the future. Please consult the WES webpage regularly for updates.

Applicant organizations must be a Canadian not-for-profit which operates at a local, regional or national level and falls under at least one of the following categories:

  • Business and entrepreneur support organizations;
  • Research/innovation hubs;
  • Organizations that certify diverse suppliers in Canada;
  • Indigenous organizations; and
  • Business accelerators and incubators.

Eligible applicant organizations must be in operation for a minimum of one year (as of March 15, 2021). Applicants must demonstrate that they meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Have an established mandate focused on supporting women and/or women entrepreneurs; and/or
  • Have existing programming (offered within the past one year) focused on women entrepreneurs/women skill development.

Please note: The Province of Quebec's M-30 legislation may apply to Québec based applicants. Applicants are asked to identify if they are implicated by this legislation. This will not impact assessment of the proposal.

For further information, consult the following website prior to submitting your application for funding: An Act respecting the Ministère du Conseil exécutif (M-30).

ii. Partnerships

Applicants may choose to work in partnership with one or several organizations to effectively administer the project and to demonstrate they meet the elements outlined in the Assessment Criteria.

A partnership is formed when organizations operating in a similar sphere come together to deliver an initiative. This could include community organizations connecting with other organizations that serve similar purposes or clientele across Canada.

A project proposal for a partnership should only be submitted by one applicant (lead organization) who must meet the eligible organization requirements.

The lead applicant is responsible for the completion and signing of the application form, project and financial management and reporting on results. When developing the proposal content, both lead applicant and partner(s)'s experience and expertise may be used to demonstrate the skillset and capacity to meet the required assessment criteria and ensure successful project delivery.

For example, in the case of a new partnership formed to apply for this call, if Partner A has 2 years experience working with underserved women entrepreneurs and Partner B has 4 years experience in the same field, collectively the partners can establish that they have 6 years of experience in serving underrepresented women entrepreneurs. Furthermore, the partners can use their combined experience to demonstrate their capacity to effectively manage and financially administer projects of a similar size and scope.

Partnership applications must include an Agreement between the parties and a letter of support from each partner (signed by their authorized official) that describes their contribution – roles and responsibilities, and if applicable, financial and in-kind contributions – to the project.

iii. Eligible projects

General requirements:
  • Must be led by an eligible not-for-profit organization that has been in operation for a minimum of one year (as of March 15, 2021);
  • Project lengths may vary, but all activities must be completed by March 31, 2025;
  • Projects must have a minimum budget of $400,000;
  • Projects must not exceed a budget of $4,000,000;
  • Projects must focus on women entrepreneurs or women majority owned businesses (51% or more ownership stake) and demonstrate a focus on diverse/intersectional and/or under-served  women entrepreneur populations; and
  • Projects must meet one or more of the project scope elements.

National/Multi-Regional Project activities and products must be delivered in both official languages.

iv. Project scope

Applicants must demonstrate capacity to reach a national, or multi-regional audience and deliver benefits to underrepresented women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses.

Eligible focus areas include one or more of the following:

  • Scale-up;
  • Supplier diversity;
  • Recovery planning/adaption;
  • Start-ups; and
  • Other areas that will support/contribute to strengthening the network of women entrepreneurship organizations in Canada or the Ecosystem Fund objectives.

Projects must include mentorship and networking as one component of project activities.

v. Eligible and ineligible activities

The WES Ecosystem Fund must support one or more of the following eligible activities:

  • [Mandatory] Mentoring and related supports (for example, networking, matchmaking, mentorship and coaching, and, advisory services);
  • Capacity building and skills development opportunities (for example: training and education, strategic business and/or financial planning);
  • Innovative business development and deployment supports and/or strategies (for example: digital technology adoption, service improvements, and pilot or experimentation approaches);
  • Compilation, development, and delivery of learning materials, policies, procedures, tools, and workshops responsive to the objectives of this initiative;
  • Establish or strengthen inclusive networks and partnerships that identify and share knowledge and best practices, and/or improve coordination of supports for small businesses and entrepreneurs;
  • Meetings, events, workshops;
  • Promotion activities to increase awareness of issues faced by small businesses owned by women and women entrepreneurs (such as: access, representation, diversity); and
  • Other activities that support the objectives of this initiative.

Ineligible activities are the following:

  • Undertaking lending or administering grants to third party organizations.

vi. Eligible costs

Eligible costs are those incurred and which, in the opinion of the Minister, are reasonable, incremental and required to carry out the Eligible Activities if an agreement is signed.

Eligible costs include:

  • Cost of labour (e.g., salaries and benefits) and of material used;
  • Capital costs directly related the Eligible Activities such as capital disbursements and associated expenses, purchase of machinery, equipment and infrastructure and/or associated repairs or retrofits;
  • Operating costs that are incremental and directly related to the project: management fees or working capital;
  • Costs related to marketing, promotion, and communication;
  • Professional fees (e.g. consultants, research, IT, technical expertise, legal, translation, digital and social media production);
  • Costs associated with procuring space or equipment necessary to carry out the project, including for workshops, events and meetings; and
  • Costs that support the use of tools and products for capacity building and skills development (e.g. educational licensing, third-party software).

Administrative costs will be limited to a maximum of 15% of the total contribution amount. Administrative costs do not include costs associated with capacity building activities.

Any project costs incurred before the signing of the Contribution Agreement will not be eligible for reimbursement.

vii. Ineligible costs

Ineligible Costs under the WES Ecosystem Fund include:

  • capital investments (loans/financing for entrepreneurs), as well as the refinancing of an existing debt;
  • the purchase of any assets for more than the fair market value of the said asset;
  • costs of amortization;
  • land and building acquisition and
  • goodwill.

viii. Expected results and outcomes

The following are expected outcomes and performance indicators for the WES Ecosystem Fund:

Outcome(s) Performance Indicator(s)

Women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses have access to programs and services to start, maintain and grow their businesses and are aware of the supports and partnerships available to them.

Number of clients supported in starting a new business (by province/territory).

Number of clients supported in sustaining or growing an existing business (by province/territory).

Enrolment/Number of clients who receive training/capacity building/outreach sessions/bootcamps.

Number of clients connected with networking, matchmaking or mentorship opportunities.

Other outcomes that advance the objectives of the Fund

As relevant to the identified outcome.

Applicable to all above objectives

Number of diverse/intersectional and/or under-served clients supported by business support organizations (by province/territory).

Percentage of clients who are satisfied overall with services of the business support organizations.

Organizations will also be asked to collect business participant information (Business Number, Company legal name; Address; and Company website).

5. Project proposal details

The following information should be provided in a maximum ten-page (12-point font, double spaced) Microsoft Word or PDF document. Please use the headings provided when responding to each of the elements outlined below.

Proposal content:

i. Organization eligibility

  • Explain how your organization meets at least one of the following eligibility criteria:
    • Have an established mandate focused on supporting women and/or women entrepreneurs; and/or
    • Have existing programming (offered within the past year) focused on women entrepreneurs/women skill development.

ii. Key partners

  • Outline key partners in the project, what their roles will be and how they will benefit/enhance the project; and
  • Include a letter of support for each partner as an attachment to this application. The letter should clearly outline the role of each partner and their contribution to the project.

iii. Organization capacity (may include partner(s)'s capacity)

  • Provide a description of the project team and the project management structure; a description of the organization (mandate, reach membership, governance);
  • Describe the experience and expertise your organization/partners have managing and financially administering projects similar in size and scope;
  • Outline the experience and expertise your organization/partners have in working with women entrepreneurs or women-owned business, and with diverse, intersectional groups of women;
  • Demonstrate how your organization/partner is well-positioned to identify and address gaps and strengthen capacity in the women entrepreneurship ecosystem; and
  • In the case of an application for one or more partner organizations, please explain how the project will be properly governed collectively and how the combined experience of the partners addresses the capacity requirements of the project.

iv. Project objectives and scope

  • Describe the project scope:
    • What gaps will the project address? (evidence of the gaps, and why it is important to address these gaps); and
    • How the project will contribute to the achievement of the Fund objectives.
  • Describe the reach of your project:
    • Who will be served?;
    • Which diverse/intersectional and/or under-served women groups will the project benefit?;
    • Geographic regions that will be served by the project and how they will be served;
    • Points of service (locations where services will be offered, how clients can access the services); and
    • How will you ensure that the project activities and products are communicated in both official languages?
  • Indicate and explain the project focus:
    • Scale-up;
    • Supplier diversity;
    • Recovery planning/adaption;
    • Start-ups; and/or
    • At least one of the above, and other projects that will support/contribute to initiative objectives.

v. Project activities

  • Identify which of the eligible project activity(ies) your project will cover and describe:
    • What activities and services will be offered?;
    • How activities will be delivered;
    • Proposed project length;
    • Feasible timelines;
    • Lead organization responsible for the work under each activity (i.e. for partnerships, clearly identify the organization(s) responsible for each activity).
  • Networking and Mentorship must be included as a project activity.

vi. Risks and mitigation plan

  • Describe the main risks that could have an impact on your organization's ability to carry out the activities proposed or achieve project objectives; and
  • Indicate the probability (low, medium or high) and the mitigation strategies for each risk.

vii. Project budget

  • Provide a detailed overview of project costs by completing the Budget Detail Template (Content is not included in the proposal's maximum 10 pages).

viii. Expected outcomes

  • Describe how your activities will contribute to the planned outcomes of the WES Ecosystem Fund.

ix. Sustainability plan

  • Describe plans for future sustainability after the project is completed, including an overview of how this project will seek to achieve self-sufficiency by the end of funding agreement.

x. M-30 disclosure (Quebec based organizations only)

  • Disclosure if M-30 legislation is applicable to your organization, where applicable.

Any other information required to evaluate the eligibility of your project and help determine the extent to which the project will contribute to the achievement of the WES Ecosystem Fund's objectives and to define the benefits that the project will generate, while respecting the max page limit.

6. Assessment criteria

Assessment criteria must be met, and demonstrated, by at least one of the organizations in the Partnership, as outlined in the table below. In the case of applications of one or more partners, the combined experience of the partners will be considered throughout the assessment process.

Organization Experience

Organization capacity
  • Project team and management structure are clear and sound;
  • Ability to effectively manage projects of a similar size and scope;
  • Ability to financially administrate projects of similar size and scope;
  • Experience working with entrepreneurs and/or women majority owned businesses (51% or more ownership stake);
  • Experience working with diverse, intersectional groups of women; and
  • Ability to identify and address gaps and strengthen capacity in the women entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Implementation

Project objectives, expected outcomes and scope
  • Gaps identified in ecosystem are clear and evidence based;
  • Information is provided on how the proposed project will impact and/or strengthen the ecosystem by effectively addressing gaps through project activities;
  • Ability to deliver services to diverse women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses; and
  • Ability to deliver services in both English and French, as required.
Project activities
  • Detailed and relevant information is given on the proposed activities and services;
  • Activities will achieve project's objectives and link to overall initiative objectives;
  • Feasible timelines and milestones; and
  • Clear and sound information is given on how the work will be done, and who will do this work.
Risks and mitigation Plan
  • Risks that could impact proposed activities are identified; and
  • Risks are identified and reasonable risk mitigation strategies are outlined.
Key partners
  • Key partners needed to carry out proposed work are included and their project roles are identified.
Budget
  • Provides adequate details and description of eligible costs in budget; and
  • Proposal demonstrates value for money.
Expected outcomes
  • Proposal clearly indicates how the organization will contribute to the planned outcomes of the overall initiative.
Sustainability
  • Approach to continue services when the funding for this current agreement ends in March 31, 2025.

7. Submission details

Application submission – Deadline: March 15, 2022 (12 pm PST)

Your application package must include the following:

  1. Completed application form.
  2. Proposal paper, no more than 10 pages in length (12-point font, double spaced) which includes the information outlined in Section 4 : Project Proposal Details (note, submissions that exceed this limit may be screened out).
  3. One year of past financial statements (audited or review engagement).
  4. Incorporation document.
  5. Completed Budget Detail Template.
  6. Sustainability Plan (covering period the period after funding ends 2024-25)
  7. Letter(s) of support from partners (signed by their authorized official) in the application (if applicable). Letter(s) must outline partner roles and contributions in delivering the required project, experience, expertise and knowledge.
  8. Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between partners organizations (if applicable).
  9. Quebec based organizations only - Disclosure if M-30 legislation is applicable to your organization/proposed project

The Application Form and Budget Detail Template are secure PDFs and can only be opened in Microsoft Internet Explorer. However, if you use another browser (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox etc.) or you have problems opening the PDFs, do not attempt to open the form in your browser.

How to download and open a PDF form.

To download and open a PDF form, you need to have Adobe Reader 10 or higher, or any alternative non-web based PDF viewer/reader installed (please note that free versions of PDF viewers/readers are available). Mobile devices such as iPads, tablets and mobile phones can't be used for the WES Ecosystem forms.

Downloading and opening PDF files

For PC users

  • Find the link of the file you want to save (you may need to go back to the previous page to find it).
  • Right-click the link.
  • Select "Save target as" or "Save link as".
  • Choose the location on your computer where you would like to save the file.
  • Select "Save".
  • Use Windows Explorer to get to the location where you saved the file.
  • Right click on the PDF file.
  • Select "Open with".
  • Select "Choose program".
  • Select "Adobe Acrobat Reader".
  • Make sure to check the box that says, "Always use this program to open these files".
  • Select "OK".

If you can't open the files with Adobe Reader 10 or higher or any alternative non-web based PDF viewer/reader, let us know about your technical issue.
Once the forms are completed, attach the required additional documents and electronically submit by clicking on the "Submit" button at the bottom of the application form.
Please note, the submission of the application form requires a PDF entry. The Government of Canada recognizes that PDF files have limited accessibility and are incompatible with some screen readers. If your organization requires another submission format, please email wes-sfe@ised-isde.gc.ca for assistance. Please ensure you are able to access the application form early in the process. Exceptions or extensions to the deadline will not be granted and assistance cannot be provided within the last 24 hours.

8. Approval, contribution agreement and reporting

If approved, a contribution agreement will include the legally binding responsibilities and obligations of both parties. Successful projects and funded amounts will be publicly disclosed.

Please note: If funded, WES Ecosystem Fund recipients must produce annual audited financial statements for the duration of the agreement.

Successful Applicants will be required to provide to report on the applicable Ecosystem Performance Indicators and provide ISED with:

  • Quarterly progress updates;
  • Annual reports which include audited financials; and
  • A final report.

9. Stacking provisions and other government assistance

Leveraging of funds is strongly encouraged. Total Canadian government assistance for all eligible expenses, including federal, provincial/territorial and municipal, cannot exceed 100% of total eligible costs funded. The stacking limit applies to the scope of activities captured by the Contribution Agreement.

Section C: Glossary

Activities:
Activities are undertakings that are eligible for funding under the WES Ecosystem Fund (see eligible activities) and required to complete a project.
Application:
A set of documents submitted to the Government of Canada in order to participate in an application for funding process. For WES Ecosystem Fund, this includes the application form and all additional documents included in the "attachments" section of the form.
Assessment Criteria:
The criteria ISED will use to grade applications and choose the recipient(s) for funding.
Authorized Official:
An individual who is authorized to legally sign on behalf of the organization.
Budget Detail Template:
The template that Applicants will use to forecast their budget for the duration of the project.
Capacity Building Activities:
Relates to those activities which improve an organization's effectiveness, teaching or consulting to build needed skills (e.g. training and education, strategic business and/or financial planning, networking, matchmaking, mentorship and coaching, and advisory services).
Contribution Agreement:
A written agreement between the successful applicant and the Government of Canada. It includes the legally binding responsibilities and obligations of both parties.
Diverse/Intersectional and/or Under-served Women:
Includes, but is not limited to, women with disabilities; Indigenous women; women in rural or remote regions; recent immigrants; visible minority women; women who identify as two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender individuals; and women from Official Language Minority Communities (OLMCs).
Eligible Applicant:
Applicants that meet the eligibility criteria to receive funding for the WES Ecosystem Fund.
Eligible Costs:
The costs to which Initiative funding may be applied and which are established in the Contribution Agreement.
Eligible Projects:
Projects that meet the eligibility requirements to receive funding for the WES Ecosystem Fund.
Financial Statements:

Financials statements are documents that demonstrate the business activities and financial health of an organization. There are two levels of financial statements acceptable under this call for proposals: audited and review engagement. WES Ecosystem Fund recipients will be required to produce annual audited financial statements for the duration of the project.

Incorporation Documents:
Documentation filed with the Government of Canada or specific provinces to legally document the creation of a corporation which may include charitable organization, a public foundation, or a private foundation.
Ineligible Costs:
Costs that are not eligible for reimbursement through the Initiative.
Letters of Support:
Letters of support are required for each Partner organization and should clearly detail how they will contribute to the project (role, expertise, activities etc.). Where applicable, it should outline how the organizations have collaborated in the past, including role, track record, experience and expertise. The letter of support has to be signed by an authorized official of Partner organization.
Mentorship and Related Supports:
Examples include networking, matchmaking, mentorship and coaching, and, advisory services.
Multi-Regional Project:
Projects serving entrepreneurs in at minimum 5 provinces and territories.
National Project:
Projects serving entrepreneurs from coast to coast to coast in their official language of choice.
Not-for-profit Organizations:
Not-for-profit organizations are associations, clubs, or societies that are organized and operated exclusively for social welfare, civic improvement, pleasure, recreation, or any other purpose except profit.
Official Language Minority Communities (OLMCs):
Refers to English-speaking communities in Quebec and French-speaking communities in the rest of Canada.
Partner Organizations:
Are organizations that are fundamental in the delivery of the proposed project. These partners provide additional expertise and support to the recipient and should provide signed, detailed letters of support stating their commitment and role to the project. The partners are invested in the completion and/or the success of the project through the provision of either financial and/or non-financial contributions.
Project:
The combined activities that are required to accomplish a stated objective and the completion of the activities that may result in specific outcomes being achieved. The Contribution Agreement includes a statement of work that details the eligible project and related activities.
Recipient:
An Applicant that signs a Contribution Agreement with the Government of Canada and receives funding. Once an Applicant signs the agreement, they become a Recipient. 
Stacking Limit:
The maximum level of total Canadian government (municipal, provincial/territorial, federal) funding authorized for any one activity, initiative or project of a recipient.
Sustainability Plan:
The plan that outlines how Applicants will ensure the project will continue after the funding from the Government has ceased.
Underserved Groups:
Please see definition for "Diverse/Intersectional and/or Under-served Women"
Value for Money:
A term that refers to achieving economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and equity in project delivery.
Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES)
The program initiated by the Government to ensure the full and equal participation of women in the economy. It represents a nearly $6-billion investment that 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.
Women-owned Business
Refers to a business is that is at least 51%, owned by one or more women, that is managed and controlled by one or more women, where a woman is a signatory of the business's legal documents and financial accounts, and which is operated independently from businesses that are not owned by women.