To answer questions about the program or the application process, ISED and the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) held an information session on August 11, 2021. The session recording is available on the WEKH website, as well as the link below.
Table of contents
- Section A: General information
- Section B: Eligibility, costs and application process
- Section C: Loan model guidelines
- Section D: Application form instructions
- Section E: Additional information
- Section F: Glossary
Section A: General information
Originally announced in Budget 2018, Canada's first ever interdepartmental Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) made strategic investments to help increase access to the financing, talent, networks and expertise women entrepreneurs need to start up, scale up and access new markets. Despite these investments, persistent barriers remain which are stunting the growth of women entrepreneurship, some of which have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In particular, access to capital remains a key barrier to women's economic empowerment. Access to capital, which can be particularly challenging to obtain in smaller amounts and for entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds, is vital in the establishment and growth of companies which create good, middle class jobs in communities across the country.
In response to this need, Budget 2021 allocated $55 million for the creation of a new national microloans fund for women entrepreneurs. The Women's Entrepreneurship Loan Fund ("WE Loan Fund") will seek to provide affordable financing in smaller amounts for women entrepreneurs, particularly for start-ups, underrepresented groups or sole proprietorships which may experience more difficulty in accessing financing.
This application guide has been developed to assist applicants to prepare their submission. Please refer to section 7 of this guide to ensure your submission package is complete. It is important to read this guide to clearly understand the objectives of the Women Entrepreneurship Loan Fund and determine if you are eligible to select successful recipients for funding.
Applicants will be notified if their project concept is selected to be developed into a full project and will be contacted by a government representative. At any point during the assessment process, Applicants may be required to submit additional information upon request. Please note, if your submission is selected for further development, this does not guarantee funding approval.
If you experience technical difficulties or have any additional questions, please visit the FAQ page or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-328-6189.
Please note that we are unable to guarantee a response from the WES central inbox in the last 48 hours prior to the close of this application window on September 20, 2021 at 11:59 a.m. (Pacific Time).
At that time, we will prioritize any technical issues; otherwise, we will encourage applicants to visit the FAQ section for answers to frequently asked questions.
2. Objectives and expected results of the program
The goal of the WE Loan Fund is to provide microloan capital for women to start, maintain and grow their businesses. This support will lead to enhanced sustainability for these women-owned business which in turn will lead to growth, competitiveness, innovation, and productivity toward broader economic and social benefits for all of Canada.
Through this Call for Proposals, the Government of Canada will select one or more organization (delivery organizations) who will provide loan services for women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses throughout Canada.
The expected result of the WE Loan Fund is to respond to the unique needs of women entrepreneurs and businesses and in doing so, will contribute to one or more of the following specific outcomes:
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
Women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses sustain their businesses and have overall increased participating in entrepreneurship and the Canadian economy.
Women Entrepreneurship Loan Fund applications must be submitted by September 20, 2021 (11:59 a.m. Pacific Time).
All applications will be reviewed after the deadline. Your application must include all of the required information outlined in this guide to be considered in the next stage of the selection process. Late submissions will not be considered. In order to ensure fairness in the process, no documentation will be accepted after the deadline.
More information on who is eligible and how to apply is provided in the sections below.
Section B: Eligibility, costs and application process
4. Eligibility requirements
4.1 Eligible applicants
To be considered for the program, Applicants must demonstrate they meet the eligibility requirements below. Any Applicant(s) that do not meet these criteria will be screened out of the assessment process and will not be considered further.
Applicant organizations must be a Canadian not-for-profit which falls under at least one of the following categories:
- Not-for-profit organizations or associations;
- Not-for-profit social enterprises or co-operatives;
- A consortium of non-profit organizations;
- A consortium of non-profit and for-profit organizations/entities where the not-for-profit organization is the lead proponent;
- Post-secondary academic institutions or research institutes;
- Business and entrepreneur support organizations;
- Research/innovation hubs;
- Indigenous organizations;
- Business accelerators and incubators.
Applicants must meet the following essential criteria:
- Experience in the management/administration of loans. The Government is seeking experienced fund managers with a strong history of loan fund management (minimum of five years experience for the lead applicant)
- Capacity to manage loan fund and loan volumes
- Capacity to fulfill and underwrite loans (or arrangement to provide this service)
- Experience in the assessment of business plans and risk planning
- Demonstration of organization stability and strong fiscal management
- Geographic representation (proposed coverage or plans to support overall national reach)
- Capacity/strategies to reach and support diverse and intersectional women entrepreneurs
- Strategies to deliver loans separately or in-tandem with any existing loans offerings
Ability to deliver bilingual services (English/French). Collaborations among organizations at the national, pan-Canadian, regional level are encouraged.
4.2 Eligible projects
Applicants must demonstrate that they meet the following project requirements:
- The project's budget is proportional to the national, multi-regional or regional scope of the project.
- The proposed model includes all of the following:
- all mandatory criteria outlined in Section C - Loan Model Guidelines;
- a breakdown of administrative costs, not exceeding 15% of the requested project budget;
- a plan for collecting and submitting data on lending through this program.
Note: Priority will be given to eligible applicants that demonstrate the capacity to deliver services to women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses on a national or multi-provincial level.
4.3 Project scope
The project must establish its capacity to reach a national, multi-regional, or regional audience and demonstrated capacity to deliver benefits to women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses.
Official languages will be considered in regions where significant demand exists, as defined by the Official Languages Act. National/multiregional projects may require mechanisms in place to offer services and support in the official language of choice of their clients.
4.4 Required project activities
Required project activities are the following (Please note that eligible costs of the project should support these activities):
- Promotion of the Women Entrepreneurship Loan Fund;
- Assessment, approval or denial of loan applications, and loan disbursements to qualified applicants;
- Determining loan terms and conditions (including whether to extend a loan), general security requirements and registrations, and pricing, based on the dollar value of loan, the intended use of funds, interest rates, and the applicant's repayment capabilities;
- The establishment of by-laws, policies and procedures to administer their Loan Fund, including conflict of interest policies;
- The development or implementation of infrastructure (e.g. IT systems) to support program roll-out;
- Ensuring loan holders are provided with business advisory, planning, mentoring and education services [actual services to be provided via other funding streams/partnerships/delivery agents]; and
- Other activities (e.g. data collection, other reasonable supports for clients) that support the objectives of the WES and the Loan Fund.
5. Eligible and ineligible costs
5.1 Eligible costs
Once selected, the successful applicant which becomes the WE Loan Administrator may claim eligible costs that are reasonable and necessary to carry out the project, that are allowable under the Terms and Conditions of the program. Costs are eligible as of the Contribution Agreement signing date.
Total administrative costs over three years must not exceed 15 percent of the total requested project funding.
All submissions must include a proposed breakdown of administrative costs by fiscal year in their proposed Budget. Administrative costs will be negotiated and finalized with selected delivery organizations prior to signature of contribution agreements.
Eligible costs can include:
- salaries and benefits;
- capital/loan disbursements and associated costs;
- debt write off;
- office and equipment rental;
- professional services;
- networking and costs associated with travel necessary to attain program objectives; and
- other costs necessary that align to the Loan Fund objectives, as approved by the Minister of ISED or the deputy head if authority has been delegated.
5.2 Ineligible costs
Ineligible costs include:
- The refinancing of an existing debt;
- The purchase of any assets for more than the fair market value of the said asset;
- Land or building acquisition;
- Costs of amortization and goodwill and;
- Any other costs that are not related reasonable and necessary to carry out the administration of the WE Loan fund.
6. Assessment criteria
Applications that meet the Applicant and Project eligibility criteria outlined in Section 4 will move on to the assessment stage.
Applicants will be scored against the assessment criteria listed in the table below. Applicants should use the assessment criteria as headings and clearly outline how they meet the requirements.
Applicants will be evaluated and scored on all materials submitted as well as their capacity to impact the women entrepreneurship ecosystem, and their fit in the overall portfolio. As such, the Government reserves the right to select applicants with lower evaluation scores if their proposals better balance overall loan delivery and the strategic impact of the initiative.
Applicants that demonstrate that they meet the following asset criteria may receive a higher score. Candidates are encouraged to outline if they meet the following asset criteria:
- Capability to offer additional wrap-around support services, such as training or mentoring (either independently or via other funding streams/partnerships). This criteria will be used for assessment purposes only and should not be considered as an item eligible for funding.
- Experience in the management/administration of loans specifically targeting support for women or other underrepresented groups;
- Capacity to deliver loan services in languages other than English and French based on the needs of the recipient's clientele and;
- Women-owned organization(s) and/or demonstration of women in leadership positions (senior management and/or board representation)
7. Submission details
As part of your application, you must complete an application form. Instructions on how to complete the form are provided in Section D – Application Form Instructions.
Your application package must include the following:
- Proposal paper that outlines the Loan Model, no more than 30 pages in length which includes the information outlined in Section 6 (note, submissions that exceed this limit may be screened out).
- Audited financial statements (three most recent years).
- Incorporation document.
- Budget Detail Template.
- Sustainability Plan (covering the period after funding ends in 2023-24).
- A completed application form submitted by an authorized official from your organization.
- If applicable, the applicant must include a letter(s) of support from partners (signed by their authorized official) in the application. The letter will outline partner roles and contributions in delivering the required project, experience, expertise and knowledge.
- Quebec-based organizations only: confirmation if the organization is subject to comply with M-30 legislation. This information will not have any bearing on the applicant's assessment. In the event that a candidate is successful, government officials will work on obtaining proper authorizations to ensure compliance with M-30 legislation. For more information, please visit: Act M-30
8. Approval and contribution agreement
This Call for Proposals is intended to identify prospective service providers for the purposes of negotiating potential Contribution Agreements.
This call and associated evaluation and selection processes are not intended to create and shall not create a formal or informal legally binding bidding process and shall be governed by the law applicable to direct commercial negotiations.
No legal relationship or obligation regarding the procurement of any good or service shall be created between the applicant and the Government unless and until there is successful negotiation and execution of a written agreement between the Government, or an Agency of the Government, and the applicant.
If approved, a contribution agreement will include the legally binding responsibilities and obligations of both parties. Successful projects will be publicly disclosed.
Leveraging of funds is strongly encouraged however, total Canadian government assistance for all eligible expenses under the WE Loan Fund, 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: Loan model guidelines
While submissions must propose definitive parameters and requirements for assessing loan applications, in order to be deemed eligible, submitted loan models must also operate within the framework of parameters outlined below. With the exception of the maximum loan amount, where maximum amounts are listed, the WE Loan Administrator may propose lower amounts within their proposed loan model while ensuring the long-term sustainability of said model.
- Loan applicants must be a Canadian citizen or a legal entity owned and controlled by a Canadian citizen, including:
- a sole proprietorship, an unincorporated business that is owned by one individual;
- a for-profit small Canadian business federally/provincially/territorially incorporated in Canada that is controlled directly or indirectly by one or more resident persons;
- a for-profit co-operative corporation incorporated under a federal, provincial or territorial co-operative Act, or;
- a social enterprise that earns revenue from the regular supply of personal property/goods and services and meets the profitability and equity criteria above;
- not-for-profit organizations are not eligible for loans.
- Individuals submitting loan applications must be:
- At least 19 years of age
- A Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident
- Residing in Canada
- Eligible businesses are those which are over 50% women-owned
- Loan applicants must provide a business plan, including cash flow forecasts for a minimum of two years.
- Maximum business revenues: up to $2 million in gross annual revenues
- Loans are available to all industries/sectors
- Maximum loan amount: up to $50,000
- Loan type/length: term loans of up to 5 years
- Maximum interest rate: up to prime + 4%
- Maximum loan management fee: 1% or up to $500 per loan
The WE Loan Administrator will follow its adjudication process to accept, review and administer loan products to eligible borrowers.
Loan applicants must be selected through a rigorous review process carried out by the Recipient. The review process will include criteria such as:
- demonstrating a sound business plan outlining its ability to repay the loan;
- satisfying basic liquidity requirements;
- meeting the adjudication criteria set by the Loan Fund governance body;
- maintain a valid business bank account and;
- encouraged to obtain or provide a Business Number registered with the Canada Revenue Agency
Loan applicant eligible/ineligible expenses
As part of their loan models outlined in their proposal papers, loan administrators have the flexibility to amend or propose additional eligible/ineligible loan expenses to the list below, based on their proposed program design and lending experience. A final list of eligible/ineligible expenses will be negotiated with delivery organization(s) to ensure national consistency. While a preliminary list of potential eligible/ineligible expenses is provided below, the guiding principle would be that the delivery organization has done their due diligence and authorized only legitimate business expenses.
Loans issued by loan administrators to eligible borrowers are not grants, contributions or forgivable loans.
Loan applicant eligible expenses
- Capital assets (including machinery/equipment, leasehold/property improvements)
- Office and equipment rental
- Salaries and benefits (excluding owner's salary)
- IT/Software license purchase
- Professional services
- Intellectual Property
- Working Capital (e.g. payroll, lease payments, accounts management, rent, overhead costs)
- Digital (including website/E-commerce development)
- Marketing/advertising/business promotion
- Employee training
- Short term receivable financing (i.e. financing to service a contract)
- Business start up costs (legal fees, business incorporation fees, business plan preparation, etc.)
Loan applicant ineligible expenses
- Capital expenditures on real property (e.g. land/building purchases)
- Amortization Costs
- Purchase of assets for more than fair market value
- Owner's salary
- Payment of bonuses
- Refinancing existing debt
- Purchase of stocks/shares
- Franchise fees
- Research and development
- Management fees
- Dividend payout
- Increase to shareholder or management committee compensation
All loan models must include a plan for collecting and submitting data on lending (while respecting client privacy) through this program to ISED on an annual basis. In addition, recipients will be required to report on lending data/trends, on an annual basis, for a minimum period of five years after completion of the contribution agreement. The collection and reporting of lending data and trends are generally expected to be provided in aggregate. Lending data submitted to ISED must include:
- Number of Applications Received
- Number of Loans Made
- Average Loan Size
- Number/Percentage of Loans at Maximum Loan Amount ($50,000)
- Number/Percentage of Loans Made to Start-ups (less than 1 year of operation)
- Number/Percentage of Loans Made to Intersectional Women Entrepreneurs (Black, Indigenous, new immigrant, LGBTQ+, persons with disabilities, etc.)
- Loan Applications and Approvals by Province or Region
- Number/Percentage of Loan Defaults
- Total Loan Value Outstanding
Code of Conduct
Proponents will be expected to adhere to a Code of Conduct and will be restricted from making loans to companies primarily engaged in certain activities, such as holding or managing real estate, extracting resources, or selling, marketing or providing gambling, pornography, alcohol, tobacco, weapons or illegal goods.
The program reserves the right to determine the amount of funding for each project. Even if an application is selected by the Minister, an applicant may not get the full amount requested from the program. The program will take into account overlap with other applications or projects selected by other federal or provincial programs, needs and financial capacity of the applicant, value for money and consideration of the impact on the overall budgetary envelope for the Women Entrepreneurship Loan Program.
Section D: Application form instructions
This section provides guidance on completing the PDF application form. You must make sure that all the information you provide is accurate.
- Legal name of applicant: This is the legal name of the applicant organization.
- Business Number: A nine-digit number that Canada Revenue Agency will assign to a business for tax matters related to business in Canada and/or a Quebec Enterprise Number (NEQ): A ten-digit number assigned to an enterprise when it is enrolled in the enterprise registry with the Quebec government.
- Overview of Applicant Organization (maximum 500 characters):
- Provide a brief description of the applicant organization's mandate, products or services, including an overview of the management team (and membership, if applicable), and primary sources of funding.
What to include in the "Provide a brief overview of the organization"
- Project Name (maximum 200 characters): Provide a title for your project
What to include in the brief description of the project (maximum 1,750 characters)
- Estimated start and end dates: The start and end dates refer to when project costs are estimated to start and stop being incurred. Projects should be completed by March 31, 2024. The Project start date will be negotiated with recipients when Contribution Agreements are signed. Eligible project costs can only begin after the signing of a Contribution Agreement.
- Address of physical location where the largest portion of the project will occur: Indicate where the main project work will be undertaken, if different from the applicant location.
Authorizing official contact information
- Authorized Official is an individual who is authorized to legally sign and submit the application on behalf of the organization or consortium.
Submitting your application
After completing the Application Form via our website, please submit all required supporting documents by selecting the "Add Attachments" and "Submit" buttons directly in the form. When you are ready to submit the Application Form, please first print or save a copy for your records.
Section E: Additional information
The Government of Canada reserves the right, at any time, to:
- Request written clarification or the submission of additional or supplementary written information in respect of a submission;
- Waive any formalities and accept submissions that substantially comply with the requirements of the selection process;
- Verify with any applicant or with a third party any information set out in any submission;
- Check references other than those provided by an applicant;
- Make changes, including substantial changes, to the selection process or associated documents;
- Select any applicant as a selected candidate over a candidate who is evaluated as having a higher score;
- Cancel the selection process;
- Cancel the selection process and issue a new selection process for the same or similar services;
- Amend the total available funding, or reallocate funding between loan funds and allowable administration costs;
- Accept any submissions in whole or in part; or
- Reject any or all submissions.
Applicant to bear costs
Each applicant will be responsible for all fees, costs and expenses that are incurred by it in connection with the Call for Concepts, including, without limitation, all fees, costs and expenses relating to the preparation and issuance of responses to the information request, to the preparation for and attendance at any meetings, and to the negotiation and settlement of any documentation relating to the establishment of a WE Loan Fund.
Section F: Glossary
- Activities are undertakings that are eligible for funding under the WE Loan Fund funding (see eligible activities) and required to complete a project.
- Administration Costs:
- Refers to costs such as: rents, leases, leasehold improvements, personnel, salary and benefits, marketing, maintenance, equipment purchase and leases and other costs that are reasonable, incremental, and directly attributable to activities necessary to support desired activities and achieve desired results of the WE Loan Fund.
- A set of documents submitted to the Government of Canada in order to participate in an application for funding process. For WE Loan 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.
- In the case of a proposed alliance delivering the WE Loan Fund, collaborators are the participating organizations in that alliance (see eligible applicant).
- A group of separate organizations legally joining together to form a new entity to complete a project and work together toward achieving a common goal.
- Contribution Agreement:
- A written agreement between the successful applicant (who then becomes a WES Loan Fund Administrator) and the Government of Canada. It includes the legally binding responsibilities and obligations of both parties.
- Concept Paper:
- A document that outlines the Applicant's proposed project and covers all the assessment criteria noted in the Application Guide.
- Eligible Applicant:
- Applicants that meet the eligibility criteria to receive funding for the WE Loan Fund, potentially being deemed as a WE Loan Administrator if a contribution agreement is signed.
- 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 WE Loan Fund.
- 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 project.
- 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.
- Loan Administrator:
- A not-for-profit or not-for-profit lead partnership/consortium that will deliver the Women Entrepreneurship Loan Fund.
- Loan Applicant:
- A woman or women-owned business who has applied for a loan through the WE Loan Fund.
- Microloan Capital:
- Loans that are smaller than conventional loans. For the purposes of this program microloans will be under $50,000.
- Multi-Regional Project:
- Projects that combine two or more of the following regions: Western Canada, Northern Ontario, Southern Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, and Northern Canada.
- National Project:
- Projects serving entrepreneurs from coast to coast to coast in their official language of choice.
- Non-Repayable Contribution Funding:
- The WE Loan Fund provides for a non-repayable contribution to Loan Fund administrator to create a loan fund that will issue repayable loans to women entrepreneurs. In order for the loan administrator to be reimbursed for expenses, costs must be incurred, eligible, related to work that is outlined in the approved budget and work plan, and fall within the start and end dates of the project.
- Not-for-profit Organizations:
- Non-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 Languages Act:
- The Act that gives English and French equal status in the Government 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.
- 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.
- 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. The Recipient is the WE Loan Administrator.
- Regional Project:
- Projects that are limited to one of the following regions: Western Canada, Northern Ontario, Southern Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, and Northern Canada. May include projects that cover a specific area in each region (for example the Greater Toronto Area for Southern Ontario).
- 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.
- A newly established business (less than one year of operation).
- Sole proprietorships:
- An unincorporated business that has just one owner who pays personal income tax on profits earned from the business.
- Sustainability Plan:
- The plan that outlines how Applicants will ensure the project will continue after the funding from the Government has ceased.
- Underserved Groups:
- Women with disabilities, Indigenous women, women in rural or remote regions, recent immigrants, visible minority women, and women from Official Language Minority Communities (OLMCs).
- 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's Entrepreneurship Loan Fund
- One of the components of the WES. It will provide microloans to women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses to help them start and grown their businesses. It hopes to address the key barriers to success and women's economic empowerment.
- Women-owned Business
- Refers to a business is that is more than 50 % owned by one or more women, who 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.