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$8.3M in federal funding targeted for female entrepreneurs

GABRIELLE PICHÉ

MANY female entrepreneurs have struggled to keep their businesses afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic; and now, the federal government is spending millions to provide loans for women entrepreneurs in Western Canada.

Western Economic Diversification Canada will give $8.3 million to four organizations that provide loans and business advice. Each organization — Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba (WECM), Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs and Women’s Enterprise Centre in British Columbia — has received $2 million in loans and $75,000 in operating funds.

Female entrepreneurs in Manitoba, or women who own 50 per cent of a small or medium-sized business, can apply for a loan through WECM. Each loan can be up to $40,000. If 75 per cent of the original loan is paid back before Dec. 31, 2022, the remaining 25 per cent will be forgiven. There’s no interest and no payments are required before that date.

If the loan isn’t repaid by Dec. 31, 2022, it’ll convert to a three-year term with an interest rate of five per cent as of Jan. 1, 2023.

“We’re so happy to be in a position to extend the relief a little longer so that women in business can get back on their feet,” said Sandra Altner, chief executive officer of WECM.

She said many business owners have spoken to advisers in her office about the struggles they face because of the pandemic.

“The effect has been absolutely dire,” Altner said. “More so, I think, for women entrepreneurs because so many women are involved with business and home. Of course, being at home, schooling children, dealing with all of those issues made it that much more difficult to be thinking about and pivoting your business.”

Those who want to apply for a loan should check WECM’s website to ensure they are eligible. Their business must have been viable before the pandemic hit, and they can’t have received loans from federal government COVID-19 loan accounts. The loan through WECM must go towards part of the business hurt by the pandemic.

“There are a lot of businesses out there who have not been able to receive the CEBA loans or take advantage of some of the other government programs that have been put in place for economic recovery, so this loan really does fill in that gap,” Altner said.

Entrepreneurs don’t need to be an existing client with WECM to apply.

Businesses led by women are among the fastest class of growing businesses in Canada, said Manitoba Liberal MP Terry Duguid, parliamentary secretary to the economic development minister.

“We, at this time, need to help these women-owned businesses across to the other side of the pandemic,” Duguid said.

He said without federal support, many small businesses would have to close.

gabrielle.piche@freepress.mb.ca

Sandra Altner, CEO of the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, says the new loans will fill a gap in the government’s economic recovery programs.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

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