Is innovation inclusive? Cassie Myers would say Ontario still has work to do.
On June 14, Cassie joined other entrepreneurs and innovation ecosystem leaders in Ottawa for the Ontario Inclusive Innovation (i2) Action Strategy Conference. The recently released Ontario Inclusive Innovation (i2) Action Strategy “seeks to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem for and innovative capabilities of diverse women entrepreneurs in Ontario”. The conference was a space to learn from this comprehensive gender-based assessment of Ontario small business, innovation and social enterprise organizations and to build capacity to support women-identified entrepreneurs.
After attending the discussion Cassie shares, “The conference was an opportunity to get one of the first looks at some ground breaking research. Diversity and inclusion is dynamic, multifaceted and can mean very different things depending on a person or company's experiences. I think navigating these nuances and parsing next steps is always challenging. The conference opened up doors and got wheels turning.”
The wheels are also turning in the University of Waterloo’s innovation ecosystem. On June 25, Entrepreneurship @ Environment hosted Equal Entrepreneurs: women's voices on ideation, inspiration, and navigating entrepreneurship featuring a panel that included Cassie Myers, Lauren Smith - Founder of PolyGone Technologies, and Roopa Reddy - Lecturer at the University of Waterloo, Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business.
The panelists shared their experiences navigating Waterloo’s innovation ecosystem, exploring barriers that may restrict women-identified entrepreneurs and opportunities that already exist to support diversity and inclusion in innovation. Lauren Smith identified that understandings of diversity and inclusion is important for all entrepreneurs since all emerging ventures will be hiring and supporting employees. Roopa Reddy used her experience to emphasize the value of interdisciplinary teams, challenging the notion that entrepreneurs need a 'tech' background.
Cassie shared that the major challenges to inclusive innovation in Ontario are: (1) women-owned enterprises transitioning from the startup to scale-up phase, (2) accessibility of funding for women-owned enterprises, (3) challenging the definition of ‘entrepreneur’ and (4) expanding the narrow definition of ‘innovation’. She shares, “I think inclusive innovation is about creating space for different people to innovate but also understanding that innovation can come in many forms depending on your context. These forms can stray from our traditional application - software or hardware - into policies and programs that are very much innovation.”
Interested in learning more? Read the Ontario Inclusive Innovation (i2) Action Strategy to learn about strengthening ecosystem supports for women-identified entrepreneurs.