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‘You can’t be what you can’t see’: Reimagining women's entrepreneurship

By ATB Financial 10 April 2019 3 min read

We recently sat down with Shannon Pestun, ATB’s Director, Women’s Entrepreneurship, to discuss the barriers women face when it comes to accessing capital, the future of banking for women, and how our entrepreneurial landscape is changing in Alberta.


Consider this: 61 per cent of women would rather talk about their own death than about money, according to a 2018 study by Merrill Lynch.

“The system is broken if that's the way women are really feeling,” Pestun says.

“Women can feel very intimidated by just walking into a bank and there's a lot of different reasons for that.”


Barriers to entrepreneurship for women

Starting a business can be an immensely challenging endeavour—for anyone. However, women face specific barriers when it comes to accessing capital for their businesses, Pestun explains.

Financial capital refers to the funds needed to start and grow the company. According to the federal government, women are “less likely to seek both debt and equity financing and are more likely to be rejected or to receive less money."

Human/entrepreneurial capital is the general business knowledge and financial acumen required to write a business plan, for example.

“It’s that whole piece that helps you be the best entrepreneur that you can possibly be,” says Pestun.

Social capital is the community, networking and mentorship required for entrepreneurial success.

“While we have many amazing women entrepreneurs across the province, we're still lacking in the role models,” Pestun says. “You can't be what you can't see...and so social capital is very important.”

Pestun recently wrapped up ATB’s inaugural Build Her Business competition, a crowdfunding competition for female entrepreneurs that saw 22 women raise money to fund their business ideas through crowdfunding.

The competition offered women entrepreneurs a chance to break through those barriers by providing them with a supportive community that included information sessions, webinars, role models and networking opportunities—in addition to a non-traditional way to raise startup funds.

“A community was really formed of women who were supporting each other, elevating each other,” Pestun says. “Even up until the very last final competition, they were cheering each other on, they were solving problems in the community.”


Banking on women’s success

Prior to becoming the director of women’s entrepreneurship at ATB, Pestun worked as a relationship manager within ATB’s Business and Agriculture department. It was in this role that she began noticing differences in her conversations with male and female clients, and eventually realized those interactions were indicative of something bigger.

“I started to suddenly see the barriers that women were facing and in that I knew that I was going to have a role to play in helping to change that story,” she recalls.

Pestun says she’s working with team members to help them understand the challenges women face when it comes to banking, confront unconscious bias, and implement meaningful changes.

“For somebody who walks through our doors at ATB, I think that that's the best place that we can we can start to change that experience,” she said.

“This isn't a go pink strategy,” Pestun says. “[We’re] really just trying to build a better experience where we help women to break all those barriers that we talked about earlier.”


The future of entrepreneurship for women in Alberta

Pestun was recently appointed to the federal government’s expert panel for its Women Entrepreneur Strategy. She says the opportunity will give her a chance to further explore the role financial institutions can play in supporting women’s entrepreneurship and breaking through capital barriers.

One of the objectives of the federal Women Entrepreneur Strategy is to double the number of women entrepreneurs in the country by 2025.

“It's more than just supporting startups,” Pestun says. “I would love to see us move the dial on how many women are exporting, how many women are going from that small- to medium-sized company to a mid- to high-growth women a sense of real empowerment to follow their dreams.”

Pestun says she’d also like to see more women go into innovation and tech. In Alberta specifically, she predicts the STEM industry will play a critical role in the future entrepreneurial landscape.

“We've got some strength here in this province,” she said. “And now we just have to unharness that full potential.”

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