Chief Executive Officer of WESK, formerly Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan Inc., Prabha dispassionate about driving change to close the Gender Entrepreneurship Gap and the resulting Gender Economic Gap. Through her advocacy efforts, Prabha served as the first President of the Leaders Council of the Paul J.Hill and the Kenneth Levene Schools of Business at the University of Regina and currently serves as a member of the Paul Hill Advisory Board, University of Regina. A supporter of entrepreneurship, Prabha serves as a Judge for some of the community’s Business Awards and was also a Prairie Regional Judge for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Prairie Award. As an active member of Board of Directors for the Saskatchewan Housing Authority, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, and the Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation, Prabha continues to be engaged in the community to influence strategic change.
With a Masters of Social Work in Community Development, Policy, and Planning, and an honorary CPA conferred by the Board of Governors of the Certified General Accountants. Prabha has had a diverse career spanning 20 years. Previously, Prabha was the CEO of the Certified General Accountants (CGA) Association of Saskatchewan and had served in that capacity for seven-plus years. Prabha was a key player in leading the organization through the Unification of the Accounting Profession, bringing together the three accounting bodies namely, Certified General Accountants, Certified Management Accountants and the Chartered Accountants as Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA).
Prabha has served an s the CEO of WESK for the last 4 years.
What was the inspiration behind the launching of WESK?
Women play an important role in the creation and operation of small businesses across Canada, yet they face unique barriers and a lack of support in many areas, particularly in terms of access to financing and capital.
Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) established the Women’s Enterprise Initiative (WEI) in 1996 to assist women entrepreneurs to start, scale up and grow their businesses.
How is WESK helping women entrepreneurs when it comes to growing their business?
In several ways that include:
- financing the venture up to $150,000
- providing access to experts and mentors
- assisting them in connecting with key players in the network
- delivering structured programs such as Peer Spark that help them Scale their business using a cohort model
- providing one on one business advising and coaching
As CEO of WESK, can you talk about some of the challenges you face on a daily basis and how you overcome them?
As the CEO of WESK I believe it is important to keep the needle moving on closing the gender entrepreneurship gap. Keeping the needle moving entails relentless conversations and debate regarding closing the gender entrepreneurship gap. In addition, it involves serving as a catalyst to COLLECTIVELY develop strategies to address the situation. Women entrepreneurs contribute 148 billion to the economy and a 10% increase in women-owned businesses could increase that to 198 billion. There is a sound business case to invest in women entrepreneurs. The greatest challenge is ensuring that policymakers, business leaders, and the community at large understand that this is not just a moral or social imperative but a lost economic opportunity if left unaddressed!
Further, we must support women in SCALING their business. Male-owned businesses are 3.5 times more likely to hit a million. One of our challenges is to ensure that women-owned businesses in SK are moving beyond the start-up phase and can demonstrate sustainability and success.
The barriers :
Lack of Access to Capital & Financing including venture capital investors: Women tend to rely more on internal financing rather than external financing. According to Industry Canada, in early-stage businesses, 45% of majority female-owned SMEs requested external financing compared to 53% of majority male owned SME’s. rejection rates for insufficient collateral are higher for women and rates of attracting venture capital investment is lower.
- Lack of access to Networks: Networks are emerging as a crucial accelerator in business growth.
- Lack of Training & Mentors: There is a direct link between those accessing training and mentors and access to capital.
Balancing personal/business responsibilities: Research suggests that most innovative entrepreneurship occurs between 25-44 years which is when women have families. Therefore, balancing business growth with family responsibilities impacts the ability to scale up.
WESK helps women entrepreneurs in Saskatchewan. Would you say the challenge of being a women entrepreneur is higher in Saskatchewan compared to other provinces in Canada?
There are many similarities in terms of challenges women entrepreneurs experience across the country. Research suggests that access to capital/ financing; lack of access to networks; lack of training and mentors are consistent barriers, as is the priority to balance personal responsibilities with business growth. Some of these barriers may be more acute here due to the smaller percentage of the majority of female owned enterprises and hurdles related to access to markets.
WESK was launched in 1995, which is well over twenty years ago. If you compare the company to when it first launched, and to where it is today, how would you say WESK has changed?
WESK has stayed relevant. In 2016, we launched our new Brand, it was not just a new visual identity but a” promise” to create an inclusive brand that supports the needs of all entrepreneurs regardless of age, culture, and stage of business growth. We started with 6 members in 1995 and grown to 754 members today. It now includes supporting women START and GROW a business Further, we launched Matchstick: Spark for Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs a year and a half ago to support Indigenous women to start and grow businesses, employ people in their communities, and fuel economic growth in Saskatchewan for generations to come. We will be launching a new program (in 2019) for women scaling up their business.
There’s been a lot of progress about women in business in the last twenty years. More and more companies have women CEOs and the number of women entrepreneurs has significantly increased. How is WESK adjusting with these changes?
We have come a long way but there is more to accomplish. We must take pause to celebrate the achievements of those that have come before us; but also recognize that there is more to be done. We as a province can lead the nation in relation to majority female-owned businesses. Majority Women owned enterprises account for 13.7 percent of businesses here while Ontario and BC lead the country at 17 percent. Only 6% of tech company founders in Canada are female and we need to promote women in technology and support women founders in technology. Research suggests a direct link between women in leadership roles and economic growth, productivity, and innovation. Continuing to emphasize and implement diversity and inclusion in business ventures is critical in continuing to advance gender equality.
WESK has several partnerships with different organizations so they can provide resources to women entrepreneurs and help them succeed. How do you go about choosing your partnerships?
Partnerships are critical as WESK does not have all the resources required to advance our mandate efficiently. Our partners assist with mutual and reciprocal support in advancing respective mandates and the partnership is based on principles of reciprocity, fit and vision.
What would you say is the biggest accomplishment of WESK?
- Being a leader in advocating to close the gender entrepreneurship gap and ensuing economic gap in SK
- To date, WESK has lent over $35.5M to support businesses start, expand or grow in Saskatchewan
- Recently founded Matchstick: Spark for Indigenous Entrepreneurs: A dedicated strategy to support and assist Indigenous women will help fuel economic independence, drive growth and foster entrepreneurial activity in Indigenous communities.
Where do you see WESK going in the next 10 years? What is the main goal?
If we close the gap in Saskatchewan, if men and women entrepreneurs have an EQUAL opportunity to succeed in SK, WESK should not be in existence. Can we do it in 10 years in Saskatchewan is the critical question. I believe we can.
On a more personal side, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Spending time with my husband and kids, cooking a meal for them, reading fiction primarily psychological thrillers, working out at the gym, following world politics and enjoying Bollywood music.