IWD 2024: Honouring VFC Alumni and Women’s Contributions to Canada’s Economy

March ushers in a season of renewal and optimism as spring approaches, offering a perfect moment to reflect by honouring and celebrating the women in our lives. The whole month is recognized as Women’s History Month and today, Friday March 8th, 2024 is International Women’s Day (IWD) where we at VFC celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. This year’s theme is “Inspire Inclusion” emphasizing the key role inclusion plays in achieving gender equality. When we challenge systems to include women and ensure they have a seat at the table, we often see a domino effect of empowerment, belonging and significance.

Why women are vital for the Canadian economy. 

Women entrepreneurs are positively changing the world as we know it, focusing more on innovation and more likely to put in place marketing innovation – a sector that is booming, compared to their male counterparts. Despite the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of women-owned businesses in Canada is growing. Beyond owning a business, women also play a key role in unpaid household work and as workers. In 2022, Canadian women accounted for over half of unpaid household work (60.1%) and those aged 25-54 reached record highs of employment rate (85.1%).

Women can do anything and everything.

Unfortunately, obstacles like accessing funding exist disproportionately for women compared to men, especially for women from racialized communities. Yet, despite this challenge, 18% of all businesses in Canada are owned by women. Individuals who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ face identity-related challenges because of systemic barriers. In spite of this, they contribute to more than $22 billion in economic activity. 

Our commitment

At VFC, we’re dedicated to helping women foster entrepreneurial skills so that they flourish within the entrepreneurial landscape and beyond. Today, we’re highlighting four brilliant VFC Fellowship alumni that are making significant impacts in female-focused companies in 2024.

1. Susie Pan

Story: Susie Pan’s main mission is to help people and businesses unleash their potential by building a better funding ecosystem for all. She’s worked with early-stage startups and large corporations across different sectors that want to innovate.

Impact: Susie’s been an entrepreneur since grade 12, founding a national nonprofit Science Expo, empowering 50,000 high school students across 150 schools in Canada through alternative education and opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Susie continued to hone-in on her entrepreneurial skills through VFC’s Fellowship Program and is now an active Fellow alumni.   

Susie doesn’t subscribe to one title, she’s a system changer, product leader, a coach, and her current role is Team & Strategy Lead at Criterion Institute. This organization coincides with Susie’s values — helping people re-imagine what’s possible in finance.        

Support: Learn more about Susie here, and make sure to connect with her on LinkedIn and IG

Fun VFC Fact: Susie was part of our 2015 Fellowship cohort.

2. Shannon Auster-Weiss

Story: Shannon Auster-Weiss thrives on helping teams and customers achieve their goals. Shannon has a ton of knowledge in strategic planning, product management, leadership, product design, digital marketing, and user research. 

Impact: Shannon first developed her entrepreneurial spirit through our Fellowship Program. She was selected as one of 65 Fellows in Canada with entrepreneurial promise to participate in a two-year fellowship. Shannon went on to make significant contributions at CareGuide by transforming a new entrepreneurial venture into one of the largest online platforms connecting families and nannies in the US to make child care more accessible. Shannon is now a Senior Product Manager for Hertility, a health startup tackling health inequities around menstruation, fertility, menopause, and all stages of the reproductive journey. 

Support: Connect with Shannon over on LinkedIn (you can tell her we sent you).  

Fun VFC Fact: Shannon was part of our 2017 Fellowship cohort.

3. Micha Saade

Story: Meet Micha – she’s passionate about anticipating and solving problems. Micha has a variety of experiences in different roles: Sales Representative at a telecommunications company, Benefits Advisor and HR Specialist for an insurance company, and a Strategic Business Developer at a software company. 

Impact: Micha shifted her focus to marketing for CareGuide, helping to bridge the gap between product and marketing and ventured into our Fellowship Program. Micha was selected from a pool of nearly 1,000 applicants for the two-year Fellowship Program and continues to serve as a valuable mentor to new Fellows. Her latest endeavour? Co-founding NAMA, a clothing brand specialized in active, basics, and loungewear (think everyday comfort with a luxurious look and feel). 

Support: Shop NAMA’s latest collection here, and go follow them on IG, TikTok, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Make sure to connect with Micha personally on LinkedIn as well.

Fun VFC Fact: Micha was part of our 2017 Fellowship cohort.

4. Amy Yu

Story: Amy is passionate about the intersection of women’s health, neurology, and systemic social inequities. Like all of the women highlighted in this blog, Amy is a multi-passionate!

Impact: As a Publications Director for Queen’s Women in Leadership, Amy organized a conference with the goal of empowering young leaders. She co-founded a baby tech company in 2017 (better sleep for baby means better sleep for parents) and then continued growing her entrepreneurial skills through our Fellowship Program. She ventured off and co-founded another business – GenW giving young women the tools and resources to find what they’re passionate about and a road-map on how to pursue their dreams. Amy is now an Adult Neurology Resident at the University of Toronto. 

Support: See what else Amy has cooking by connecting with her on LinkedIn.

Fun VFC Fact: Amy was part of our 2018 Fellowship cohort.

So, how can you support women in entrepreneurship? 

Supporting women isn’t just about doing so today, it’s about doing so everyday. It’s also not enough to just promote something on social media, you actually have to take action.  

Here’s seven ways you can support women in entrepreneurship today:

Education and Training: Offering workshops, seminars, and courses designed to address the specific needs of women entrepreneurs can equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to start and grow their businesses. This includes training in business planning, financial literacy, marketing, leadership, and digital skills.

Mentorship and Networking: Establish mentorship programs and networking events where experienced professionals guide and support women in entrepreneurship.

Financial Support and Access to Capital: Creating funds, providing grants, and encouraging venture capitalists to invest in women-led startups can help overcome the barriers women face when trying to secure funding. Financial institutions can also offer tailored financial products and services to meet the unique needs of women-owned businesses.

Market Access and Opportunities: Helping women entrepreneurs gain access to new markets and opportunities can significantly impact their businesses’ growth. This can involve facilitating connections with suppliers and distributors, providing platforms for showcasing their products and services, and encouraging both public and private sectors to source from women-owned businesses.

Advocacy and Policy Change: Advocating for policies that support women entrepreneurs is crucial. This includes pushing for equal access to resources, addressing gender biases in funding, and implementing policies that support work-life balance for women, such as childcare support and parental leave.

Community Support: Build supportive communities where women can share experiences, offer advice, and find solidarity with others facing similar challenges. This can be facilitated through online platforms, support groups, and community organizations.

Recognition and Celebration: Recognize and celebrate the achievements of women in various fields. This helps to raise awareness of women’s contributions and inspire future generations.

We encourage you to support and celebrate not just women entrepreneurs, but all women. Say thank you for their paid and unpaid work, give them opportunities, and foster an inclusive and supportive environment- ultimately making the world a better place.


Rebecca Scott