YSpace partners with BDC to support future female leaders

A group of professional women standing together

York University will support and advance early-stage, women-led social impact businesses through a new partnership between YSpace, the University’s entrepreneurship and innovation hub, and BDC’s Thrive Lab, a new venture offering equity and equity-like investments for these impact-driven companies.

After building the one-of-a-kind, $100-million Thrive Lab over the past nine months, BDC – Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs – has announced investments, training and support for at least 100 ambitious, women-led businesses committed to delivering solutions to some of the world’s most pressing social issues.

The lab’s first phase will co-invest – alongside 25 partners from across Canada, including YSpace – in businesses at the earliest stages of development, where they face the most fundraising challenges.

As a partner, YSpace will help identify and validate women-led ventures within its portfolios as candidates for this funding and support. As a representative of York University, YSpace is also partnering with Schulich Startups, an initiative led by the Schulich School of Business Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, to ensure that Schulich founders are also eligible and nominated. Thrive Lab is committing up to $250,000 in funding to help those companies accelerate, said Nafis Ahmed, entrepreneurship manager of YSpace.

“It’s a really good opportunity for our companies from YSpace. We have many women-led ventures that are looking for these investment opportunities and now they get a direct pipeline into the BDC program,” said Ahmed. “It’s helping them tap into extra funding opportunities that they didn’t have before. Our commitment to the founders is that we will be performing the due diligence process to prepare them for the BDC investment committee and provide up to 18 months of support should they be selected for investment.”

BDC has identified the first 25 partners as “changemakers for emerging companies.” Partners were selected based on their track record of supporting women entrepreneurs or their expertise in social impact, their capacity to deliver resources and their ability to reach women where they are across Canada, including in underserved communities.

David Kwok
David Kwok

“We are so excited to be partnering with BDC’s Thrive Lab to increase access to funding opportunities for women entrepreneurs across the country,” said David Kwok, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at YSpace and the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation. “Our award-winning women’s entrepreneurship program ELLA has been a staple in the community supporting women-led ventures since 2019, and we recently went national this past year with our partners Innovation, Science & Economic Development Canada and Desjardins, supporting women from coast to coast. This partnership is strongly aligned with York’s UN SDGs focus on gender equality, and it also further demonstrates how YSpace and York University is a leading organization in supporting women entrepreneurs.”

BDC has earmarked $35 million for the first phase of the initiative. To be eligible, a business must be women-led, making a measurable positive impact tied to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) – such as food security and responsible agriculture, health and well-being, education, reduced inequalities, and responsible consumption and production – as well as actively raising capital and nominated by a Thrive Lab partner.

“Women entrepreneurs are under-represented and underfunded,” said Sévrine Labelle, managing director of Thrive Lab. “BDC aims to change that, and the fastest and most impactful way to deliver on that change is to work with organizations already rolling up their sleeves to support emerging women-led and social impact companies.”

Working collaboratively, the lab is designed to experiment and adapt and pursue new ways of providing support in line with the needs of women-led businesses.

The second phase will build on learnings from this initiative and ongoing feedback from partners and women entrepreneurs.

The Thrive Lab is part of BDC’s $500-million Thrive Platform. Announced in fall 2022, it is the largest investment platform in the world supporting women-led businesses. It includes three components: the $300-million Thrive Venture Fund, a $100-million Indirect Investment Envelope and the $100-million Thrive Lab.