Canada has fewer entrepreneurs today than it did 20 years ago — and that’s

When James Lynn lost his job early in the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

It hasn’t been easy.

“You know, entrepreneurship is like being in a maze, where you know where you want to go but you’re not exactly sure how to get there,” he said. “And there’s a ton of pitfalls.”

Lynn is the founder of Kalū, an independent pet food-maker in Montreal. He leads a team of three, selling online and in 20 shops across Quebec, with plans to expand into Ontario next year.

He makes cat and dog food, but as an entrepreneur, Lynn’s an increasingly rare bird.

In a new report, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) examined numbers from Statistics Canada and found that the country has 100,000 fewer entrepreneurs than it did 20 years ago — despite the fact that the population has grown by more than 10 million over the same period.

The Crown corporation says the decline puts the economy in danger, and it worked with researchers from the Université de Montréal to analyze the problem and what’s causing it, and to consider solutions. Its recommendation: Some of the difficulties of entrepreneurship can be overcome by helping business owners develop “soft skills,” such as grit, marketing and how to interact with people.

BDC, a financial institution for entrepreneurs that provides loans for small and medium-sized businesses, released the report for Small Business Week.

Why entrepreneurship is down

For its report, BDC defined an entrepreneur as a self-employed worker who hires employees to support their venture.

“Twenty years ago, there was three Canadians in 1,000 every year becoming an entrepreneur,” Pierre Cléroux, BDC’s chief economist, told CBC News. “Now we’re down to about one for every 1,000 people.”

The actual figure is 1.3 people for every 1,000, less than half the rate of two decades ago.

A man with brown hair and glasses wearing a blue blazer speaks in front of projector screen in a classroom.
Pierre Cléroux, chief economist at the Business Development Bank of Canada, speaks to entrepreneurs this week at the Université de Montréal. He says the entrepreneurship decline ‘simply can’t be ignored,’ because new businesses are responsible for ‘almost all net new job creation in this country.’ (Université de Montréal)

It’s also far below the apparent public interest in entrepreneurship.

The popularity of TV shows like Dragons’ Den, the growth of college and university entrepreneurship programs, and the creation of business incubators for entrepreneurs across Canada all suggest the appeal of starting a business.

A report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor says 14 per cent of Canada’s population has entrepreneurial aspirations; so there seems to be plenty of dreamers. Yet BDC says few of those dreamers are becoming doers for several reasons:

  • People in their late 20s to early 40s are the most likely to start businesses, but that demographic is shrinking with Canada’s aging population, leaving a smaller pool of candidates as potential founders.
  • Low unemployment and high wages mean fewer people feel the need to…

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