Non-Dilutive Sources of Funding for Women-Owned Businesses

When it comes to securing funding, there are several different pathways that you can take as an entrepreneur. From angel investors, friends and family, venture capital, bootstrapping, revenue-based financing, debt, and grants, it’s hard to know which source of capital is best for you and your business. 

As access to capital remains a significant barrier for many women entrepreneurs seeking to start or grow their businesses, the Government of Canada decided to allocate $55 million in Budget 2021 for the creation of a new national microloans fund, as part of its Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES). 

In this blog, we’ll be diving specifically into this microloans fund and the opportunity to secure debt financing. We interviewed two of our Startup Women Advocacy Members who received loans from the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) to understand why they took the loan, what the process was like, and how they will use the funds to grow their business.

About the WEOC National Loan Program

The WEOC National Loan Program offers loans of up to $50,000 for women-owned businesses with terms of up to 5 years and flexible payment options. In addition to the capital, by participating in this program, you get access to business advice and resources delivered by expert advisors. This national program is delivered by regional loan fund partners who help guide you through the process and help you prepare any documentation that you will need to apply, including a business plan, two years of cash flow projections, and, for more established businesses, a summary of your expansion and growth plans. 

In the following questions, we’ll be interviewing two women entrepreneurs, Jessica Bosman and Heidi Penning, who have both benefited from the WEOC National Loan Program.

Tell us about your businesses and your founding journey. 

Heidi: I’m Heidi Penning, co-founder and president of Ravens Rest Retreat. I’m originally from Ontario but decided to move to Nova Scotia in 2021 with my partner, Jim. The breathtaking landscape of the Noel Shore in Nova Scotia captured my heart, and I quickly envisioned a place where guests could escape the noise of modern life and find solace in the natural world. My passion for sustainable living, mindfulness, and community building fueled my vision for Ravens Rest Retreat. Ravens Rest Retreat is on the Noel Shore of Nova Scotia, overlooking Burntcoat Head Park, home to the highest tides in the world. It was meticulously crafted with nature and animals (both domestic and wild) in mind, offering three rustic cabins (and an upcoming deluxe cottage available as of July 2024!). The retreat provides a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, allowing guests to rest and recharge their spirits.

Jess: I’m Jessica Bosman, co-founder and COO of DOUBL, a made-to-measure bra that can be fitted directly from your smartphone. Our process is simple. You scan yourself in our mobile app privately, securely, and fully clothed to receive your measurements. We then use this to create a custom bra made exactly for you designed to your measurements. Our bras are comfortable with no underwire or moulded foam cups, and we use recycled material, saving on average one plastic bottle from the landfill per bra. After realizing that most of the major bra brands were all started and operated by men, we were determined to create a more comfortable, convenient, and tailored process designed for women, by women. 

What factors did you consider when evaluating various forms of funding (i.e. investment, debt, and grants)?

Heidi: When evaluating funding options, I explored various avenues, including investment, grants, and debt. I did not know any “angel investors” or have any in my network. I successfully received several small grants, but they were not geared toward larger capital expenditures.  Unsurprisingly, it is difficult as an early stage entrepreneur to get funding from a bank, and all the traditional “Big 5” banks turned me down. About to give up, I discovered the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) National Loan program, which offers an inclusive approach to lending with robust wrap-around services for women entrepreneurs.

Jess: When evaluating different forms of funding, we considered the following four factors:

1) Stage: Over the years, we have had many conversations with investors and were often told that we were too early in our business traction and journey for investment, which propelled us into bootstrapping. Bootstrapping empowered us to grow the business independently, enabling us to strategically seek equity financing at a point where it could significantly propel the business’s growth and secure the most profitable valuation. The question of equity makes you think critically about the ownership you hold in your company and what you are willing to give up (it gets harder the more blood, sweat, and tears you invest!). You realize how far you can get without funding and, therefore, how much more valuable your company will be once you do choose to raise funds at a later stage.

2) Time: How much time do we have to invest? Grants are time-consuming to apply for, but they provide cash with no strings attached. As long as we feel we are a good fit for the grant, we have found it worth our time. Accelerators are even more time-consuming than writing a grant application, but they offer the added benefit of growing your network and sometimes obtaining cash through a pitch competition. Over time, we have become more selective about the accelerators we participate in as the information becomes repetitive, and we are in a stage where our focus needs to be on execution.

3) Fit: Specifically for investment, does this investor align with our company values, and do they have applicable experience that could benefit the company? This is a long-term relationship (comparable to a marriage!), and we want to ensure we are partnering with the right person or fund. Similarly, with debt financing, are we a good fit? Is the likelihood of us being approved high?

4) Leverage: Lastly, we sometimes discuss our debt-to-equity ratio. As we aim to maintain high levels of ownership, we are comfortable with higher debt leverage. However, there is always a balance to seek, and there may come a point where further debt financing is no longer approved.

What made you decide to apply to the WEOC National Loan Program?

Heidi: The WEOC National Loan Program is delivered by regional partners. I connected with the Centre for Women in Business (CWB) at Mount Saint Vincent University, which is in my region of Nova Scotia. Nora Perry at the CWB offered mentorship, making the process of applying for funding appear less daunting. She actively listened to me and offered me words of encouragement along with sound advice, not the least of which is to write your business plan in a way that lets your passion shine through!

Jess: We needed cash—specifically, enough to prepare for our product launch at the end of April 2024. WEOC appealed to us because it was specifically for women entrepreneurs within Canada, so we immediately felt confident that we would be a good fit. 

What was the process for applying for the WEOC National Loan Program? Often, it can be difficult to access debt financing. Was the process difficult?

Heidi: I found the process of applying for the WEOC National Loan Program to be smooth and supportive. The Centre for Women in Business provided valuable guidance to me and encouraged me the entire time. While accessing debt financing can often be challenging, the WEOC program aims to remove barriers for women entrepreneurs.

Jess: The process itself wasn’t necessarily difficult; the challenge lay more in the preparation of the required documents. For example, we needed to provide projected cash flow statements, a formal application, a detailed project plan, etc. Additionally, the approval process is somewhat time-consuming since the application goes through various stages. With that being said, our WEOC representatives made the entire process feel very personal and they helped us ultimately obtain approval! Overall, I felt very supported, and I felt that WEOC believed in our business and wanted us to succeed, which was very meaningful and made the process much more enjoyable. Also, compared to other debt programs, I do think it was quite fast – I believe the entire process took us around 2 months. 

What benefits has WEOC provided you outside of funding?

Heidi: Beyond financial support, the WEOC program empowers women-led businesses. It opens doors to growth, new opportunities, and economic participation. My positive experience highlights the importance of initiatives like the WEOC National Loan Program.

Jess: Natalie, our loan assessor, is always sending me grants that she thinks we would be a good fit for and has also provided us with great media opportunities, such as this article! They have supported us via social channels, helpful network connections, and PR opportunities. I was also recently able to connect with Obashola (our other representative) in person at the Startup Canada Tour stop in Langley, which was lovely. At this stop, I also made it to the finals of the Startup Global Pop-up Pitch Competition!

What’s next for your business? How will this capital help you grow?

Heidi: Equipped with this capital infusion, we’re very excited to expand our offering of accommodations to include a barrier-free cottage with all the creature comforts that sleep six guests. When not in use as a cottage, the building will be able to easily convert to a gathering place for small events and retreats that are women-centred. These retreats will offer enriching experiences like yoga, meditation, interactions with animals, and forest immersion, ensuring guests leave rested and recharged.

Jess: DOUBL is at an exciting point in our business journey! We recently launched on Kickstarter and hit our initial goal of $10,000 in funding in under 12 hours, tracking to $20,000 within the first week. Our Kickstarter runs until June 9th, you can check out the campaign here. We plan to host a “final hours” launch party in Toronto to encourage further traction and orders on the last day. Following the Kickstarter we will open for pre-order on our website as we work to fulfill the Kickstarter orders and to ensure our backend process is working smoothly from end to end. We are thrilled to be leaning into social and guerilla marketing tactics this summer, leveraging our growing team. We have an exciting photoshoot planned that will kick off our overall new marketing plan that is directed towards a new specific target audience (wait and see!). Overall, the summer months are really about us solidifying our market presence and growing our sales, and the funding from WEOC is enabling us to invest in these marketing strategies and events. 


Are you interested in learning more about the WEOC National Loan Program? Visit to connect with a regional fund partner in your area.