BY Laura Bolanos & Linnaea Davis

April Lea decided to follow her passion for perfume-making and launch her own brand in 2013. She didn’t anticipate the many challenges that would come with being a female entrepreneur.

“I knew nothing about business,” says Lea, the founder of LVNEA Perfume. “I didn’t know what I was doing in terms of the law. I made a lot of mistakes. It really took me years to get it right.”

Profile photo of April Lea

Profile photo of April Lea in her workshop. Photo courtesy of LVNEA.

Since 2022, Lea has been learning to manage her business by consulting with female business coaches to help her acquire entrepreneurial skills.

Lea never wanted stereotypes to define her, but it still impacted her confidence as a woman and a business owner. “If you aren’t feeling confident as a woman, then you’re not going to bring that to the business,” she says.

Gender stereotypes are a persistent barrier for women entrepreneurs. The most common questions their ability to lead, according to Christina Constantinidis, director of the Entrepreneurship and Gender Observatory at UQAM’s School of Management.

“Women are often perceived as they are not assertive enough, not competent enough to be a leader,” Constantindis says. “They won’t be able to ensure the direction of the company because of the children, or they are too emotional.”

In 2021, The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, published a report that revealed that 96 per cent of women entrepreneurs had directly experienced gender stereotypes in their lives. Seventy per cent say those stereotypes have negatively affected their work.

Focus on LVNEA product

Lea applies the LVNEA x Chelsea Wolfe Perfume, PÊCHE OBSCÈNE to her wrist. Photo by Laura Bolanos.

Though lack of confidence can affect all entrepreneurs, women are more likely to experience it.

“When women tend to suffer from having lower confidence or self-efficacy, it’s often in response to constantly being challenged,” says Ingrid Chadwick, associate professor in management, and academic director of the Bary F. Lorenzentti Center for Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership at the John Molson School of Business. “[It] makes you challenge yourself and question yourself.”

Despite this, there are many ways to help women with confidence issues to overcome them. Chadwick suggests that changing into a learning or growth mindset could be beneficial for boosting their confidence based on her previous research.

“[When] you look at challenges as opportunities to grow and develop, it doesn’t take away the adversity that’s out there [for women],” she says. “It allows you to look at it in a more developmental way, which takes away some of that negative focus.”

“Networking between women entrepreneurs reinforces confidence and resilience,” says Constantindis. “So exchanging with your peers, with other women, that’s the most effective way. Having role models to make women entrepreneurs visible so they can identify themselves to [them] and say I’m also capable of doing that,“ she adds.

Some recent studies have shown that the confidence gap between male and female entrepreneurs may be smaller than expected.

In 2022, a study published in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice from the University of Alberta, found that women were just as likely as men to demonstrate an accurate level of confidence in their entrepreneurial ability.

The barriers and challenges women entrepreneurs have encountered when starting or owning a business in 2023. Infographic by Laura Bolanos.

Another barrier for women entrepreneurs concerns accessing funding. It stands out as one of the biggest challenges, especially for immigrant entrepreneurs, according to Nada Zoghieb, director of economic programs at the Réseau des Femmes d’Affaires du Québec. She adds that over 54 per cent of immigrant women want to start their own business, but only 4 percent actually go through it.

The entrepreneurial path is not a guaranteed path to success on the first try either. “There are many women, and it’s a reality where the first start-up, even the second start-up wasn’t a success, but maybe the third will be,” says Zoghieb.

In 2023, over 90 per cent of women consider their business successful, as stated by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s survey, but barriers to women entrepreneurs persist.

One might expect an industry primarily marketed towards women to have a majority of women in positions of power, but that is not the case in industries like jewelry. Video by Linnaea Davis.

However, a number of funding bodies exist to help female entrepreneurs get a business off the ground.

The Réseau des Sociétés d’aide au développement des collectivitié (SADC) and Centre d’aides aux entreprises (CAE) offers guidance and funding for entrepreneurs and programs only dedicated to women in business in Quebec. Their mission regarding women entrepreneurs is to better meet their needs and listen to their realities so they can realise their business projects on the same footing as men.

Pascal Harvey, CEO of SADC and CAE, has found that more women are coming for help within their network and outside. “We notice that maybe women have less difficulties in asking for help when the time comes to call for help.”

Despite this, Harvey stated that only 34 per cent of women compared to 63 per cent of men seek help and funding at the SADC and CAE. He hopes for equity between both genders, but he is aware that the imbalances will be hard to truly make equal.

Focus on hands displaying one LVNEA product

Lea showcases the cream perfume JASMINE & FIG. Photo by Laura Bolanos.

While Lea made it in the perfume industry without any financial help, she says her lack of confidence and introverted personality are probably what prevented her from seeking financial support.

She decided to follow her path independently of others and opened her first storefront workshop boutique in 2019. “It’s okay to take your time, learn and build up the business slowly and sustainably.”

For the future of her business, Lea might be looking for a slightly bigger store than what she has in St-Viateur East Street, maybe located on a main street, but she hopes to have more time to create what she loves.

“There are so many perfumes that I want to start making, but I don’t have the time to research,” she says.

Focus on perfume ingredients

The ingredients Lea uses to create her perfumes are displayed in her workshop. Photo by Laura Bolanos.

Lea’s passion has helped her overcome the obstacles in her entrepreneurial journey.

“If you are passionate about something, and it’s like a true interest, you will find a way to make it work. It’s the reason why it panned out because I was obsessed with it,” Lea says.

Main image by Laura Bolanos.
Published April 30, 2024.