Research background

Research Background

If your think it’s hard work running your business, you are not alone. Even though small businesses are ruling the Canadian economic landscape (accounting for 98% of all businesses in Canada [1]), your survival rates are not promising; 68% after 5 years, 49% after 10 years [1]. Let’s that sink in. More than half of small businesses will not last more than 10 years!

The odds are stacked even more against those who are in the under-represented groups. The under-represented are businesses that are majority owned by women (accounting for 15.6% of all small and medium businesses), by Indigenous people (1.4%), by minorities (12.2%) and by persons with a disability (0.5%).[2]

As the COVID-19 pandemic plunged global economy into worst recession since World War II [3], under-represented businesses were amongst the hardest hit due to their existing financial fragility and poor economic health [4]. Also, their businesses were likely to be in the most affected industries including accommodation and food services, and retail sectors [5]. Top challenges were loss of customers and income, negative mental health impacts and increase in domestic work [4].

Canada’s post COVID economy does not offer any good news to the under-represented as the recovery is categorized as K-shaped, a starkly uneven division where some parts of economy are recovering well, and the others are sluggish or sinking [6]. The inequality happens along class, racial, geographic, or industry lines [7].

The research project, Building Small Business Resilience (BSBR) aims to address this issue by equipping under-represented small business owners with necessary skills to be adaptive and resilient in the face of any future disruption.


Small business bankruptcies are due to owners’ lack of experience, knowledge or vision with almost half of the failures from inadequate marketing skills [8]. This becomes more critical during major shocks that cause a sudden loss of customers [8] as happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic forced businesses and consumers to leap years forward in digital adoption in a matter of weeks [9], and it highlighted the need for businesses to upskill their digital marketing. Ontario Government found only 60% of small businesses had a website [10]. More than half of businesses showed low levels of digital maturity due to low investment and lack of staff with digital skills [11]. 73% of small business owners list digital skills among their top three priorities with the top five skill gaps including digital marketing, social media, data analytics, programming, and web development and design [12].

The BSBR research will develop a Digital Marketing Training Prototype from existing Sheridan’s courses. It will be designed specifically to address challenges faced by under–represented small business owners. The training will focus on how to run an end-to-end digital marketing campaign with a $500 budget. Two cohorts of training participants will test the prototype in their own businesses, run the campaign in the simulated platforms before launching it in the real world. Participants will learn to use data analytics to adjust their efforts and optimize the campaign results.

Participants will be followed up 6 and 12 months afterwards to evaluate the longer-term impact of the training.


  • Increase equitable, diverse and inclusive participation in small business sectors 
  • Develop optimal training courses and tools to bridge digital marketing skill gaps for under-represented small business owners 
  • Research data will be used to develop other training programs in digital marketing for small businesses

Expected Outcomes

Training participants successfully apply the knowledge and skills from the BSBR program, pivot their businesses online and increase their resilience against any future economic disruption. More successful underrepresented owners will increase equitable, diverse and inclusive participation in small business sectors.

The training prototype can be developed into programs offered by Sheridan College. Learning gained from the project will be applied to the development of other digital marketing programs in Pilon School of Business, Faculty of Continuing & Professional Studies and EDGE Entrepreneur hub at Sheridan College.

Project learning will also be published online.


[1] Government of Canada. (2019). Key Small Business Statistics – January 2019. Retrieved from 

[2] Government of Canada. (January 2020). SME Profile: Ownership demographics statisticsRetrieved from 

[3] The World Bank (June, 2020). COVID-19 to Plunge Global Economy into Worst Recession since World War II. Retrieved from 

[4Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CWCC). (May 2020). Falling Through the Cracks: Immediate Needs of Canada’s Underrepresented Founders. Retrieved from 

[5] Dua, A., Mahajan, D., Millan, I., and Stewart, S. (May 2020). COVID-19’s effect on minority-owned small businesses in the United States. Retrieved from 

[6] RBC Economics. (December, 2020). Navigating 2021: 21 Charts for the Year Ahead. Retrieved from 

[7] Aldrich, E. (December, 2020)What a K-shaped recovery means, and how it highlights a nation’s economic inequalities. Retrieved from 

[8] Statistics Canada. (1997). Failing Concerns: Business Bankruptcy in Canada. Retrieved from 

[9] Baig, A., Hall, B., Jenkins, P., Lamarre, E., and McCarthy B. (May, 2020). The COVID-19 recovery will be digital: A plan for the first 90 days. Retrieved from 

[10] Ontario Government. (2020). Ontario and Canada Helping Small Businesses Go Digital. Retrieved from 

[11] Bédard-Maltais, P. (April, 2020). The Digital SME. Retrieved from 

[12] Startup Canada (October, 2017). Next-Generation Skills and Technologies Proven Key in the Advancement of Canadian-Owned Small Businesses. Retrieved from