Are you an entrepreneur trying to get your business off the ground? Have you hit a block in terms of getting your product/service out there? Thanks to a new program from Cisco Canada, Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle, you can take advantage of free training, access to digital strategy development, and financing for products. We chatted with Bernadette Wightman, the President of Cisco Canada, about the initiative.

SDTC: Can you explain in a bit more detail what Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle entails?

BW: We brought together Cisco resources, funding and technology in three areas:

1. The Circle of Learning

a. Through the Cisco Canada Women Entrepreneur Academy, women will be able to access seven online virtual training courses, totaling more than 90 hours of training from Cisco’s Networking Academy. This is offered at no cost to eligible registrants. Courses include: Introduction to the Internet of Everything, Mobility Fundamentals, and Introduction to Cybersecurity, among others.

2. The Circle of Productivity

a. Cisco product bundles will be made available to eligible entrepreneurs, with Cisco Capital financing available. Customized by business size, this fully managed service is simple to deploy with effortless installation and integration. Called The Entrepreneur Xperience, the bundle features everything you need to get your business communicating, collaborating, and connected (phones, routers, switches and more). Cisco makes it easy to unify your communications with an offer that is simple, completely managed, and cost-effective.

3. The Circle of Innovation

a. A program run by Cisco Canada in collaboration with Communitech and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). Internship students from the University of Waterloo will be paired with eligible entrepreneurs to help build the organization’s digital strategy, scale and impact in the marketplace. Interns will work from the new Cisco Innovation Centre in downtown Toronto (one of only nine worldwide), and will be provided access to Cisco’s DevNet crowd-sourced developer community. They will also receive Cisco mentoring opportunities throughout the 12-week program. Participants will be selected from nominations provided by Communitech and BDC.

Who is eligible? How do we apply?

The Cisco Canada Circle of Learning: Building Digital Knowledge, is open to any and all interested entrepreneurs based in Canada. To sign up, complete this survey and our training team will get in touch to begin the enrollment process.

For entrepreneurs interested in Cisco product bundle, details are available through and is open to commercial small and medium businesses registered in Canada (subject to the conditions listed).

At this time, the Circle of Innovation is in pilot phase, with internship students applying through the University of Waterloo and women entrepreneurs being selected by our partners, Communitech and Business Development Bank of Canada. With the support of our partners, we hope to support as many Canadian women entrepreneurs as possible.

WOI chat

Cisco Canada President Bernadette Wightman

Why did you feel it was important to offer this to female entrepreneurs in Canada?

I don’t think it would surprise anyone to know that women-led businesses are good for Canada. Research shows that women who participate in entrepreneurship make meaningful economic and social contributions; however, many women business founders struggle to access the capital, technology, networks, and knowledge that they need to successfully start and grow their business. The aim of the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle is to help bridge this gap by working with ecosystem partners including Women of Influence, Completely Managed, Business Development Bank of Canada and Communitech.

For example, RBC Economics Research (2013) reported in 2011 that the aggregate contribution of female majority-owned SMEs was an estimated $148 billion in economic activity. The report further estimated that if we saw a 10% rise in the number of female majority owned firms in next decade it would mean an estimated $198 billion in economic activity. We want to help make this increase possible.

We believe the Women Entrepreneurs Circle is a practical, effective resource and network for women across Canada. We’re committed to developing this significant untapped resource of talented women business leaders to unleash their power and potential. Supporting women entrepreneurs is simply the smart thing to do, and I am personally committed to building their capacity to drive Canada’s economic growth and competitiveness.

What are the biggest barriers that female entrepreneurs face, in your opinion?

As mentioned, many women business founders struggle to access the capital, technology, networks, and knowledge that they need to successfully start and grow their business.

Can you offer some some tips to young women who are just starting their entrepreneurial careers?

Have the courage to take action. This digital age we live in represents a tremendous opportunity for women to reinvent our companies, our teams and ourselves. Our innate skills leave us perfectly placed to embrace the changes being brought about by digital transformation. Our time is now.

What is it about helping women entrepreneurs that you find particularly rewarding?

It’s probably not surprising to hear that women innovate in a different way, we are naturally more collaborative. My vision is to create a physical or virtual environment where women can follow their dreams and this natural tendency to collaborate can flourish. I’m excited for Cisco Canada to be a catalyst for innovation, hopefully leading to the creation of hundreds of new business lead by women and thousands of new jobs for all.

Bernadette Wightman is President of Cisco Canada, which employs more than 2,000 people. She is responsible for overseeing all sales, marketing, finance, distribution, and services. Wightman is a staunch advocate for women in business, and has helped to found the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle, a new initiative focused on helping female entrepreneurs boost their business in the digital marketplace.