Brookfield Institute begins researching creative entrepreneurship and creative economy in Canada

23 December 2020 / by Sam Dharmasena
A Portrait of Creative Entrepreneurship and the Creative Economy in Canada - Marco Xu via Unsplash

Brookfield Institute on Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a policy and applied research institute housed at Ryerson. In Nov. 2020, they published A Portrait of Creative Entrepreneurship and the Creative Economy in Canada. This report is their first endeavour within the creative sector and CJRU speaks with co-author Nisa Malli to learn more about their research so far and where their efforts will go next.

The 62-page report offers an overview of creative entrepreneurship in Canada, its economic impacts, as well as the policies, programs and business supports available to individuals in this ecosystem. Malli says that the one-page case studies found throughout the report are a good starting point for folks that don’t want to read the entire document. The report concludes with a list of further research questions and each section of the report also has a dedicated gender and intersectional demographic analysis.

“Whenever you’re researching something to do with people, whether that’s workers, investors, founders, business owners… It’s important to look not just at what they’re producing and where they work, but at their intersectional demographics and characteristics. Otherwise we don’t understand who’s in these roles, who has access to these opportunities, or parse out inequities in pay, participation and advancement,” she says.


Nisa Malli | Courtesy of Nisa Malli


Nisa Malli | Courtesy of Nisa Malli


The report kicks off a new area of research by the Brookfield Institute on creative entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship, and the creative sector. This work will be part of the ongoing research program on women entrepreneurs. Since this is their first body of work in the industry, Malli adds that it was important to acknowledge all scales of creative entrepreneurship from freelancer to large firm. In future work, they plan to dive deeper into specific artistic practices and types of businesses.

The report discusses the fact that employment is especially dynamic in the creative economy, with individuals often moving from side-hustles, freelancing, and sometimes full-time employee status. Further research will investigate the push/pull factors and demographics that are tied to these shifts.

The report also mentions further research questions around the variety of business models that are found in the ecosystem. While the current state of collectives and coops were introduced in the Nov. 2020 report, further work will likely include more comparisons to traditional business models. Intersectional demographics will also be addressed with more research around the experience of racialized creative women entrepreneurs, specifically the funding and policy frameworks that support their work.

Malli explains that the goal is to provide a well-rounded understanding of entrepreneurship in the country. And as creative industries continue to evolve and adapt to the pandemic, these upcoming publications can inform formal supports and policies that benefit Canadians working in this space.

“So much of the conversation on entrepreneurship focusses on tech startups and high growth firms. And on a certain image of entrepreneurship and what an entrepreneur can look like. And this picture is not complete. We wanted to map the full spectrum of entrepreneurship and creative practices from illustrators selling stickers on Etsy to DJs to internationally competitive video game and design firms,” she explains.

To hear more from Nisa Malli, listen to the interview below