Nine Things You Should Know About the BANFF Spark Accelerator

It’s an entrepreneur program that we’re really, really passionate about,” says Jenn Kuzmyk, Executive Director, Banff World Media Festival


In September, the Banff World Media Festival launched the BANFF Spark Accelerator for Women in the Business of Media, which aims to boost women-owned companies in Canada’s media sector.


Here, Kuzmyk shares everything you need to know about the program and its lofty ambitions.


It’s got glass ceilings in its sights.

Canada’s screen industry is, alas, like many other industries in this regard: women’s career trajectories tend to stall before reaching the top rung of the corporate ladder.

The CMPA’s 2017 Women & Leadership: A Study of Gender Parity and Diversity in Canada’s Screen Industries highlighted a concerning “stagnation in advancement for women” over the past two decades. The research found that women do not advance beyond 20 per cent representation in almost any decision-making or core creative roles, and they have certainly failed to take a place in equal numbers among their male colleagues in the C-suite.

Says Kuzmyk, “We looked at the makeup of the media industry in Canada, including the ownership of some of the largest media companies in the country. And there is clearly a gap at the top. Where there is intersectionality, the situation is even more stark. BANFF Spark has in its DNA a goal to significantly support all women, including women from culturally diverse backgrounds, women from the LGBTQ and non-binary communities, and women with accessibility challenges.”

It’s equipping women to smash those ceilings.

According to Kuzmyk, business-focused financial literacy is key to helping women advance in their careers. This is particularly true in the media sector, where many people come from an arts background, not from business school.

“Lots of people in the industry—and this is especially the case for women—don’t have that businessgrowth mindset or education, and certainly don’t have the social and business networks within financial circles that they need in order to grow their business,” Kuzmyk says.

BANFF Spark is tackling that head-on, by coaching participants on everything from creating a business plan to attracting investment (and the different forms investment can take). “Pitching potential financers to invest in your company is very different than pitching a one-off project,” Kuzmyk points out. “BANFF Spark is about the former.”

It’s like a micro-MBA program for the media world.

The program—which is partnering with the Schulich School of Business and collaborating with venture-investment conference CIX—aims to cultivate women-owned media companies by identifying women who are ready to launch their own businesses, as well as identifying existing companies that are ready to scale up. Women selected for BANFF Spark will participate in training-based workshops, get paired with a mentor who’s successfully grown their own business, and attend the Banff World Media Festival for additional tailored professional development opportunities and networking opportunities, including access to potential investors and business partners.

The networking opportunities are really very good.

“After working with the participants to get their business strategy set, we will literally put them in a room at BANFF with people they can partner with to grow their companies. It’s a great opportunity,” says Kuzmyk. “It’s also a great opportunity for individuals or companies to find their next investment or business partner.”

Gender parity is cool, but economic parity’s the goal.

“There are a lot of amazing initiatives right now aimed at gender parity in the industry,” says Kuzmyk. “They’re primarily focused on backing the creative side, and that’s really important.”

But BANFF Spark’s top-down mentality is important, too—and it’s unique. “I don’t think anyone else is looking at it from our perspective,” she says. “For us, it’s about long-tail revenue and women in the industry having a piece of that. It’s about financial security. If there are more women-owned media businesses, there will be more women hired. Gender parity is an amazing goal, but there won’t truly be gender parity until there is economic parity.”

It’s not just for producers.

According to Kuzmyk, the majority of the first batch of applicants (the first application deadline was mid-October of last year) are content creators who have been in the industry for many years, whether or not they’ve launched a business of their own. But there are also applicants who work in distribution, media technology, post-production, visual effects and more. Indeed, the program casts a broad net for applicants, as long as they produce, distribute or support content creation or monetization within the screen-based industries. That leaves the door wide open for everyone from publicists to music publishers, agents to animation service providers.

It’s open to women from many areas of Canada, but not all—yet.

Since the program’s launch support comes from Western Economic Diversification Canada, participants must be not only Canadian, but also be launching or building a business in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba or Southern Ontario. (They will attend one of three regional workshops in Vancouver, Calgary or Toronto.)

That could change, however. “I would love for it to grow to be fully national,” says Kuzmyk. “Our goal, with support from the industry at large, is to have this become a long-term, sustainable, national program.” The program is currently seeking additional partners and sponsors.

It’s got a borderless attitude.

While applicants must be Canadian residents, mentors can be from anywhere in the world. “This business is global, and successful media companies have a global mindset,” Kuzmyk explains. “You don’t just work in one territory.”

The success of the program will be judged on a global scale as well. “We want to see the amazing women-run media companies in this country increase their international clout,” Kuzmyk says. “Where is the next eOne, Blue Ant, Lionsgate, you name it, that is launched and run by women? Where is the next woman-fronted, woman-owned media company with considerable international holdings? Those are our goals.”

You can still make the next deadline.

If you missed the October deadline, don’t despair—the next deadline is in early 2020. Both the first and second cohort (50 participants each) will get to attend the 2020 Banff World Media Festival. There will be two additional cohorts beyond this year, for a total of 200 participants in the program.

For more information, visit