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How to fix the gender gap in Canada's startup community

Only two per cent of venture capitalist investment goes to female led companies.

“Its shocking to me that in 2018, I am still labeled as a female founder and not just a founder,” says Stephany Lapierre, founder and CEO of Tealbook. A recent study reveals that only two per cent of venture capitalist investment goes to female led companies.

“As women we always have to show more milestones but I see men repetitively acquire funding just by pitching ideas and that makes me wonder if its just because of a lack of women doing it,” says Lapierre. “If there’s not enough of us doing it, how to we inspire change?”

Yahoo Canada Finance spoke to six different female founders across industries ranging from food to geological mining, in an attempt to better understand the roadblocks faced by women in Canadian business. Notably, all of them unanimously claim that we are at a tipping point and it is a great time to start a business as a woman.

“When you see other women succeed in business, it inspires you to do the same.” says Leila Keshavjee, founder of popsicle company Happy Pops, who is also set to appear on season 13 of CBC’s “Dragon’s Den.”

While she found strong support with individual investors, she says that the big banks are very discouraging when it comes to young female entrepreneurs. “Irrespective of the exponential growth of my business and excellent credit, the bank refused a credit limit higher than a $1,000, which was the same as what I was getting on my credit card as a student.”

Monika Jaroszonek, CEO and Co-founder of real estate development firm Ratio City, says that there is a misconception of requiring a tech background, which may stop many from starting out. “There is a lot of opportunity for people with diverse backgrounds. With more publicity and the #MoveTheDial movement, it is only getting better for us.”

#MoveTheDial is a Toronto based organization that aims to increase participation of women in the tech industry to eliminate gender disparity.

Additionally, Jaroszonek who is also part of the Women Founders Program at business incubator Ryerson DMZ finds Canadian investors are much more risk averse. “There is a certain Canadian conservatism out there.  American investors are willing to take bigger risk without wanting to see a demonstrated traction.”

Mayrose Salvador, Co-founder of educational organization Pueblo Science feels that lack of peer mentorship is an additional roadblock. We could use more support and mentorship from other female entrepreneurs.

For some founders, the bias doesn’t end at the funding stage. Shelby Yee, CEO and Co-founder of geotechnical mapping company RockMass Tech says that she has experienced bias at an operational level. In business meetings she finds industry professionals asking her male co-founder the technical questions. “When that happens, I tend to jump in and answer the question anyways, so that the next time they feel encouraged to ask me.”

Karen Lau, founder of home furnishing company Furnishr finds the main reason holding back female entrepreneurs from entering the start up space to be self-doubt which rises from the way that women are raised culturally. “We disqualify ourselves so much quicker than men to.”

Lau also cites her anecdotal evidence in saying that It is easier for men to bond with male investors. With two-thirds of VC investment committees being controlled by men, this could be an additional challenge and also why majority of the female-led start ups are also funded by female venture capitalists.

But male investors and entrepreneurs are also needed to find a solution to the problem. David Souaid, President of Evolocity Financial Group, encourages more women to pursue entrepreneurship by providing a grant in collaboration with Startup Canada. “I am a father of three daughters and for me, leveling the playing field is really important and helping fuel that with funding is a great way to move forward,” says Souaid.

According to Michelle McBane, director of the MaRS Investment Accelerator Funda strong business model and confidence in the idea can help overcome bias. “All [of our] investments are measured based on criteria. We look at the Four T’s- Teams, Traction, Timing and Technology. The only gender bias at that point will be an unconscious one.”

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