Inaugural SheBoot program for female entrepreneurs culminates with final pitch for $200K in prize money

Invest Ottawa and Capital Angel Network program to increase flow of funding for female-founded firms
sheboot
Participants and founders of Invest Ottawa and Angel Capital Network's inaugural SheBoot program meet virtually for the final pitch competition on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

Julie MacDonell, co-founder and CEO of Heirlume, is in the best entrepreneurial shape of her life, having just completed SheBoot bootcamp. 

The senior-level intellectual property lawyer has clinched $150,000 in funding for investment after placing first in the program's pitch competition finale held Thursday. She was one of 10 women to participate in a four-week bootcamp program to help change the investment landscape and put more funds in the hands of women founders. The inaugural program was hosted by Invest Ottawa and Capital Angel Network.

Winning the pitch competition is “a huge boost” for us, said MacDonell in an interview. “These kinds of programs are really life-savers for startups like ours. By all accounts, we’re an extremely high-growth-potential startup. Our market opportunity is huge. We check every single box on the type of venture that would traditionally be funded, but because of our diversity the picture is grim.”

According to venture capital data firm PitchBook, female founders receive a measly 2.7 per cent of venture capital funding.

“This kind of programming is really, really critical. It’s unfortunate that we need it. It’s unfortunate that we have to identify as women founders to access special programming, access special pockets of money, but equality just isn’t there yet.”

She and Ottawa-based co-founder and CTO Sarah Ruest created Heirlume to empower small- and medium-sized business in the area of trademark registration.

“They’re the backbone to our economy, and the traditional law firm model was failing them," said MacDonell, whose passion for technology and innovation motivated her to find a better solution for the multibillion-dollar problem.

'Huge potential'

Trademark registration is the only way to own a brand, she noted. A business can't legally own its own website domain without trademarking it.

“We started thinking about how we can apply technology to this market, because there was huge potential for it. Our tech-enabled platform empowers these business owners to search and file their own trademarks quickly, affordably and to a professional standard," said MacDonell, adding that they also provide extra support to clients if they need it.

“I always joke that I want to put myself out of work. For hundreds and thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses, a tech-enabled solution like this is completely adequate for their needs. It's a market that’s really right for disruption.”

MacDonell praised the SheBoot program for its trailblazing focus on helping female founders generate more money for their businesses.

"The program is laser-focused on closing the funding gap," she added. "It was structured to assist us, in terms of coaching you through your due diligence, preparing you to pitch so that you're perfectly polished. Unfortunately, women have to be utterly polished. We have to work harder. We have to present better than men to compete."

Taking home the second-place prize of $50,000 was Audrey Bond, founder and CEO of Ottawa’s Vaultt, a secure information management and communication platform for families and caregivers.

"It’s not easy to found a tech startup. Few succeed, and female founders have an even steeper hill to climb."

"Winning $50,000 is a great way to kick off our current investment round," said Bond in an interview.

"It’s not easy to found a tech startup," she added. "Few succeed, and female founders have an even steeper hill to climb. I’m super thankful to those who make it their mission to support women in tech and who champion female founders."

The SheBoot program was founded by local business leaders Julia Elvidge, Jennifer Francis and Sonya Shorey. They came up with the idea over coffee together.

There were 54 applications submitted for the 10 available spots. More than 50 female leaders served as mentors, ghost board members and investors. The calibre of the first cohort of women was “excellent,” said Shorey, vice-president of strategy, marketing and communications for Invest Ottawa.

“The progress that they made in a very short few weeks was incredible. I could not be more thrilled and encouraged.”

Shorey called the inaugural SheBoot a first step.

“It is an anchor step, and one that is showing us that we are on the path. There is demand. There are women who have powerful companies that we can help to enable and accelerate.”

Announced as the Crowd Favourite winners were Shannon Ferguson, co-founder and CEO of Ottawa sports marketing app FanSaves, and Cassie Myers, founder and CEO of Lunaria Solutions, which helps clients create strategies to boost diversity and inclusion among their employee base.

The other six founders selected to participate were:

  • Ellie Ardakani, co-founder and CEO of Meta, an Ottawa company that specializes in training and AI analytics software for the oil, gas and mining industries
  • Ashley Belleau-Dame, the Gatineau-based co-founder and COO of Bagsort, a startup that offers baggage storage solutions to travellers
  • Alina Jahani, co-founder and CEO of HireFast, a Hamilton-based software development recruitment firm 
  • Caitlin Pentifallo Gadd, founder and CEO of Bingo Impact Management, an Ottawa software firm that helps sports and recreation organizations manage their operations 
  • Julia Slanina, founder and CEO of Treehouse Medical, an Ottawa-based health-care management platform for doulas, lactation consultants and midwives 
  • Rebecca Wormleighton, co-founder and COO of Zendelity, a local software startup that helps property owners, office managers and other clients comply with safety and security protocols.

— caroline@obj.ca