Angel fund backed by Shopify execs chooses AI startup Heirlume for first investment

Venture capital

A new angel fund led by a group of female Shopify executives has chosen a trailblazing AI platform co-founded by an Ottawa entrepreneur for its first investment.

Backbone Angels – an early-stage fund launched last month aimed at startups helmed by women and non-binary founders – announced it’s among the investors backing Heirlume, a fledgling Toronto-based firm that helps small businesses register trademarks. 

Other investors in Heirlume’s $1.7-million seed round include Ottawa’s Mistral Venture Partners as well as Future Capital and Angels of Many, a pair of newly established organizations that are also looking to fund entrepreneurs who are traditionally underrepresented in the business world.

Most of Heirlume’s eight employees are women, and two-thirds of its investors are women or underrepresented groups in business. The firm says its goal is to become the largest Canadian tech company with a majority female-identifying workforce.

“For Backbone to achieve its mission of elevating the economic position of women and non-binary founders, one of the things we're looking for are scalable companies poised for very high growth,” Backbone Angels founding partner Erin Zipes, a vice-president and assistant general counsel at Shopify, said in a statement. 

“Heirlume is exactly the type of company we want to be involved with.”

SheBoot winner

Co-founded in late 2019 by Toronto’s Julie and Dave MacDonell as well as Ottawa-based software engineer Sarah Ruest, Heirlume has quickly made a name for itself. 

The startup, which aims to make it cheaper and easier for SMEs to register trademarks and protect their brands, took home the top prize of $150,000 from last fall’s inaugural SheBoot program hosted by Invest Ottawa and the Capital Angel Network. 

Ruest, a former software developer at pioneering local artificial intelligence firm MindBridge AI, said new business applications are rising faster in Canada and the U.S. than they have in the past 15 years, and the company sees huge market potential for its product. The firm plans to use the seed round to fund its pending launch south of the border.

Ruest said she and her colleagues hope Heirlume can help pave the way for more startups led by women and minority groups.  

“In the wake of social movements including MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, and equal rights for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and with COVID-19 widening economic inequality, corporations have an immense role to play,” she said in a statement. “If the next 10 unicorns reflect our diverse society, we could begin to see a culture shift.”