SheBoot looks to narrow widening gender gap in VC funding

SheBoot launch 2020
From left, Invest Ottawa co-chair and numbercrunch's Susan Richards, P2Peak Consulting principal Ella Mar, 500 Startups partner Neha Khera, Neurovine CEO Ashleigh Kennedy, consultant and angel investor Nadine Martel, Capital Angel Network chair Jennifer Francis and Invest Ottawa vice-president Sonya Shorey gather at last year's Womxn Angel Investor Breakfast where SheBoot was launched. File photo

With global VC funding to women-led companies falling during the pandemic, new fundraising avenues for female founders are more important than ever, says the co-founder of an Ottawa program aimed at addressing the financing gap.

Jennifer Francis is one of the driving forces behind SheBoot, a month-long bootcamp backed by Invest Ottawa and the Capital Angel Network that provides funding and mentorship to 10 local women entrepreneurs. 

Earlier this week, SheBoot announced it has begun accepting applications for its second cohort that will run later this year. The program will culminate in a pitchfest with a minimum of $100,000 in investment on the table from local women angel investors as well as $100,000 in funding from FedDev Ontario, with $10,000 allocated to each participant.

“We know the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women, and we also know investing in female founders is the key to fuelling economic growth,” Francis, who is also the chair of the Capital Angel Network, said in a statement. 

“We need more women investors working together to build the next generation of investment-ready women-led and owned firms in Ottawa. SheBoot will help to achieve this goal, open up new investment opportunities for female founders in our region and prepare them for capital-intensive global markets.”

'Lessons learned'

According to business data platform Crunchbase, companies with female founders received just 2.3 per cent of all global VC funding in 2020, down from 2.9 per cent in 2019. Women-led startups landed a total of $4.9 billion in venture capital last year, a 27 per cent drop from the year before.

Sonya Shorey, Invest Ottawa’s vice-president of strategy and communications, said SheBoot’s goal is to help create the city’s first $100-million woman-led company. 

“Our second cohort will benefit from the lessons learned during our inaugural year that have made our program even stronger,” she said. “As women founders face even greater investment challenges during the pandemic, this training is more important than ever.”

The winner of last fall’s inaugural SheBoot pitchfest was intellectual property lawyer Julie MacDonell. She took home $150,000 in funding for her startup, Heirlume, which helps small businesses register trademarks.

Valuable relationships

In a statement, MacDonell said programs such as SheBoot are “lifesavers” for women-owned companies like hers that struggle to raise capital from traditional sources.

“They are critical to our success and the success of many other women-led firms,” she said. “SheBoot equipped us with training, expertise and funding that will help catalyze our long-term growth, sustainability and success.”

Audrey Bond, who earned $50,000 as runner-up at last year’s pitchfest, said she gained “invaluable skills and relationships” from the program.

“It is very challenging to launch and grow a tech startup,” said the founder of Vaultt, which makes a communication platform for families and caregivers. “Few succeed, and women founders have an even steeper hill to climb.”

This year’s bootcamp will run from Sept. 13 to Oct. 23, and participants must be prepared to commit at least one day a week to the program. Women founders can apply for the next SheBoot cohort here.