Ottawa’s Welbi, Thawrih headed to Silicon Valley for SoGal global pitchfest finals

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Inclusively, a forthcoming co-working space focused on diverse entrepreneurs, wins the audience favourite award at SoGal's Ottawa pitchfest. Photo by Craig Lord
Editor's Note

This article has been updated with proper dates and name spellings.

Two local companies are headed to San Francisco to compete in a global pitchfest after earning a spot at the regional SoGal competition in Ottawa.

Ottawa-based Welbi, a platform to reduce administrative burden in senior care homes, as well as Thawrih, which makes sport hijabs and turbans, secured their spots in the global SoGal competition Thursday night. A Montreal-based furniture-as-a-service company, Fülhaus, rounded out the three qualifiers from the regional competition.

The SoGal Foundation hosts a global competition for companies led by diverse founders. Sixteen startups, mostly led by women, stepped to the plate Thursday evening at the SoGal pitchfest in Ottawa, held at CanvasPop headquarters on Hamilton Avenue.

The three finalists will head to San Francisco in late February to pitch against other qualifiers from 25 cities across the globe, all competing for a shot at seed funding and other resources provided through SoGal Ventures and Draper U.

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Welbi CEO Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau pitches at the SoGal Ottawa competition on Thursday, Nov. 28. Photo by Alexandria Preston

Thursday evening’s pitchfest culminates the first year of SoGal events in Ottawa. The local chapter, the only one thus far in Canada, has been led by Zainab Muse and Nickie Shobeiry, two Ottawa-based creative entrepreneurs.

The two first met through Creatorland, a documentary project focused on diverse entrepreneurs in Ottawa that premiered roughly a year ago. They decided to carry the doc’s momentum forward under the SoGal banner through events focused on topics such as pitching a business and bouncing back from previous failures.

SoGal’s focus on diverse entrepreneurs attracted an equally wide range of companies pitching Thursday night. Many founders presented business opportunities targeted at women, such as at-home hormone testing and organic skin-care products. Others focused on social good applications or creative industries such as fashion and music.

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Zainab Muse stands centre with co-organizer Nickie Shobeiry (to her right) and their volunteer team at the SoGal pitchfest in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 28. Photo by Alexandria Preston

Having a supportive community in the room at SoGal Ottawa events has been a clear focus for the organizers and their committee of volunteers, Shobeiry told Techopia after the evening’s pitches wrapped up. The crowd’s energy that night clearly reflected that mission: founders who appeared to struggle through their pitches received the most fervent applause as they walked offstage.

“It’s very important to us that everyone felt at home and at ease,” Shobeiry said.

Muse told Techopia that looking out at the volunteers, individual entrepreneurs and sponsor businesses that came out to cheer on the founders Thursday evening felt like an expression of “Ubuntu,” an African-born philosophy that encourages warmth and support among members of a community.

“That’s what we're hoping to encourage,” she said. The organizers also noted that anyone who might be interested in supporting the three local finalists on their trip to Silicon Valley next year should reach out to them directly.

The pitchfest event marked the end of Shobeiry and Muse’s tenure leading SoGal Ottawa. The team behind Nurtured Life, an Ottawa startup focused on at-home wellness services, will pick up the torch in the new year as the original organizers move on to new creative projects.

“We felt good about it ​– we felt like we accomplished what we set out to do,” Muse said.

The SoGal global finals begin on Feb. 27, 2020.