This story was updated with recent figures from Crunchbase.
With an audience of female entrepreneurs and investors in the room, Capital Angel Network and Invest Ottawa unveiled a new joint program Tuesday aimed at promoting funding for local startups led by women of all stripes.
During their Womxn Angel Investor Breakfast, the two organizations unveiled SheBoot, an investment-ready bootcamp bringing together the strengths and knowledge from Ottawa’s top female business leaders and tech mentors.
The breakfast is part of a series of International Womxn’s Week events held across the city – the non-traditional spelling of “womxn” is meant to explicitly include everyone who identifies as a woman, including trans and non-binary individuals.
The bootcamp looks to increase the flow of funding for female-founded firms, a tap that’s run notoriously dry worldwide. Only three per cent of venture capital went to women-led companies in 2019, according to a Crunchbase report.
Jennifer Francis, the chair of CAN, said Tuesday that the women-designed program is meant to help catalyze growth and success of women-led scalable startups here in Ottawa. In a true win-win scenario, a focus on these underrepresented companies in the startup community has recently bolstered the ranks of Francis’s organization.
“I would attribute the growth of the Capital Angel Network to these events,” she said.
“We’ve gone from under 10 per cent female to over 20 per cent female membership. Our new members are 33 per cent female, and I would largely attribute it to these types of events. And correspondingly, we’ve invested in more female founders.”
The four-week SheBoot program is designed to mentor, educate and equip women with the necessary and fundamental skills to excel in the investment world. The end of the program will feature a pitch competition where the winner will have a chance to earn up to $100,000 in investments from women angels in Ottawa.
Officials with the two organizations are under no illusions that a month of workshops will bring about gender equity in Ottawa's investment community overnight. But SheBoot could be an important step towards that goal.
“Together we build a strategy, a plan,” said Invest Ottawa vice-president Sonya Shorey. “I want to stress that it is a plan, it’s a journey with a long way to go. Our hope is to have [SheBoot] delivered more consistently and our long-term goal is to build a pipeline for future female funders.”
Panelists break down funding challenges
During Tuesday’s breakfast at Bayview Yards, Francis moderated a panel of guest speakers who each added perspectives from both the funders and the founders side of investments.
Nadine Martel, a consultant and new member of the Ottawa angel community, explained her path to investing was more about finding intent and making an impact with her money.
“I decided to invest in women entrepreneurs and Ottawa startups,” Martel told the crowd. “And I wanted to look at startups that are addressing UN sustainable development goals, since that’s important to me.”
Martel said everyone brings something to the table regardless of their background and expertise.
“We need more diversity to join the investment world. Even if you don’t have a tech background, everyone has something to offer.”
Francis noted that having more female representation and role models in higher positions helps in overall retention rates.
“Studies show that women who work in tech who have a female mentor are far more likely to stay in tech,” she said during the panel.
“About 20 to 22 per cent of the starting work force in tech companies are female, but by the executive level it drops down to about five per cent. Having a female mentor does make a difference in retention.”
Neha Kehra, partner at 500 Startups, admitted that it shocked her at first that investing was much less about numbers, data and spreadsheets than it was about relationships.
“That was a really interesting side aspect of this whole world that wasn’t very obvious at the onset,” said Kehra.
Building those bonds and encouraging networking with like-minded individuals are some of SheBoot’s goals. Workshops will also teach participants strategies for pitching and how to handle the room when potentially facing an all-male committee.
Ashleigh Kennedy, CEO of Ottawa-based concussion therapy startup Neurovine, spoke about the challenges and differences of speaking to a room full of men versus having women involved.
“The conversation can be so black and white with men,” said Kennedy. “If the room is engaged, it’s good conversation. If the room is not engaged, then the meeting is over. With women, the conversation grows and more questions are asked.”
Applications for SheBoot will be open in the coming months. For more information, click here.