More than 60 angel investors, entrepreneurs, partners and sponsors filled a room in Toronto last week to hear about why such investments are vital for Canada and to listen to pitches from some high-potential early-stage technology companies led by women.
In her speech, Dr. Cindy Gordon, a startup founder and former VC who also co-founded MLA, directed the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and chaired CanWit, brought some valuable context to the conversation.
“In order for us to really be successful in supporting women in technology, we have to recognize that we have some fundamental issues that are catastrophic to this country,” said Dr. Gordon. “This is not a women’s issue. It’s a business imperative.”
While women represent 47 percent of the overall Canadian workforce, only 30 percent of the Canadian Advanced Technology Sectors workforce are women, and an even smaller percentage are managers, according to CanWit. In addition, Dr. Gordon highlighted in her presentation that 52 percent of highly qualified females working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics will quit their jobs within the first 10 years of their careers.
According to a World Economic Forum report, a major issue that threatens Canada’s economy is our declining innovation rates, which is partly due to the fact that we’re not focusing on building our R&D capacity in information technology, or doing enough to support careers in technology.
Dr. Gordon says women could contribute hugely to strengthening this area of our economy. But that starts with supporting young girls, especially those between the ages of six and 12, to pursue careers in technology.
A report from The American Association of University Women on the state of women in technology found that “stereotypes can lower girls’ aspirations for science and engineering careers over time.”
Furthermore, this study found that “negative stereotypes about girls’ abilities in math can measurably lower girls’ test performances,” but “When test administrators tell students that girls and boys are equally capable in math … the difference in performance essentially disappears, illustrating that changes in the learning environment can improve girls’ achievements in math.”
The AAUW said to get more women in technology-related careers, we must cultivate girls’ achievements, interest, and persistence in science and engineering, create college environments that support women in science and technology, and counteract bias.
CanWit is working hard in all of these areas, with a mandate to:
- Encourage young women to enter the technology field
- Accelerate, retain and support women in the field
- Offer a premium platform for entrepreneurs, investors, and industry experts to meet great women-led technology-based businesses
On that final point, MLA said that the two women-led startups that presented at last week’s event, Rent Frock Repeat and Amika Mobile, have already generated a great deal of investment interest from its members – testament to just how important these kinds of events are for supporting Canadian women in technology.
“(It) was a very enjoyable and productive investment event,” said MLA’s spokesperson. “We hope to be able to report that Monday’s event resulted in two strong women-led companies closing their funding rounds through MLA with the support from CanWit.”
Keynote speaker and serial entrepreneur Krista LaRiviere further emphasized the importance of providing opportunities for women founders to meet potential investors by sharing her story of how she founded gShift Labs.
“The reality of the startup is that you’re not getting a pay cheque for months, and months, and months, maybe even years, and you’re putting your own investment in it and trying to get everybody to follow your craziness,” said LaRiviere. She said the fundamental reason why gShift was successful was her insane focus on raising money, which meant talking with investors and whomever she thought could be a prospective customer.
As angel investment in Canada continues to rise, it’s vital that more attention is given to women-led technology companies to support innovation in this country. But this movement requires more cooperation between angel groups and the organizations that support women entrepreneurs. Bravo, MLA and CanWit, for leading the charge.