Startup Stories: Women in Tech

Startup Stories: Women in Tech

Platform Calgary is a non-profit, member based organization. Our mandate is to bring together the resources of Calgary's tech ecosystem to help startups launch and grow at every step of their journey, from ideation through to scale.

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“Our survey confirms what many already know from experience – the tech startup world remains male-dominated,” opens a Startup Genome article sharing that only 15% of tech startup founders are women.

The results of the survey across 67 global ecosystems looked at how many of the 5,469 respondents reported having at least one female founder. They then found the total number of female founders in an ecosystem by dividing the total number of female founders by the number of founders surveyed – which came out at just 15%.

The good news is that Calgary startups score above average, with 20-30% of tech startup founders identifying as women.

In Platform Calgary programs, we see even higher numbers:

  • Since launching in January 2022, Alberta Catalyzer (a collaborative pre-accelerator program between Platform Calgary and Edmonton Unlimited), 38% of applicant companies have had at least one founder that identifies as female.
  • In 2023 for far, 33% of participants in Platform’s earlier stage programming (Startup Essentials and Discover), identify as female.
  • Finally, 50% of the founders actively engaged in the first cohort of the Platform Incubator identify as female.

In an effort to see the number of women tech founders increase, we’re highlighting a few who are making their mark on Calgary’s tech community – celebrating them for all they’ve accomplished, and creating more visibility for women in tech.  

Meet three women entrepreneurs who are making strides (in order, left to right in image):

Sally Leonard, Founder of The Virtual Market

Tell us about your startup.

Sally: “The Virtual Market is an online platform that helps local makers and artists promote their businesses. We get them paid faster and harness their community to help them grow in a competitive online environment. We've been in business for 2.5 years now and have evolved a lot during that time. But the one thing that has stayed true is our dedication to providing a space for local artists and makers to thrive.”

Mary: “​​Wilma is North America’s first women driving women membership ride service platform. Wilma offers an alternative for women and gender diverse individuals who want to travel or drive safely in the gig economy. The name Wilma is rooted in safety, meaning resolute protector.”

Rana: “Solis is a biosafety cosmetic company creating the next generation of intelligent sanitation. At Solis we envision a world where cosmetic consumption is not only safe and efficient, but also ecologically responsible and personalized.”

What’s the best part about being a woman founder?

Sally: “I'm trying to step into the role of a female founder which is new and unexpected. But I'm trying really hard to embrace that title and hold it proudly. The communities surrounding me have been incredible. There's an abundance of people that want to see myself and my 93% female vendor base succeed. And that's pretty special. Outside of "business" the community is the best for sure!”

Mary: “As a co-founder, I am telling the Wilma story often. It’s a hard reality to know the abuse of women and gender diverse people happens daily in the ride hail industry and is one of the most underreported criminal activities. Knowledge is power and that power is our fuel, which is by empowering women to travel unbothered in their cities. My inspiration and privilege is hearing on a daily basis the difference Wilma will make in the communities we will be serving.”  

Rana: “The opportunity to serve as a role model and mentor for other aspiring women entrepreneurs. Being a startup founder in the beauty health tech space and meeting fellow female founders in various tech sectors has certainly been one of the highlights in my startup journey. Having grown up with parents who owned and operated hair salons throughout Calgary has ingrained the value of customer care and sharing in their life journey, because a life worth living is one filled with good people helping good people.”

What’s the most challenging part of being a woman founder?

Mary Morrison, Co-Founder & SVP Partnerships at  Wilma

Sally: “For me, it's been overcoming the learned behaviors and prejudice that we, as women grow up with. Being passive comes very naturally. It means I can be more ‘likeable’ but doesn't do me any favours in running a business. I'm constantly battling myself with simple things like charging for services, giving constructive feedback and setting boundaries with my time. I'm very fortunate to have a supportive husband, but it's also been difficult to build a business while balancing a family during a pandemic. All the women reading this know exactly what I'm saying. The expectations for women, caregivers in particular, during the last couple of years have been insane; the pressure to fulfill those support roles has been outrageous. Unreasonable. So to step outside of that; to create a boundary, and then to defend that boundary to others and myself has been the most challenging part for me for sure.”  

Mary: “Wilma is a new offering in the rideshare space. Shining a light on the problem we are addressing is sometimes difficult to accept, reported incidents of assault across North America surpassed 30 Million! Building a membership platform has unique challenges compared to just a plug and play white label app. As founders we made a decision early on that “safety” isn’t just an external feature of Wilma, as our technology needs to mirror our value proposition. Wilma riders and drivers need to know their information is safe and their data is fully protected for PII compliance. Fundraising is challenging when you are running a very nimble agile startup and wearing multiple hats. Collaborating with city stakeholder groups are crucial in supporting the “safe city” commitments within their communities. As Terri Phipps (co-founder/ceo) says weekly in our strat meetings… “It takes a village!”

Rana: “Being female, especially in the beauty tech space in Calgary, has been a unique experience. The beauty industry in Calgary is growing and the adoption of Solis between pro artists and makeup enthusiasts have been astounding. What is interesting and has been really insightful yet challenging is the apprehension of Calgarian and Canadian VC’s. Conversely, on my recent trip to Paris for the Hello Tomorrow tech event, I was surprised by how many European VC’s were interested and investing heavily in the beauty and health tech sector. I am hopeful that this will soon change among Canadian VC’s”.

Rana Hyatt, Founder of Solis

Do you have any advice for other women interested in tech? What do you want others to know about being a woman in tech?

Sally: “If I've done anything right it's been recognizing what I don't know. Building a really solid team of experts that I trust has been crucial. Pair that with really not being self conscious when something comes up that I feel like I'm supposed to know but don't, and I think that's what has helped me through a lot. If I was hard on myself every time I didn't know something, I would have given up a long time ago!”

Mary: “Firstly, before you leave your good paying jobs, research the hell out of the problem you are looking to solve. Get intimate with the industry. Find industry leaders that can assist with the ‘behind the curtain’ in that industry. Next, test your solution (ideally through a 3rd party) that people will pay for your product or service, be flexible in your ‘go to market’ strategies as customers will show you what’s working and build for ‘good enough’ not ‘great,’ then engage user feedback channels. Find your community! This includes building your team – who you are bringing into the company is a reflection of you as a founder and your brand. Remember this is a crawl, walk, run journey and you will fall back a few times before you stand steady, but if it’s your end game to solve a problem and make an impact, then get building!”

Rana: “My advice to fellow female founders is to ask for help. The Calgary startup community is incredibly vast and the people in it are so supportive and generous with their time, insight, and love to help – so don’t be shy to ask for help and be sure to return the favour to your fellow founders. Together we thrive and it’s never out of style to be kind. I cannot express the gratitude I have for the wonderfully talented people in the Calgary startup community that have been incredibly supportive and contributed in fast tracking our startup’s success.”

What are you trying to achieve with your startup in the next year – how can our community help?

Sally: “We spent a lot of time researching the needs of Makers and Artists and so we had a cap on capacity that we could serve. Now that our platform has launched we are ready to take on new vendors and support more entrepreneurs, we need help spreading the word about what we offer. So if you have any connections that you think would be a good fit for us, we'd love a warm introduction. It can be a Maker, someone in the industry that is a service provider or someone that you think would be interested in what we are doing and how we are changing the landscape for small shops - we'd love to connect!”

Mary: “This year is all about introducing and building the Wilma brand, product roadmapping to improve UI/UX, optimizing key learnings and creating a playbook for future city openings. Our platform relies heavily on the network effect as more people use our service, the service will become more valuable and Wilma will attract more attention. Expertise in that area would be appreciated. Any support as it relates to fundraising/grant opportunities are crucial right now as well as stakeholder introductions in major city centres, including Calgary.

Rana: “In the next year we plan to grow our team and partner with industry leaders as we continue our mission to empower cosmetic consumers worldwide to make conscious, sustainable and informed choices by providing them with the necessary resources and technology to decrease their environmental footprint and enhance their overall well-being. If you are passionate about beauty tech and know a pro makeup artist or makeup enthusiast we’d love for you to connect them with us!

There’s still plenty of work to do, but Calgary has some great resources to help: Chic Geek, The51, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs & Toast.

Published on

May 17, 2023


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