The DMZ’s Women Founders Summit wrapped up this week after focusing on funding and pitching opportunities for female entrepreneurs.

The DMZ, Toronto Metropolitan University’s business incubator for early-stage technology startups, hosted the summit in honour of International Women’s Day and was designed to highlight women founders disrupting the Canadian tech space.

According to reports from First Round Capital and data from the Government of Canada, investments in women-founded startups perform 63 per cent better than male-founded ones, but women entrepreneurs in Canada receive only four per cent of Venture Capital funding.

Source: The DMZ

The second year of this event looks to support female founders by giving them the opportunity to pitch up to 50 angels for an investment through the Firehood, an angel group committed to fuelling women-led tech innovations.

The DMZ’s Women Founders Summit also officially unveiled the second annual winners of the DMZ’s Women of the Year.

Curated by the Canadian tech community, over 800 nominations for the award were submitted. Among the 18 award recipients is Kelly Emery—founder of Troop and one of the women who pitched at the summit. 

Kelly Emery, CEO and founder of Troop.

Emery founded Troop, a social enterprise that helps small to midsize businesses run social impact programs, after a previous personal finance marketplace startup she co-founded was acquired by a pension fund at the end of 2018.

“I wanted to start a ‘tech for good’ business. I embarked on a bit of a research journey to discover what the problems were in the sector and how I might be able to leverage my skill sets to play a part in a solution,” she said.

Through her research, Emery says she was “blown away” by the decline in charitable engagement within business and tech. 

“I was a really strong believer that the decline in charitable engagement wasn’t a reflection of people being less generous or less compassionate. They just didn’t always know where their generosity was needed.”

The beginnings of Troop started with a weekly text message being sent to community members in the west end of Toronto every Sunday. The reminders would highlight a local need, such as bedsheets for a women’s shelter. 

Emery started to get positive feedback from community members involved, and eventually Troop was truly formed.

Today, this is how Troop works:

A business signs up for Troop and commits to fulfilling a certain number of local needs in their community. Troop sends out a curated list of those needs, such as items for local women’s shelter or digital devices for children, to a few of the businesses’ employees. 

The businesses then choose the needs that they want to fulfill that month – “The cause that resonates most with them,” Emery said. 

Troop processes the request at the end of the month, and sends back video messages, pictures and thank you notes from those who received help to the businesses who helped. 

And while Troop was able to become a successful company due to its unique concept, Emery notes that she did face some challenges getting the company to where it is today, which was unlike her previous experience with startups.

“When I first entered the tech space, it was with my [male] partner,” she said. “I didn’t personally experience much of a challenge in terms of getting [that company] started.”

However, running a business as a female founder came with some setbacks. 

“Starting Troop as a solo female founder. I definitely see the challenges that exist in in doing that, particularly around fundraising and raising capital,” she noted.

“The discrepancy that exists around the lack of funding available to support female founders is really important to highlight because that’s the only way that we’re going to be able to move the dial.” 

Data from Crunchbase found that in 2019, 2.8 per cent of funding went to women-led startups; in 2020, that fell to 2.3 per cent. 

Emery isn’t the only one of the DMZ Women of the Year who faced issues with funding. 

Sumathi Pundit, founder and CEO of Kaitongo, is also being honoured at the DMZ event, and pitched at the summit.

Kaitongo is a client news and insights platform curated by artificial intelligence (AI) and validated by humans to power go-to-market and sales teams.

Sumathi Pundit, founder and CEO of Kaitongo. Source: The DMZ

Pundit says that she’s been an entrepreneur for years, but Kaitongo is her first tech startup.

“I am an engineer by training. When I came back to technology, I found that engineering backgrounds have really served me well to to run a business like this, but particularly the combination of the technology knowledge and the business knowledge.” 

Kaitongo was officially founded in 2018 and had its first product to market in 2021.

Like Emery, she found entering the technology space as a female leader had its challenges, Pundit said, citing the lack of women involved in STEM careers in general.

“If you look at the lack of women in STEM and extend that over to women who are then founding technology companies, you’re down to a really, really small set of people.”

Pundit added that the recurring challenge she sees is the capital race process.

“The capital race – if you add another layer of Bay Street and Bay Street players — you have a very male dominated scene. I would talk to my male colleagues from business school and they’re like ‘well he walked into a meeting and he just asked for $5 million in commodity,’” she said. “What is that? That’s not what I experienced.”

Pundit said that there are many inherent biases that women have to face, and that this is not an unknown fact.

A 2021 article from Harvard Business Review reports that only about 12 per cent of decision makers at VC firms are women, and most firms still don’t have a single female partner. Of the partners at these firms, only 2.4 per cent are female founding partners — the people responsible for controlling an outsized proportion of a firm’s investment decisions.

But both Emery and Pundit echoed similar sentiments, saying events like the DMZ’s summit help promote women in tech and support female entrepreneurs. 

Pundit said she hopes she’s able to inspire young women with her work and emphasized the importance of highlighting women in business and tech.

“It’s very important to continue providing young women with role models and examples of people who’ve overcome these challenges.”

Emery agreed, adding that representation is vital.

“It’s all about getting more women in tech and leading businesses, because I think that we’re creating the types of things that are going to help address some of the biggest challenges that our world is facing right now, she said. “We need to promote and support women in tech and female founders, but also highlight the disconnect, so that we can actually start to close the gap.” 

The post International Women’s Day: DMZ’s Women of the Year first appeared on IT World Canada.

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