(10 minute read)
When I was a little girl, I had no idea what I was going to be when I grew up. I was raised in a single parent household with my younger half sister. We moved around a lot, and life wasn’t without its challenges. We didn’t have a lot of money, in fact I watched our mother take on the risk of opening a home salon only to see her struggle with bankruptcy a few years later.
I was reminded of this not long ago, when I watched Komal Minhas (investor in my recently launched venture, The Founders Fund) interview Michelle Obama, in Ottawa. One of the many thoughts that Michelle shared and resonated with me was “Kid’s can’t be what they can’t see, if we show them, they can rise to the occasion.” It made sense why I lacked any sort of imagination in terms of dreaming about who I would become when I was older. I don’t fault my mother. She did the best she could with what she knew and what she had. My mother also had me at the young age of 17. We actually grew up together in a lot of ways. I grew through childhood, and she through adulthood, at the same time. We were both in a way, trying to figure out who we wanted to be.
Flash forward a few years later, and after struggling my way through three different high schools (confession, I also did grade 9 math three times) I graduated. I not only graduated but I became the first person in my family to receive a high school diploma. I did not graduate because I was ‘textbook smart’. I graduated because throughout high school, I was blessed with an unexpected friendship. My high school sweetheart’s mother, Louise Rose. Louise, for whatever reason, as she says, “always saw something in me.” Louise is the type of woman who is kind but strong, patient but with high expectations. A woman who constantly serves the needs of others before herself in order to see those close to her thrive. Louise would open her home to me, at times when I didn’t feel I had a home. She made me feel safe, and in return I felt I could work hard enough, make her proud, and finish high school.
Now it was time to think about college. Except, I knew my reality. I would likely take a year off to work and save money because I couldn’t afford school and I was anxious about the idea of taking on student debt, especially after seeing what debt did to my mother. Louise wasn’t having any of that though. Louise went out of her way to figure out how she could make it work within her own family's limited budget, and insisted that I had no choice but to go to college. Because if I took a year off, it might be more than a year and who knows if I’d go to school at all by that point. Reluctantly, I accepted her generosity and when I asked “why me,” she simply said “because why not you?”
Louise invested in me before I ever invested in myself. I never forgot that act of generosity and the importance and responsibility we have of investing in potential. Investing in your own potential, and others’.
"Louise invested in me before I ever invested in myself. I never forgot that act of generosity and the importance and responsibility we have of investing in potential. Investing in your own potential, and the potential of others"
Because of Louise's investment in me, I completed my Hospitality Management program and became the first person in my family to go to, and graduate from college.
Armoured with this attitude and audacity behind “because why not you,” I’ve spent nearly 10 years in hospitality leadership in worldly cities which are traditionally largely male dominated. I then went on to work in tech at Shopify for 5 years while growing what is now a 7 figure side hustle, Tease Tea. Tease Tea is a values first tea company that supports programs dedicated to empowering women, including through my personal passion, entrepreneurship with our very own Founders Fund. In 2019, we supported over 200 women entrepreneurs across the country to gain access to mentorship and resources while also providing non repayable funding to 5 businesses. Thanks to the dozens of incredible funders and mentors behind it who committed to pay their success forward, what was supposed to be a small program under Tease Tea has now grown into it’s own social enterprise on track to support 500+ women in 2020.
As we head into International Women’s Week, I want us to not only celebrate women entrepreneurs, but I want us to think about how we can invest in women entrepreneurs. According to BDC stats, the number of women entrepreneurs has quadrupled (from 49,000 to 241,00) over the past 40 years, and the number of women entrepreneurs has grown 3 times faster than men. Today, women represent about 28% of entrepreneurs, and only 16% are majority-owned women businesses.
I am not the expert on these stats but I think it’s helpful to share them to demonstrate the progress we are seeing, and that there is still a lot of room for improvement.
3 Ways You Can Invest in Women Entrepreneurs:
1) Practice Allyship
Allyship is about more than simply saying you support women. More than ever, we need mentors and sponsors to step up, advocate, pay their success forward, and invest their time to support women entrepreneurs and women in business.
Do you know a woman who would be a great candidate for an opportunity? Personally refer or recommend them. Coach them through applying, tap them on the shoulder and say “Hey, I saw this opportunity come up, and I think you would be exceptional for it because _____”
"Research shows that in order to apply for a job women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria while men usually apply after meeting about 60%"
Research shows that in order to apply for a job women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria while men usually apply after meeting about 60%. LinkedIn behavioral data backs this up — women tend to screen themselves out of the conversation and end up applying to 20% fewer jobs than men. Ironically, though they are less likely to apply, they are often more likely to get hired.
The confidence barrier, though difficult to see sometimes, is very real and we all need to do our part to help others break through it to see their potential and invest in themselves. Sometimes it starts with investing in someone first.
2)Check your Unconscious Bias
Supporting women entrepreneurs begins with putting business sense before bias. Last week I was invited to a G7 United Nations luncheon to hear a panel discussion about the importance of women entrepreneurship in innovation and on the economy.
In a sea of corporate suits, I wore an outfit that stood out, and it was clear I was younger than most guests. At the end of the event, I introduced myself to one of the other guests, and her immediate response was “are you one of the event organizers?” I could feel her slight embarrassment as I shared I was not an event organizer, and owned two businesses while working in leadership at Shopify. While her intent was only positive, it’s important to take the time to think about our intent before speaking or responding.
While that’s a small example of unconscious bias, we need to constantly challenge who comes to mind when we hear the word leader, founder, CEO, etc before making assumptions. When it comes to fundraising, unconscious bias is even more challenging.
Most gender equality studies focusing on fundraising indicate that female entrepreneurs struggle to obtain equal access to finance compared with men. Also, the cheques written to female founders tend to be smaller. The average VC funding deal for female-led companies in 2017 was just over $5-million while, for male-led organizations, it was just shy of $12 million.
According to a recent Globe and Mail article, this discrepancy is due in part to unconscious bias, for example, in credit scoring and investment evaluations. Another barrier is that most sources of capital for startups are often deeply rooted in all-male networks. Most holders of capital come from groups that are not particularly diverse. For example, only 7% of partners at the top 100 venture capital firms in the United States are women. Within Canada, the number is double that, with 14% of partners at major Canadian firms being women.
Whether consciously or not, we tend to hire individuals that are similar to us, and we can see some of these same biases play out when it comes to where VC’s like to invest their dollars. For example, venture capital firms with no female partners are more likely to invest in businesses with all-male founding teams.
3)Share Your Story
If you’ve had a positive impact on a woman entrepreneur through demonstrating allyship, share that with your family, network and peers so that they might be inspired to take action and do the same. If you’ve been self aware enough to realize you may have acted with unconscious bias, (it's okay, we all do it!) share that story and experience so that others might recognize before or when they do slip up. If you are a woman who has started a business, be it a success or failure—tell the world all about it. The more we talk about the challenges and successes that exist, the more we can all learn from them.
But why does all of this matter?
Tying into this year's International Women’s Day theme of “Generation Equality,” new data shows if men and women participated equally as entrepreneurs the GDP could rise by $5 trillion globally, and $80 billion in Canada.
My hope for the future of entrepreneurship is that programs like what we’ve created at The Founders Fund support, elevate, and create more women entrepreneurs. Research shows, time and time again, that companies with diverse leadership teams deliver higher profits, more revenue, and better innovation.
Investing in women entrepreneurs is not only good for equality, it’s good for the economy. Our team of Funders, Mentors and Members at the Founders Fund are committed to working together to build Canada’s first digital growth accelerator to support this mission. One day, we plan to do it globally.
It’s never too early or too late - What are you doing to pay your success forward?
Written by Sheena Brady, Founder: Tease Tea & The Founders Fund