And Other Exciting Fields: The Overlooked and Undervalued Contribution of Women Entrepreneurs

December 30, 2018

Hardly a day goes by – okay, let’s be real, a day never goes by – in Canada’s startup ecosystem when there isn’t news about some exciting tech startup that is:

a) disrupting its industry
b) raising millions in funding
c) taking the world by storm with its artificial intelligence (AI) offering
d) all of the above

And it’s not that surprising given, as TandemLaunch CEO Helge Seetzen pointed out in an op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail last month, that Canada “can boast world-class startup clusters in artificial intelligence, biotechnologies, fintech and other exciting fields.”

What is surprising is how easily these “other exciting fields” are overlooked and undervalued, particularly if we consider funding dollars as a proxy for interest in or value of companies in these fields. With 84% of Canadian venture capital dollars going to biotech companies and information and communications technology (ICT) (encompassing primarily AI, internet of things and fintech), businesses in “other exciting fields” share the meager remainder. It’s clear where our focus is.

At SheEO, we are in no way dismissive of AI, biotech or fintech. These are important technologies and developing a skilled workforce that allows Canadian companies to be a force in this arena is vital to our economy. SheEO is proud to count AI venture Heartbeat Ai Technologies and biotechnology company Ananda Devices among the women-owned and -led Ventures we have funded and continue to support and celebrate. But still, by narrowly focusing on the “latest and greatest” technology, we risk missing out on the immense socio-economic benefits that stand to be reaped from those fields. In fact, a quick look at some of the areas that are currently flying under the radar reveals exciting (and profitable) opportunities that are where the real action is.

Here are some examples of what’s been happening in “other exciting fields” where SheEO’s are leading the way:

ADDRESSING REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS

Wait, what? Yes, that’s right, at a time when over 3 million children die each year because of poor nutrition, vast sums of money are being invested in artificial intelligence and robotics to ensure you get a large thin-crust pepperoni delivered to your door faster.

Meanwhile, in those other exciting fields, women are creating businesses to solve real-world problems. (In fact, according to a Stanford study, less than 7% of women create businesses simply as a way to make money.)

SheEO Ventures like package-free grocery Nada and hydroponic-systems maker SucSeed continue to build and bring to market innovative solutions to reduce food waste and ensure healthy, good quality food is available for struggling communities. The Alinker, a replacement for the walker and the wheelchair, was designed by SheEO Be when she learned that 50% of people in wheelchairs can still move their legs but they lacked any device to help them stay active. The list goes on and on.

CREATING SUSTAINABLE JOBS

Zero-waste grocery store, NADA Grocery

Recently announced closings of several General Motors plants will result in tens of thousands of jobs being lost. This includes both GM workers and auto-industry workers in general for a total of roughly 17,500 auto-industry jobs lost in Ontario alone. GM has countered that while the closings will indeed bring about some job losses, their new-ish GM Technical Centre in Markham, Ontario, where they do “software-intensive work”, will create 700 new jobs for software engineers.

While not questioning GM or their strategy, it is worth pointing out – as many have – that technical disruption, including AI, machine learning and robotics, will likely result in significant job loss for both blue- and white-collar workers in the coming years.

Meanwhile, in other exciting fields, women entrepreneurs are focused on creating sustainable work that benefits not just them, but their employees and their communities. This is in line with a United Nations Global Marketplace finding indicating that “up to 90 % of the earnings of women-owned businesses tend to be reinvested in their families and communities”.

SheEO Ventures continue to successfully figure out how to grow businesses that create jobs, not take them away. Examples include Skipper Otto’s, whose business model supports community-based fisheries and, in so doing, protects the long-term health of the marine ecosystem, Abeego, maker of reusable beeswax wrap that is committed to paying their workers a living wage, and Halifax-based Made with Local, a Venture that provides work for people with barriers to mainstream employment.

WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS: CAPITALIZING ON THE WORLD’S LARGEST EMERGING MARKET

Lunapads

Women represent the world’s largest emerging market. Not only is the female market more than twice the size of India and China combined, by 2028, female consumers will control around $15 trillion of global consumer spending. Because they are uniquely positioned to understand the needs of this currently underserved half of the global population, women entrepreneurs are cleaning up in this market.

SheEO Venture Lunapads, which offers sustainable period-product alternatives while opening the up the conversation around a woman’s cycle, has released six new products and seen revenue growth of over 44% since becoming a Venture in 2015. The company has received numerous awards and accolades for their leadership around sustainability, diversity and inclusion and thanks to their customers choosing Lunapads over traditional period products, is helping to divert over 2 million pads and tampons from landfills every month. Their zero waste manufacturing process has resulted in over 3000 pounds of textiles being diverted from landfills over the past 2 years (which is repurposed into furniture or other soft goods).

Or consider SheEO  Hayley Mullins. When her baby accidentally rolled off her chest while the two were enjoying skin-to-skin bonding, Mullins began searching for a solution that would let her safely keep her daughter secure and that was comfortable for Mullins and her baby to wear on an extended basis.  She tried every sling, wrap, and carrier on the market that would allow for skin-to-skin contact but when nothing fit the bill, Mullins designed one herself. In 2013, Sleepbelt was born and became a game-changer for babies and mothers everywhere.

TECHNOLOGY USED TO ADDRESS A PROBLEM, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND

The Alinker

The majority of women entrepreneurs are not in the tech sector but that doesn’t mean they are less technically savvy than their male counterparts. The difference, according to a report for Cisco Systems on women entrepreneurs’ adoption and use of technology, is that because women are more likely to have service-oriented businesses, they see technology as a tool to make their businesses more efficient and effective, rather than looking at it as core to the business itself. In time, as that technology develops, it often becomes a product or business line in its own right.

Male entrepreneurs, who are more likely to be in the tech sector, are more likely to develop the technology and then go searching for applications for it. (Just google “technology that is a solution looking for a problem” and you’ll find oodles of examples, the vast majority of which – including, blockchain technology which is at the top of the list – were not created by women.) This lack of a raison d’être for many technical products does not seem to be deterring investors. Often it’s because technical businesses are low cost and the potential – emphasis on the word “potential” – to scale is big. This alone is enough, at least initially, for investors. Being profitable (hello Uber) or revenue generating is of secondary concern. Investors are taking a calculated risk but it’s a gamble nevertheless.

WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS ARE GETTING TO PROFITABILITY EARLIER AND SCALING

The Empathy Toy, created by 21Toys

According to data analyzed from the U.S. Census Bureau, Dow Jones, the Harvard Business Review and other sources, female-owned firms generate higher revenues and create more jobs than their male-owned peers. They also have a higher appetite for growth.

WOMEN ARE CREATING AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT MODEL FOR FUNDING, CELEBRATING AND SUPPORTING WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS

Women entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones having a profound effect in the startup ecosystem. SheEO has developed a radically different model, based on the concept of Radical Generosity, for funding, supporting and celebrating women entrepreneurs. At SheEO, we’re not levelling the playing field, we’re creating an entirely different field. Read more about what makes SheEO different, then come join us there.

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