Always at the forefront of innovation, the venture capital industry has a remarkable record of funding entrepreneurs during the genesis of their society-changing companies. It’s a history that has had quite an impact—firms like Google, Facebook and Uber have proven to be game changers in how we interact with the world. One of the criticisms levelled against this industry has been the relatively low number of women-led startups that have benefitted from this forward-looking capital. In fact, one US estimate is that only seven percent of startups are founded by women.
The CVCA, on its last trip to Montreal, came across a few notable women and men working at Canadian venture capital firms who are making extraordinary commitments of their time to counter this systemic problem. Éléonore Jarry of Brightspark Ventures and Sylvain Carle of Real Ventures have been volunteering through an initiative called Technovation to inspire young girls to get involved in technology entrepreneurship. They have been acting as mentors to girls ages 10-18 to find a problem in their community, develop a mobile app, and launch a startup.
Jarry, Brightspark’s Investment and Financial Manager says she’s absolutely humbled to be a part of such an influential initiative, notably because it allows her to give back and contribute to a predominant issue in today’s society. “I’ve been lucky to work alongside many powerful, inspiring women at Brightspark—from our managing partner, Sophie, to the many tech founders we invest in. And I think it’s important for me give back some of that energy to the next generation of women in tech,” she says.
“I’ve experienced the power of having a strong female mentor and role model—Technovation offers that to young girls,” Jarry adds.
Female leaders are important for the attitudes and ambitions of young women. According to a 2012 study from MIT, “Seeing women in charge persuaded parents and teens that women can run things, and increased their ambitions. Changing perceptions and giving hope can have an impact on reality.”
Sylvain Carle, who is the General Manager of FounderFuel and a General Partner Real Ventures has been running a series of roundtable discussions for women in the tech/VC community, with the help of Emma Williams, who is the Director of Montreal-based Notman House. Much of the roundtable discussions focus precisely on female empowerment, with a particular emphasis on the ways industry can make the startup culture more inclusive.
“With all consideration, we haven’t been able to move the needle in women applying in the tech industry,” Carle says, explaining that these roundtable discussions they’re facilitating are about addressing the obvious diversity gap, helping to figure out the root of the problem and finding the appropriate solutions to fix it.
Carle acknowledges the industry is slowly heading in the right direction through initiatives like diversity tracking in Canada, California, and throughout the United States that are raising the awareness to the issue.
“This is a continuous effort. We don’t want to only address this once a year on International Women’s Day. Let’s have a series of roundtable discussions on a monthly, or bi-monthly basis.”
In the 2015 Netflix documentary Codegirl, Lesley Chilcott (producer of An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud), follows a handful of young women as they navigate their way through the Technovation competition. The documentary highlights young girls tackling a diversity of problems and succeeding with the help of female mentors. 10,000 girls in 78 countries have experienced their global program in the seven years since its inception and have developed mobile apps and startups to solve problems around a diverse range of problems, including food waste, nutrition, women’s safety and much more. Their main long term goal is to influence the next generation of women to not just be consumers of technology, but engage as creators and innovators.
“Most girls use mobile phones, but what if they could also use them as tools for change?” asks Stéphanie Jecrois, Cofounder Technovation Montréal. “We want to help young women realize that they have the capacity to make a difference. The Technovation program is a way for them to realize the impact they can have in society by creating solutions to issues in their communities. In so doing, they will evolve from mere tech users into agents for change. Our ambition is to contribute to young women entrepreneurial growth in the IT sector in Montréal.”
Initiatives such as Technovation and women like Carle and Jarry, however, aren’t the only ones working to address Canada’s gender gap. Yesterday, BDC and MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund (IAF)—a seed-stage investor funded by the Province of Ontario and managed by MaRS—announced the first closing of a new women-focused fund, StandUp Ventures Fund I.
This new fund will invest in Canadian pre-seed and seed-stage high-growth, efficient ventures in health, IT and cleanteach. Qualifying investments will have at least one female founder in a c-level role.
The CVCA is proud of people like Sylvain Carle and Éléonore Jarry who are making positive impacts through their efforts in our Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem. If you want to learn more Technovation Montréal please contact [email protected].