Women-identified entrepreneurs from every corner of the globe are crushing the startup game, and that includes founders in the DMZ’s Women Founders Fast Track program.  These startups are creating innovative solutions to tech problems and are transforming the finance, business, and retail sectors, among several others.

The Women Founders Fast Track program puts high-potential founders on the fast track to success by equipping participants with the mentorship and resources needed to lead and grow an early-stage startup.

Ever wonder how a successful entrepreneur got started?

We asked six women founders in the program to share what inspired or motivated them to build their startups, and what advice they’d give other aspiring women entrepreneurs interested in pursuing business in a traditionally male-dominated field.

Here’s what these 6 founders had to say.


Karen Wong, Co-Founder & CEO, TakuLabs.io
Karen Wong

TAKU helps traditional high-traffic merchants easily market, sell and manage inventory in-store and online, all from one platform. By using TAKU Retail, larger retailers can attract nearby shoppers that buy more in-store.

What inspired you to build a startup?

“The funny thing is that I never ever thought of building a startup, let alone a tech startup. But when I ran my own retail and wholesale businesses, I could never find technology that could do what I needed with the data to grow my business based on how shoppers buy today. Having been in those shoes, it’s immensely rewarding to know that our solution is able to help other business owners work less while selling more.”

What advice would you give other aspiring women entrepreneurs?

“If you’re new to pitching or presentations, make sure you always record yourself to check your body language and intonation. Depending on how you grew up, there’s a possibility that you have socially conditioned mannerisms that can impact how you engage with others. For example, women have a tendency to use “uptalk” when they’re speaking which can unintentionally make them appear not confident. Appearances are not everything but things like this can make it that much easier for you to win over your audience.”

With the support of the Information and Communication Technology Council, TAKU has been able to add two new team members to ramp up the launch this month! Learn more here.


Tessa Thomas, Founder & CEO, Recruit HQ


Recruit-HQ’s mission is to help high school athletes find a college athletic program that they’ll love. With Recruit-HQ, university student-athletes leave reviews about their experiences to help high school students with the university decision-making process.

What inspired you to build a startup?

“I’m a former NCAA DI student-athlete (softball), so I went through the recruitment process myself in the mid-2000s. When I started helping coach youth teams a couple of years ago, I was surprised to hear the same questions being asked that my mom and I had years before – it seemed nothing had changed, resources hadn’t improved and recruiting consultants got more expensive. At its best, the process can be confusing and complex. At its worst, it can be completely overwhelming for most families.”

“Building a startup felt like an opportunity to help as many young athletes as possible better navigate the recruiting process in the most affordable and accessible way.”

What advice would you give other aspiring women entrepreneurs?

“Find an inclusive community of entrepreneurs and creatives to help support your journey and keep going! Keep building! Keep bringing your unique insights, gifts, talents and perspectives to the table! 

Recruit-HQ launched in August 2020 and has already accumulated 1,200 reviews from former university student-athletes!


Kate Mansouri, Founder & CEO, Pennygem

pennygem logoPennygem is a smart solution for children’s financial well-being. With Pennygem, children can earn, manage and spend money in a secure and fun application that offers financial education along the way.

What inspired you to build a startup?

“I have been teaching mathematics and finance at university and privately for over 10 years. While teaching, I observed first-hand how little knowledge children and teenagers had about finance. And almost nothing was done about it. It worried me a lot as the lack of financial literacy would really jeopardize their financial well-being as adults. That’s how the idea of Pennygem was born.”

What advice would you give other aspiring women entrepreneurs?

“Don’t be intimidated and just stay persistent. Nothing wins as much as persistence. There has never been a better time to be a female entrepreneur. Don’t be shy to ask for help, you will be amazed by how much support you will get.”

Pennygem is launching this month! Check it out in the App Store, Play Store and online.

Follow Pennygem on Instagram and Facebook.


Diana Lucaci, Founder & CEO, True Impact


Diana is the Founder & CEO of True Impact, a platform that helps mid-large brands create better customer experiences. True Impact collects, analyzes and interprets human attention and emotion data from neural and biometric technologies to build predictive models for customer attention and emotion.

What inspired you to build a startup?

“As a marketing professional, I noticed a lack of human understanding in business,” explains Diana. “Data on the customer was (and still largely is) mostly explicit or verbal. People may tell you what they think during a survey or focus group, however, they’ll act on how they feel. As a marketer, I felt we don’t look at the customer holistically. I founded True Impact to design products that could use emotion data to help brands better understand their customers.”

What advice would you give other aspiring women entrepreneurs?

“Learn to compartmentalize topics, practice time blocking, speak your mind clearly and concisely, leverage the power of your femininity, set and communicate your expectations and boundaries, understand how men think and communicate, think less and act more, aim for “perfect enough”, don’t be too patient, most importantly: know yourself and be authentic.”

Looking for an easier way to understand customer attention and emotion? Check out trueSCAN, a new tool that uses neuroscience, computer vision and AI to predict areas of visual attention. 


Fatima Khamitova, Co-Founder & CEO, Veer AI


veer logoFatima is the Co-Founder & CEO of Veer AI, a platform that helps retail companies make data-driven marketing decisions. The product leverages machine learning to help brands understand their customer behaviour and how to market in a way that improves customer engagement while building long and loyal relationships. 

What inspired you to build a startup?

“In my family, it was pretty common to become an entrepreneur. My grandmother is one of my biggest inspirations – she was a Dean of Medicine at a local hospital in a place where I grew up, which was very rare for a woman back then. In fact, she was the first one at that hospital. She started a chain of private clinics at some point and operated them for a number of decades. My dad quit a decade-long career in surgery to start his own business.”

“I always had this idea that one day I would start something that was my own, and last year I decided that it was the time to do just that.”

What advice would you give other aspiring women entrepreneurs?

“I think that imposter syndrome is very common amongst women in male-dominated industries, especially where there isn’t an adequate representation of women in the workplace and in leadership positions. My first corporate job was in investment banking – I was one of the three female bankers on the floor. Pretty much all my jobs were like that, I have never had a female manager for longer than a few weeks (always by accident, never by design).”

“Something that helped me overcome imposter syndrome and develop professionally was having great mentors to turn to. Find a mentor that you trust – whether they are male or female – who you can have candid conversations with and who can help guide you in the right direction.”

For retail companies using Shopify, check out Veer AI to understand and better target your customers at a fraction of the cost to hire a data science team.


Sophie Howe, Founder & CEO, xesto

sophie howe headshot

xesto logo
Sophie Howe is the Founder & CEO of xesto, a University of Toronto based computer vision startup. Xesto makes buying fashion online easy through a user-centric shopping experience. Xesto has built the first accurate sizing tool for e-commerce for feet, using only their smartphones.

What inspired you to build a startup?

“I always loved strategizing and solving problems. I realized the best way to do this and work with smart and interesting people was to start my own company.”

What advice would you give other aspiring women entrepreneurs?

“Make sure you use all the resources available to you and do not rely solely on fundraising as it will take up all your time (and is a huge gamble)!”

Xesto is launching its first product in late October. Want to see how Xesto’s technology works? Check out the company’s demo.

The DMZ is a leading business incubator for tech startups in Canada. They help startups build great businesses by connecting them with customers, capital, experts and a community of entrepreneurs and influencers.

The DMZ is a partner in StartUp Here Toronto.