Kerry Costello, co-founder of HeadCheck Health, is an entrepreneur in the technology sector – an area still dominated by her male counterparts.
She admits starting her own business wasn’t her first instinct, let alone in the technology sector where she had limited experience.
But after a couple of years in the corporate world, the 33-year-old from Vancouver teamed up with a fellow University of British Columbia graduate, Harrison Brown, to develop HeadCheck – a smartphone-based app that allows users to do on-the-spot concussion assessments of athletes and track brain health in the future.
This is a catch-all ASF view; only displays when an unsupported article type is put in an ASF drop zone
It’s been almost a year since the app formally launched and, “I still have a lot of people come up to me and ask me how I got into tech,” says Ms. Costello, whose experience in the Sauder School of Business MBA program at UBC taught her that good business ideas sell, regardless of the entrepreneur’s gender.
She’s not alone. Women across Canada are discovering a career path in tech entrepreneurship after their MBAs and other business degrees. As the marketplace acknowledges this reality, business schools and industry alike are spawning support systems to encourage even more female entrepreneurs to enter sectors – namely technology – from which they were historically absent.
“I knew I had a skill set in building a business and those mentors [in technology] had a skill set of building ideas, and when those two come together that’s when the magic happens,” says Ms. Costello.
Jenny Yang, chief executive officer and founder at Vancouver-based Aida Software Corp., was one of the mentors Ms. Costello met through entrepreneurship@UBC, the university’s startup incubator. She remains an important sounding board for the HeadCheck team.
“It’s important to have older female entrepreneurs from the technology space showing, modelling, what can be done,” says Ms. Yang.
“Especially for those women that may wonder if they can [break into] … tech or require the confidence to develop their ideas.”
Years of battling unconscious bias in the male-dominated sector have also made Ms. Yang an invaluable resource for women getting into technology. “Over the years, I’ve done my own research,” she explains. “We’ve all gone through hard times ourselves, so if I can share some experience I’m happy to do it.”
In Toronto’s technology space, the call coming from companies founded by both men and women is, “We need more talent,” according to Michelle McBane, investment director of the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund (IAF).
Filling the talent gap includes attracting more women, and one way of doing that is through mentorship. “Having more female leaders and role models and mentors coming into these higher growth companies is important to attracting and growing that talent,” Ms. McBane says.
Last fall, BDC Capital, the investment arm of Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), announced it would inject $50-million into female-led technology firms “as part of its efforts to support women entrepreneurs.”
A fifth of that money is to be allocated to programs such as MaRS’s IAF to provide female-led technology businesses with preseed and seed funds.
According to MaRS Data Catalyst, in 2015, more than 32 per cent of tech startups in Ontario had women founders. This is up from 2014, when 26 per cent of ventures had at least one female founder.
But while financial support is a major ingredient for developing tech companies with women at the helm, there has to be a fundamental change in the conversation among women in business, adds Ms. McBane.
She says her organization encourages women to notice that many male entrepreneurs launch technology companies without a tech background. “You can do that, [too],” Ms. McBane says, in a message to women. “You don’t have to be technical to start a tech company.”
Part of that conversation starts in business school, says Barbara Orser, a professor at University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, but is reinforced by organizations such as the Women’s Enterprise Initiative, a federal government operation established more than 20 years ago by Western Economic Diversification Canada.
Dr. Orser, the Deloitte professor in the management of growth enterprises, sits on several international committees that look at the impact of female entrepreneurs. “When I look … specifically to Canada, we have some of the best enterprise training in the world.
“We’ve got an infrastructure in Canada that’s helping these individuals now. If you’re credentialed and you’re smart, you can find help to refine your business model, and you can go to market in a much more efficient and supported way than we have historically.”
It’s clear that since establishing these women-centric organizations, Canada has helped female entrepreneurs and will continue to do so, she says.
“I don’t know if it’s the market reacting or the market taking advantage of some of the infrastructure we have in place now,” adds Dr. Orser. “It might be both.”