March 23, 2022

Building up your financial literacy skills: A Q&A with 5 entrepreneurs, experts and leaders in our community

5 people in a graphic

Gaining the skills, competency and network to bolster financial literacy skills and facilitate a raise as an early-stage founder is not an easy task. 

For the month of March, and as part of International Women's Day, we wanted to tap into our own network of entrepreneurs, leaders and experts to learn how they bolstered their financial literacy. With the UN's IWD 2022 theme of "Gender equality for a sustainable tomorrow", this theme aligns with a critical aspect of venture building: strengthening your financial know-how and raising funds for your venture. UBC has one of the most internationally and culturally diverse communities, and we recognize that navigating the financial aspects of starting a business can be extremely overwhelming - especially if you are a female founder (or a member of another equity-seeking group). 

We had the opportunity to catch up with the Founders of Pocketed, CTO Dr. Aria Hahn and CEO Brianna Blaney, Co-founder and CEO of Viridis Research, Dr. Macarena (Maca) Cataldo-Hernandez and COO of MintList by TrafficDriven, Dr. Mehrsa Raeiszadeh as well as mentor Maria Kilina, Managing Partner of Trading Post Investments, on how they’ve developed their financial literacy skills to grow their ventures. 

Read on to learn more and visit our bonus (!) section at the end for the 3 things founders should know when building their financial literacy skills!

What background did you have in financial literacy/raises/valuations prior to building your venture? 

Aria and Brianna: Money can be really scary – especially when you take the leap into the abyss of entrepreneurship. Neither of us has had any formal financial training. For us, building this knowledge and capacity meant putting in the work to develop our early financial models ourselves, cycling through edits with our board and advisors. Because we did the work ourselves, we intimately understood our business and the assumptions we made to generate our financial projections. When investors had questions, we could point to the exact cell with the answer. This built confidence (on both sides!) during our fundraise. We’ve since worked with specialists to develop an even more robust financial model, and we use it daily to inform decisions. 

Maca: In Chile when I was studying engineering, I had a course called " Engineering Economics". This course was about the evaluation of the benefits and costs of projects involving engineering design and analysis. I had the opportunity to be part of the i2I program at SFU, and it was great for Financial Literacy. I learned a lot from that program.

Mehrsa: My background is in Chemical Engineering with a PhD in processing. I had no background in finance, but always have been strong in mathematics and managing money. I knew to surround myself with mentors and people who had ‘been there done that’. My (now) business partner in MintList (Mike Wood) had a background in economics and was a serial entrepreneur. My strength in mathematics complimented his technical expertise and experience around financials. 

Maria: I have a Masters in Corporate Finance, an MBA and about 7+ years of experience in corporate development, M&A and investment readiness. Currently, I am a Managing Partner of Trading Post Investments, and we help businesses get ready for funding, including strategic planning, structuring and materials needed to start conversations with potential investors or lenders (including financial models, valuations, pitch decks, business plans, etc.). Additionally, I teach introductory business courses (including Introduction to Corporate Finance).


"Because we did the work ourselves,  we intimately understood our business and the assumptions we made to generate our financial projections."

- Dr. Aria Hahn and Brianna Blaney of Pocketed


Raising money and gaining investment can be one of the most challenging parts of building a business: what have been your biggest successes, and challenges, thus far?

Aria and Brianna: Like many founders, we thought that dilutive capital was the only route to funding our business. When we learned that there is $5.9B in government funding available every year, we realized there was another way – one that allowed us to keep more of our company. By leveraging $750K in grant funding, we were able to bootstrap Pocketed to product-market fit, achieving key milestones to drive a strong valuation for our equity financing round. With the support of experienced mentors, we closed an oversubscribed financing round in fall 2021 to accelerate our growth. It took practice to simplify our messaging and frame Pocketed in a way that resonated with investors. Constant iteration, hyper engaged mentors, and hundreds of conversations made all the difference! 

We are committed to diversity in every aspect of our business – including our investors. We are proud to have several women and women-led funds on our cap table, including Hustle Fund, Women’s Equity Lab, The51, and Pique Ventures.

Maca: From my perspective, fundraising is one of the most difficult responsibilities as a CEO, especially for new entrepreneurs, women and minorities. It's not easy to overcome the lack of equality around capital funding for women and minority-led startups. According to HBR Women-Led Startups Received Just 2% of VC Funding, and latinx women around 0.3%. This phenomenon could be attributed to the lack of representation of those groups in VC. When you are a woman and/or minority-led startup you have to go the extra mile to prove your redeeming qualities, and overcome higher perceptions of risk. It's important to highlight those biases if we want to improve our society and build mindful companies, however I wish it wasn't the case and we were just focussing on the business. 

Our biggest success has been winning the Spring Impact Challenge. Winning the challenge helped us to catalyze our financial round, connect with other investors and move our company forward. Plus, we really like the Spring Activator, they really care about companies, and work very hard to help us.  

Mehrsa: We recently raised $2.7 M and our biggest success with that was closing in 3 weeks (a typical raise can take 6 months)! I attribute this success to our effort in fostering relationships with investors; keeping ourselves organized and them up to date. You always want to raise with your next round in mind. We say ‘never take your foot off the gas pedal!’. In terms of challenges, it's always nailing the pitch - getting it down to 6 minutes, ensuring it's concise and strong. 

Maria: We look at a business as investors would look at it. For early-stage companies, investors want their business idea/product to be marketable, scalable and financially viable. When assessing investment readiness, we help business owners evaluate four areas: strategic, organizational, marketing and finance. 

Strategic encompasses value proposition, business model & competitive edge, core competencies, market size, competitive landscape, scalability etc. Organizational includes team skill set and background, other stakeholders, operational capacity and constraints, IP strategy etc. Marketing includes target customer segments, marketing mix strategies (product, price, place and promotion) etc. Lastly, finance looks at forecasting for the next 4-5 years (in some cases up to 10 years), valuation, breakdown of use of investment, expected burn rate and breakeven timeline, cost management strategy, current shareholder structure and a cap table.


"When you are a woman and/or minority-led startup you have to go the extra mile to prove your redeeming qualities, and overcome higher perceptions of risk."

- Dr. Macarena (Maca) Cataldo-Hernandez of Viridis Research


Financial Literacy encompasses a broad range of knowledge and skills that are crucial to the venture building experience (and your team’s long-term success). What’s your advice to early-stage entrepreneurs looking to broaden their knowledge of financial literacy?

Aria and Brianna: Seek out mentorship. Joining an accelerator like entrepreneurship@UBC is a great way to connect with mentors who can help. When possible, hire and work with experts. Being a start up founder means wearing a lot of hats – identify where you can have the greatest impact and where you have gaps. Double down on your areas of genius and engage mentors to support the rest. 

Maca: Financial literacy is very important, in my case the mathematical part of it wasn't very difficult, but it's not the most important part. You have to tell your story using your numbers and you have to calculate them using your market knowledge. The best advice I can share: Educate yourself as much as you can on financial literacy, get an advisor or an investor who can help you to better manage the numbers and cash flow. 

Mehrsa: Focus on your relationships: it’s always a two way street! It’s not always get, get, get…you have to give as well. There is always a way you can give back and contribute to the people helping you. 

Maria: I have noticed that I educate business owners I work with on 3 things: forecasting, financial modeling in excel and the time value of money (get the breakdown on these 3 things in our bonus section below!). 


"Focus on your relationships: it’s always a two way street! It’s not always get, get, get…you have to give as well."

- Dr. Mehrsa Raeiszadeh of MintList


Do you have anything else on the topic of financial literacy you would like to share with our community?

Aria and Brianna: This is an issue close to our hearts. Money is a leading barrier to entrepreneurship, especially for women and equity-seeking groups. This motivated us to found Pocketed to help start ups, small businesses, and side hustles access government money with our intelligent matching platform and managed marketplace solution. If you’re looking for government money to help build your business, create your free Pocketed account today. Use the referral code EUBCX for exclusive perks and benefits:

Maca: If you have the opportunity, take some courses, or programs which teach Financial Literacy and ask your mentors and EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence) for help.

Mehrsa: I have what I call the ‘Mirror Rule’: The end of the runway is always closer than it appears! You always burn more cash and spend more money than you think!

Maria: Many business owners I met were anxious about this topic and were hesitant to go into the details of finance and financial literacy. They thought financial knowledge required years of education and was inaccessible for someone with no business background. I would like to argue that once you start seeing a connection between the specific things you are doing in your business (materials you use, salaries you pay, equipment you buy, etc.) with the financial principles, the basics of finance you need become evident and easy to comprehend and use.


"Once you start seeing a connection between the specific things you are doing in your business...with the financial principles, the basics of finance you need become evident and easy to comprehend and use.

- Maria Kilina of Trading Post Investments


BONUS! Hear from Maria Kilina of Trading Post Investments on the 3 things entrepreneurs should know when building financial literacy skills:


  1. Forecasting: Here we forecast all the incoming and outcoming cash flows, revenue sources and expenses of a business. Very often at this stage the business owners are making some strategic decisions only because they never tried to put their business into numbers and never thought how their revenue channels/ expenses/investment tranches would be structured. Questions that arise usually are : “What market share are we aiming at? How many employees will we need to hire? How much will we pay for advertising/digital marketing? What will be variable costs?” So, many “Aha!” moments are happening at this stage. 


  1. Building a financial model in excel: We do it in parallel with forecasting. Forecasting creates assumptions for the financial model which would be the digitized version of your business; basically your business in numbers. Why do we need a model with formulas, not just a forecast? By changing the assumptions of the forecast, we can see how different scenarios reflect on business profit and resulting cash flows. It helps to consider most of the variables and to make sure the business is strategically profitable.


  1. Time value of money: This one is important for understanding how some valuation models bring future cash flows to present and how investors price in their risk. “Time value of money” like many other financial concepts may sound scary, but in fact it can be understood within an hour.


Thank you to Aria, Brianna, Maca, Mehrsa and Maria for participating and sharing your knowledge with our community!


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entrepreneurship@UBC propels UBC innovations out into the world through venture creation, providing UBC students, researchers, faculty members, alumni and staff with the resources, networks, and funding they need to succeed.

We are a part of Innovation UBC in the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (VPRI) portfolio

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