You need to see it to be it: Women in Tech helping women in tech
Ariel Garten, cofounder of InteraXon, the Toronto-based maker of Muse, a meditation headband controlled by brainwaves, got her start in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in 2002. She was working in a research lab that developed an early brain-interface system that allowed people to control technology with their minds. “I thought this is extraordinary. The world needs to know about this and maybe it’s commercializable.”
While new research from Salesforce, The New Canadian Entrepreneurial Experience: Women and the future of Small Business in Canada, shows that women own one-third of SMBs in Canada, only 13 per cent own businesses in the STEM sector, compared with 25 per cent of men. Several initiatives have been launched to address the gap but the most impact may come from women succeeding in the space.
“Turning the spotlight on amazing women entrepreneurs in STEM is critical,” said Kirstine Stewart,
CRO and president of TribalScale, former vice-president of Twitter Canada and a prominent champion for women in tech and diversity. As an executive in the tech space, she has implemented policies around sourcing and hiring talent to promote diversity in the business.
“It’s difficult to get women to put their stories out, to shine the light on themselves. We need to step up and speak,” she said. “Take every opportunity to get more eyeballs on what you’re doing because you never know which set of eyeballs are going to be your investors, or customers.”
Amber Mac, president, AmberMac Media, Inc., a content marketing and services business, started her career in San Francisco and Boston during the dot-com boom before joining Microsoft to build one of the first female-focused lifestyle portals. In 2013 she launched AmberMac Media, which, in addition to creating digital content for customers such as HomeDepot, also creates content highlighting women in the technology space.
“You need to see it to be it,” said Mac. “One of the biggest challenges I had in the industry was that there really were no female role models. In the midst of my business career, I had a child. That made it more difficult to find someone I could relate to who was building their career in the space while pregnant or having a newborn.”
Mac embraces her position as a role model, working with organizations such as Move the Dial, which shares stories about women in STEM, and Actua, which focuses on ensuring young girls have access to STEM skills. (Mac and Stewart also both took part in Salesforce’s recent Female Force Entrepreneurship Event.) Among Mac’s biggest lessons: “You don’t have to do it alone. Early on, I tried to do everything myself. Now I have a team of people who help in various areas of the business and my home life, whether it’s on the social media side, podcasting, accounting, or even to clean my home a couple of times a month. I used to never want to ask for help and since I have, we’ve seen 500 per cent growth in the business in the last five years. I realize that having a solid team in place is critical for success.”
All of this help is subcontracted — a plus for small startups with limited resources. Another key benefit of the digital economy and one that Mac says is a missing piece for many entrepreneurs: the huge network that LinkedIn and Twitter provide. “When you understand how to leverage the power of LinkedIn and Twitter, you recognize you have access to anyone you could potentially need, whether it’s a sub contractor or a potential funder,” said Mac. “You have to get good at that.” Here she offers her best advice:
Take social media platforms seriously and have a digital marketing plan in place. Commit to consistent posting. Tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer are available to pre-program and manage these platforms. Use Twitter and LinkedIn to reach out to people. These platforms tend to have a better response rate than email because of inbox overload. Leverage the power of video. “Someone recently sent me an eight-and-a-half-minute video through direct message on Twitter asking me to write the forward for their book. I get hundreds of messages every day, but this has had a lasting impact.
Female founders in STEM also have to get good at valuing their work. According to the SalesForce SMB report, 61 per cent of female entrepreneurs in the space feel their services are undervalued by customers (compared with 41 per cent of male entrepreneurs). “In business, it’s well documented that women have a long history of underselling the value of their services,” said Stewart. “You are only going to be paid what you ask for. I think it’s less about the users finding the services of less value, and more about how they’ve been valued.”
Garten agrees. “Be confident about what you are offering, be bold in how you present and do not be afraid. Know the value of what you’re offering and don’t be shy about it.” This is particularly important when pitching for funding. Garten’s confidence coupled with belief in the efficacy of her solution saw her through four rounds of financing and hundreds of pitches in which she raised $18 million in venture funding. Today, Muse is sold around the world, has hundreds of thousands of users, sales have doubled year over year for the past five years and the company has just completed its first acquisition.
“It has never been a better time to be a female entrepreneur in North America. There is so much focus on supporting female founders right now. There are funds galvanizing that are specifically focused on investing in female companies,” said Garten. “Women entrepreneurs have the opportunity to experience the benefits of this seachange. Use accelerators and all the tools of the tech ecosystem to bring your ideas to life.”