March 8, 2023
This International Women's Day we spotlight important players in the startup community
Calgary is a city of innovators and risk-takers, home to an expansive network of entrepreneurs. A community that has always made room for the next great idea now needs to ensure more room is made for women.
As Canada’s entrepreneurial university, UCalgary has built a vibrant ecosystem that promotes entrepreneurial thinking and supports diverse perspectives. Since launching in 2020, UCeed has become a key part of that ecosystem with five funds, all backed by philanthropy: Social Impact, Health, Child Health, Energy, and the Haskayne Student Fund. As an early-stage investment fund that fills the gap between government and social funding and private investment, UCeed has already invested in 30-plus early-stage startups that are unleashing powerful innovations.
Three women, each uniquely involved with UCeed, share their personal experiences from within the startup community.
'We’re encountering customers who are really excited to work with a women-founded company'
Areto Labs, a startup that has received investment from the UCeed Social Impact Fund, began with an idea to promote gender equality in politics. Now, this Canadian women-owned technology company spans industries and creates safer online communities for all equity-seeking groups. Co-founders Lana Cuthbertson, Kasey Machin and Jacqueline Comer are using UCeed investment to expand the team and grow their AI-powered platform to detect online abuse and protect users.
“This is the best job in the world, and I’ll tell anybody that,” says Cuthbertson about her life as an entrepreneur. “It’s a job my co-founders and I want to show up and do every day.”
Though the life of a founder isn’t an easy one, it offers a lot of possibilities. “For any young person, imagining the direction your life can take is much easier when you see people like yourself being represented. It shows people from all different backgrounds how their particular passions can be channelled,” Cuthbertson says. As a female entrepreneur, she has discovered there are excellent support systems in place in Canada to promote more diverse founders, from government agencies to women-focused venture funds, like Alberta-based The51 which also happens to be an Areto Labs investor.
As far as the challenges she has faced as a woman founder, “There are layers and layers of barriers and bias,” says Cuthbertson, adding “The way we expect women and men to behave in business and entrepreneurship is still a tricky road to navigate.”
At the end of the day, she loves being an entrepreneur and it has paid off for her and her co-founders. “I will say that being women in this industry has been a huge advantage for us. We’re encountering customers who are really excited to work with a women-founded company.”
UCeed is planting the seed with young entrepreneurs
For Mah Noor Imtiaz, the world of entrepreneurship opened to her through her involvement as a fund manager with the UCeed Haskayne Student Fund (UHSF). UHSF is Western Canada’s first student-run investment fund and provides UCalgary students with hands-on experiential learning opportunities that can change the course of their future careers.
Now in her final year of study as a dual mechanical engineering and business student, Imtiaz has particularly enjoyed working with startups developing groundbreaking clean energy technologies. “As I build my career I want to be a voice for companies that have strong visions, and are revolutionizing the future through their technologies,” she says.
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Her experience with UHSF has certainly opened her eyes to how significantly fewer female founders there are than male ones and she takes inspiration from the female founders she has engaged with. “UHSF provides excellent opportunities to network with other women leaders that have built successful careers in this space. Hearing from them first-hand has really helped shape the vision I have for myself and my career,” says Imtiaz.
Imtiaz is grateful that the learning environment within UHSF feels inclusive, where all ideas and perspectives are welcomed and they work hard to eliminate biases. She encourages other female students to get involved: “Entrepreneurship challenges you to think beyond the current state of the world and discover new possibilities.”
Narrowing the margin for female business leaders
For budding entrepreneurs like Imtiaz, it is important to have dedicated platforms for women who want to develop their skills in entrepreneurship and engage with other female leaders; leaders like Cindy Rogers. With a career in accounting and finance that spans decades, Rogers has been a champion of equity, diversity and inclusion, especially across the entrepreneurial community. She is a member of the investment advisory group for the UCeed Social Impact Fund as well as The51’s community council.
“Through programs like UCeed, it is important for us to encourage more female and BIPOC founders to apply for investment and set up an ecosystem across the innovation community that supports and nurtures everyone,” says Rogers. Spotlighting women who are making waves in the startup community and creating opportunities for them to connect and learn from each other will lead to better balance in the world of business.
“With more diversity comes more disruptive ideas, and more groundbreaking solutions,” Rogers says.
Through their personal involvement with programs like UCeed, Cuthbertson, Imtiaz and Rogers are all advancing bold ideas and pushing boundaries, strengthening UCalgary’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. And we know seeing them do it inspires more women to share their ideas, get involved and create impact.
UCeed is a venture philanthropy fund accelerating UCalgary and community-based startup companies to advance problem-solving research, create jobs and fuel the economy. A key program in the UCalgary innovation ecosystem, UCeed bridges the gap between innovation, demonstration and commercialization. UCeed is managed by UCalgary’s knowledge-transfer and business incubator, Innovate Calgary.
UCeed Haskayne Student Fund is supported by the generosity of the Cannonball Sport and Education Foundation and UCalgary donors wanting to make an impact.
UCeed Social Impact Fund is powered by the generosity of the United Way of Calgary and Area and their mission to mobilize communities for lasting social change and the Government of Alberta’s Creative Partnerships bold initiative to support arts and non-profit sectors.