LISA SHIELDS

BC Business Magazine - - Influential Woman -

Founder and CEO, Fi.span

In 2015, EY named Lisa Shields En­tre­pre­neur of the Year win­ner in its in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy and fi­nan­cial ser­vices cat­e­gory for her Hyper­wal­let Sys­tems Inc. The same year, Shields stepped away (she is still a board mem­ber and share­holder) to launch a new busi­ness: Fi.span, a ser­vices man­age­ment plat­form for banks. The 15- em­ployee startup ac­quired its first cus­tomer, Bean­works So­lu­tions Inc., an­other Van­cou­ver fin­tech headed by a woman, last De­cem­ber.

Shields, a mem­ber of the math club at her Toronto high school, grad­u­ated from the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in the 1980s with a BSC in aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neer­ing and an MSC in ocean en­gi­neer­ing. At MIT, men and women were treated equally—they had all com­pleted the same cour­ses, tests and phys­i­cal as­sign­ments—and 22 per­cent of her grad­u­at­ing class were women, thanks to the univer­sity’s pol­icy of aim­ing for gen­der par­ity, she notes. “En­gi­neer­ing and tech­ni­cal col­leagues, if you’re a strong and con­tribut­ing mem­ber of a tech­ni­cal team, they’re happy to have an­other hand.”

The busi­ness world was an­other story. When Shields and co-founder Jen­nifer Cameron tried to find in­vestors for Hyper­wal­let, they were de­clined for all the le­git­i­mate rea­sons that star­tups are turned down: No track record. Pre­car­i­ous times. Busi­ness plan isn’t fully thought out. Weak the­sis. The mar­ket is bad. In ret­ro­spect, Shields re­al­izes that they had less suc­cess se­cur­ing fi­nanc­ing than in­fe­rior com­pa­nies—and, she con­fesses, be­ing suc­cess­ful and hav­ing the track record she does now doesn’t erase that. As a re­sult, “what I’ve de­cided to do in my own small way is, as an in­vestor, I’m go­ing to in­vest only in women-led com­pa­nies,” she says. “That’s where I en­coun­tered the most dif­fi­culty and bias, so if I can help out in a prac­ti­cal way, I think that that’s the best use of my abil­i­ties at this stage.” —F.S.

HOWCAN WE GET MORE WOMEN INTO STEM?

The first step is to have 50 per­cent women grad­u­at­ing from tech­ni­cal uni­ver­si­ties, which takes will, ac­tion and time, ad­vises Shields, who notes that nearly half of MIT en­gi­neer­ing un­der­grads are now women. Once that hap­pens, to achieve 50 per­cent fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in in­dus­try, em­ploy­ers need to cre­ate tech­ni­cal ca­reer paths and en­vi­ron­ments that are ac­com­mo­dat­ing and wel­com­ing to women.

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