National Post

Bringing down the barriers for women-led firms

Platform offers support and venture funding

- Mary Teresa BITTI

How to close the funding gap for women-led businesses is an issue that has taken on a greater urgency for Shelley Kuipers, a serial tech entreprene­ur and co-founder of Calgary-based The51 Ventures, a by-women-forwomen “financial feminist” platform that offers support and venture funding to women-led businesses.

In 2020, global venture-capital funding was up four per cent to US$300 billion, according to Crunchbase, but the percentage to women-led startups dropped to 2.3 per cent from 2.8 per cent in 2019.

“That 2.8 per cent was an all-time high,” Kuipers said.

To increase access to early-stage capital for womenled businesses, The51 and private-equity crowdfundi­ng platform Frontfundr on Wednesday launched a pilot project that gives more people a chance to invest in new startups.

“We wanted to do something different from a venture fund,” Kuipers said. “Women control 85 per cent of consumer spending. We want to curate entreprene­urs worthy of women’s attention, either as a consumer or investor, and bring down the barriers to participat­ing in investment opportunit­ies.”

The pilot project works by giving investors (both women and men) a choice between three curated investment opportunit­ies available on the Frontfundr platform. Frontfundr then conducts a review to ensure the investment is suitable for the potential investor. Once complete, the investor receives investment documents to electronic­ally review and sign, and then invests their money.

Investment­s start from as little as $250 and can go up to $1,500, or $5,000 in some provinces. High-net-worth individual­s may also invest alongside a crowdfundi­ng campaign.

Frontfundr earns a commission on each trade it processes, with the rest of the money going to the investee company, which must submit an offering document that includes how it intends to use the money.

The first group of companies includes Paws en route Inc., a Toronto-based full-service pet transporta­tion company that operates in both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business spaces. In addition to serving individual customers, Paws en route has partnered with a number of pet companies and animal hospitals, and is a reseller of pet travel for Westjet, Air Canada and Cargojet. During the pandemic, sales tripled.

Dacia Rohlehr, Paws en route’ founder and CEO, said pet owners are spending more on premium products. Global sales of pet products reached US$125 billion in 2020, according to research firm Packaged Facts.

“Pet transporta­tion is an untapped market. We’re looking at growing to 60 locations across North America. The goal is to raise $250,000 to start,” she said. “It’s exciting to be able to have folks who typically wouldn’t have the opportunit­y to take ownership in a company like ours be part of our growth. We would never rule out venture capital, but it feels right to be part of an initiative like this.”

Another investing opportunit­y is Geenees Creative Labs Inc., a social gifting platform for families in need. The platform facilitate­s gifts and donations, attracts new types of donors to nonprofit organizati­ons, eliminates unnecessar­y volunteer hours, and delivers funds to families directly and anonymousl­y. Since its launch in 2017, it has expanded across Canada and is planning to grow into the U.S.

The third company is B.c.-based Joni, which Linda Biggs and Jayesh Vekariya started with the mission to make sustainabl­e, innovative period care mainstream and accessible to everyone.

“One in three Canadians under the age of 25 cannot afford period products,” said Vekariya, who hit on the idea for Joni while earning an MBA from the University of Victoria. The more research he did, the more he realized the industry was ripe for innovation.

“We created Joni based on what we wanted to see in the industry,” Biggs said. “The world has changed so much, but period care companies have not kept up.”

Joni’s pads are made of organic bamboo and use 10-per-cent less water to produce. Another innovation is its one-for-one model. Joni works with grassroots organizati­ons such as Geenees (the entreprene­urs met two days before finding out they would both be part of the Frontfundr program) and NGOS like the United Way and donates one pad for every pad purchased to people in need.

Since launching in March, 2020, Joni has donated more than 45,000 pads across Canada, and the business has grown, on average, 20 per cent, month-over-month.

 ?? TEGAN MCMARTIN FOR FINANCIAL POST ?? Joni, founded by Jayesh Vekariya and Linda Biggs, has
benefited from venture funding for women.
TEGAN MCMARTIN FOR FINANCIAL POST Joni, founded by Jayesh Vekariya and Linda Biggs, has benefited from venture funding for women.

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