9 Tips for Budding Female Founders
International Women’s Week has been off to an amazing start so far, with powerful events and discussions around every corner. We feel so proud to be a part of the startup ecosystem here in Canada that has made a strong effort to celebrate this week – and it seems to us that each year this community really makes it bigger, better, and more inspiring than the last.
In honour of IWW2021 we are putting the spotlight on L-SPARK alumni + founder of ActivKare, Karen Brunet. Karen recently graduated from our Compass North Program, a program designed specifically for women in tech. We chatted with Karen to get her full story so that we could share her lessons learned and advice with you.
So let’s dive in!
Know your business and research, research, research
The first time Karen pitched her business idea to the Southeastern Ontario Angel Network (SOAN), she realized it takes much more than a PowerPoint presentation to convince an audience.
The key to introducing a business idea that persuades others to invest in you is being thoroughly prepared. You must know your business, your metrics, and your KPIs inside and out.
What’s your unique selling point and in which market niche do you set foot in? Have you identified the relevant numbers and statistics? On top of that, it’s vital to be clear on your long-term goals, and don’t forget to study your pitfalls as well.
Word to the wise: Start your research process by screening competitors. This way, you can identify the pain points of your future customers and see where your products and services can stand up to competitors’ offers.
With this research and in-depth industry knowledge at hand, you can be sure to present your ideas with confidence to any audience.
Find like-minded women and establish a support system
Karen emphasizes: “whether an online group or in-person network, both are perfect to build a supportive community.”
There are plenty of groups and networks for entrepreneurs, but there’s nothing quite like joining a group of like-minded female founders. It’ll pay to talk to other female founders on how to make your mark in a male-dominated business world. By meeting once a month and discussing obstacles and challenges, you can establish a support system that keeps you right on track.
Start with sharing your targets with your peers. Then observe how they achieve their goals and learn from their successes.
Moreover, don’t underestimate what the support of your family and friends can do. It’s one thing to have the business world on your side, but it’s quite another – and an even more valuable one – to have the encouragement of your family, friends, and community:
“They must be your cheering squad to succeed and be available to listen, vent to and bounce ideas off!” explains Karen.
Capitalize on the virtual and digital world
As the world has made a tremendous jump to online networking, so should you. The digital world offers plenty of opportunities, with a principal one being immense flexibility when growing a business.
It is easier to put family and work obligations under one hat when not having to travel long distances. “It is so convenient to fit a chat with a family member in between calls and make sure everything is going well. Zoom, Meets, Hangouts, all those tools are lifesavers! However, don’t forget to catch up in person when you can,” advises Karen.
Be flexible when it comes to funding and investments
When it comes to funding and securing investments, Karen has special expertise to share. Starting with a grant of $25,000 (CAD) provided by the government, she spent it with accountability and later attracted private investors on much larger sums:
“Be flexible with how you want to raise money and ask in your circle of like-minded entrepreneurs for guidance when it comes to hardline negotiating skills.”
Karen also emphasizes how important it is to be modest with spending at the beginning. Use your starting capital and first financial injections wisely, and your business will be more likely to line up first among private investors or public programs and funding.
Communicate clearly on family and life obligations
As a female entrepreneur, it can be a daunting task to take on business obligations while being there for your family – especially given how much working from home can blur those lines. The key to balancing both is flexibility and open and honest communication.
Karen talks from experience: “As a businesswoman, you are walking on a tightrope all the time. With good and bad days. Everybody has them, communicate honestly, and say I need a break.”
Find mentors and other successful entrepreneurs to guide you
While like-minded business starters are great to seek support, there is nothing better than mentorship from an experienced entrepreneur. A study by Forbes ascertains that having a mentor can double the chances of survival.
It’s helpful to know mentors from the same industry or facing similar challenges, especially when working in niche tech sectors. Mentorship is mostly about having someone who can help you to identify your pitfalls and tackle your problems. Karen affirms: “mentorship is sometimes just necessary to keep your feet on the ground.”
Luckily, there are many ways to find a suitable mentor. Most mentorships are community programs, so start looking in your local area to find the perfect fit. With the online community growing, you can now also exploit digital possibilities to find guidance. Have a look at StartupNation’s six resources for mentorships in this blog article.
Take your chances on accelerator and incubator programs
One great idea for every female founder is to apply for accelerator and incubator programs. Those programs can guide you in all relevant questions when it comes to starting your own business. Workshops include training in all business areas: whether sales, marketing, fundraising, logistics, accounting – you’ll be sure to develop skills where you need them most.
More than courses, accelerator programs are a great way to build a strong social network and learn together with industry experts and from other successful entrepreneurs. Karen’s experience with the Compass North Program was indispensable to her:
“The program was much more in-depth than I realized. Having meetings each week with experienced professionals with a multitude of entrepreneurial backgrounds was so helpful for me. The team from Compass North and L-SPARK were there with me every step of the way. It was like having my own board of advisors.”
Be confident and don’t shy away from risks
There is no pre-set of skills necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. The skills a founder brings depend on the business needs, their personality, and the challenges of a specific sector. However, female founders will find value in confidently presenting their ideas, showing perseverance, and at times, rough tenacity.
And because no one can know everything, you shouldn’t shy away from asking for help: “Try not to be overwhelmed by the unknown. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help, especially in areas that are not your forte. The sky’s the limit on what we women can do together.”
Lastly, stick to your passion
“After all, it’s all about being passionate. Your passion for your idea brings you to the path of your envisioned goals. You can only grow stronger when you know why you are doing what you are doing.”
For Karen, the biggest challenge in life, becoming pregnant, gave her the strength to always follow her passion and later to enter the business world. After years of doctors telling her she would never be able to conceive, she gave birth to her two daughters, and knew she could take on any challenge.
“There will be scary times, and everyone’s personal story will play a role in their career success. The most important thing is to remind yourself about the passion you have for your ideas. From thereon, everything will come as it should.”
Are you a female SaaS founder looking to make your mark in the tech sector? Apply to one of our accelerator programs to be in the next cohort of successful female entrepreneurs!