Canadian Charity Challenging The Male-Dominated Status Quo By Helping Female Entrepreneurs With Funding + Mentorship

Pitch for the Purse event, Forum for Women Entrepreneurs CEO Paulina Cameron second from right | Image via Yaletown photography

According to recent data, the majority of Venture Capital funding and investment goes to male entrepreneurs and male-run businesses. And it’s not a slim majority either – 98%! These figures are focused on the United States, but in Europe the landscape isn’t much better, where 92% of funding goes to men.

In Canada, figures show that only 16% of Canadian businesses are owned or led by women and yet studies show that by advancing women’s economic participation in the economy Canada could add up to $150 billion in GDP, which is why the Trudeau government is looking to invest $2 billion in order to double the number of women-owned businesses by 2025. Interestingly, Canadian women rank 1st in terms of involvement with newer businesses, ahead of the U.S., Britain, and other innovation-based economies. But the key factor here is funding and how female entrepreneurs can access capital in the same way as their male counterparts.

While government initiatives are important, there is a lot that organizations and companies within the actual business sector can do to change the status quo. One such organization is the Vancouver-based charity Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, founded in 2002 and created to educate, mentor and connect women entrepreneurs to be wildly successful, and promote strong economies and thriving communities. Since its inception, FWE has curated over 2,000 Mentor pairings, counts 570+ E-Series Alumnae, and has educated and mentored 400+ women with its Pitch for the Purse event, designed to address a key concern facing women entrepreneurs – access to capital.

Pitch for the Purse event at the Fairmont Hotel, Vancouver | Image via Yaletown photography

Since launching four years ago, Pitch for the Purse participants have: raised cumulatively close to $20 million, created 204 new jobs, and grew their annualized revenue by $67 million. The winner of this year’s grand prize is Lynn Dargis, CEO of Farmbucks Inc., who was awarded the $25,000 on February 20th. Farmbucks is an app and website that centralizes, sorts and displays real-time grain bids for farmers so that they are able to identify and make profitable decisions quickly and efficiently.  

“The Pitch for the Purse has been pivotal to my business and the Finale is an incredible celebration of all the support, mentorship and coaching over the past few months. I’m extremely grateful for the education and connections throughout this program and I’m looking forward to continuing with FWE as I grow my business,” said the Farmbucks founder in a press release.  

Lynn Dargis holding her grand prize at Pitch for the Purse | image Yaletown photography

With the goal of building the economy, one woman-owned business at a time, FWE supports women who are venturing into new business opportunities or ready to ramp up and grow their existing business. FWE has seen the profits of investing money as well as other tools and resources into the female entrepreneur community – these women go on to create 10 more jobs and grow their revenue by over 30% each year. Although 50% of new businesses fail after the first five years, women who are educated and mentored by FWE are beating the odds stacked against them and are three times more likely to still be in business than the Canadian average.

CEO Paulina Cameron is determined to see FWE be the game-changer for women entrepreneurs in Canada. We spoke with her about their mission, her involvement in FWE, and why more investors should be paying attention to Pitch for the Purse and what they are doing with this event.

Forum for Women Entrepreneurs CEO Paulina Cameron speaking at Pitch for the Purse | Image via Yaletown photography

Tell us about FWE and how you became involved in the charity? 

I have a fun, full-circle story around FWE. Over a decade ago I volunteered at its annual Gala! In January 2019 I accepted the role of CEO of the organization. I’ve been passionate about supporting women since I can remember. In 2008 I co-founded and for 8 years led Young Women in Business and in fall of 2017 I published the bestselling Canada 150 Women: Conversations with Leaders, Champions and Luminaries.  

The recent Odlum Brown FWE Gala Pitch for the Purse Finale saw Lynn Dargis awarded the grand prize for her innovative app that helps farmers make profitable decisions quickly and efficiently. What was it about her app that helped her win?

Lynn’s story and vision is compelling for many reasons, most important of which is the true need she is solving for farmers, which has deep ripple effects for all of us. Her business is a smart, timely, needed and innovative solution, which resonates with investors and community. She also has a personally compelling story of how she became a farmer taking over her family’s business when her parents suddenly passed away when she was 19. It’s clear she understands the industry first hand and has created a solution that is well aligned with the need, and is driven by the right values.

There is a lot of data showing how female entrepreneurs struggle to secure funding and how the majority of VC money still goes to men. How is FWE working to change the status quo in Canada? 

FWE invests into women entrepreneur with deeply education programming and by surrounding them with the right community. The combination of those two pieces democratizes women’s access to capital, and the success of our Pitch for the Purse program has proven so. Since 2017, the 30 Pitch for the Purse semi-finalists have raised over $20M in financing. With that funding, collectively these 30 women created 204 new jobs, and grew their annualized revenue by $67M. 

Pitch for the Purse finalists Taran and Bunny Ghatrora, founders of Blume | Image via Yaletown photography

Since the creation of the charity, FWE has helped thousands of Canadian women entrepreneurs with mentorship, funding, networking and more. Can you tell us about the long-term impact of investing in women-run businesses and why more investors should be focusing on this market? 

Thanks to a lot of data and research that has been done, it is now well known that investing in women is not only the right thing to do for our communities – it also makes smart business sense. Research states that startups run by women generate 78 cents for every dollar invested, while male-owned counterparts generate only 31 cents per dollar.

Women also invest in their communities – Women tend to invest more of their money – up to 90% – in their families’ health, education and well-being than their male counterparts.  Nearly 70% of women entrepreneurs integrate social impact into their business and 63% focus on sustainability.

This impact – of higher returns and working on solving the world’s most pressing challenges – is a tremendously powerful combination and presents investors with an opportunity to leverage their investment not only for economic impact but also for societal impact. 

How do you prepare women entrepreneurs with their business pitch, and why is this a make-or-break component of securing funding? 

Entrepreneurs are pitching their business – aka selling their solution and vision – every day, multiple times a day. They are pitching to potential customers, partners, employees, and of course, investors. Being able to communicate the vision of their company – their solution, why customers will buy the product or service, what the value of the business is – is critical in getting investors and allies on board. It’s important to bring the right kind of funding on board, as it’s not just about the money itself but also the knowledge the investor brings, that will be valuable for the entrepreneur. So being able to communicate the values and vision of the business, in order to bring in the right financing, is critical. 

Pitch for the Purse 2020 winner Lynn Dargis (with microphone) on stage with other finalists | Image via Yaletown photography

If you could give advice to a woman looking to launch her business but isn’t sure where to get funding, what would you tell her? 

Start having conversations about your intentions to get funding even before you are starting the fundraising round. You want your community to know your intentions so that they can keep opportunities in mind for you and be active advocates on your behalf. Reach out to organizations like FWE and ask for advice and participate in their programming – it does not have to be a lonely road! There are hundreds of entrepreneurs who have been, and currently are, in the same place you are now, so get connected with those communities and utilize the resources available to you.

Learn more about Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and their annual Pitch for the Purse event, including this year’s winner Lynn Dargis, by clicking here.

Pitch for the Purse winner Lynn Dargis being congratulated on stage at the Fairmont Hotel, Vancouver | Image via Yaletown photography


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