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Accelerating the Next Generation of Women Tech Founders

Technology has been the defining force of the twenty-first century, creating opportunities for everyone, all around the world. It has fuelled innovation, accelerated rapid change and sparked new business models.

Digital is now core to the growth of many companies. In my role, working with large Canadian companies, many of which are featured in this year's TSX30 ranking, I've seen how the pandemic has played a role in accelerating digital transformation in businesses large and small. We've seen what seems like five years of digital transformation in the past five months, and it's only the beginning.

Take for example curbside pickup. Pre-pandemic this was uncommon but today, it's one of the fastest growing channels for many retailers. We've seen a 300% year-on-year increase in interest around curbside pickup on Google Search trends. Before COVID, many retailers had plans to offer this service on their product roadmap, but it was going to take over 18 months to deliver. Instead, I've seen retailers accelerate their product roadmaps and launch the offering in a matter of days. We're ordering online and picking up our groceries, back to school supplies and lumber for our DIY projects straight from the curb - new habits are forming, and they're sticking.

As companies on the TSX30 grapple with many of the changes this year has brought, they will need agility and resilience, as well as the right skills and people. But instead of going it alone, this is a moment when industries need to work together. Collaborating to win is going to be very important for the next phase of this transformation. For example, early in the pandemic, working alongside Shopify and many other partners in the tech community, we came together to support Digital Main Street's ShopHERE program, to help Canadian businesses build e-Commerce sites.

Accelerating Women-Led Tech Start-ups in Canada

Digital hasn't just created opportunities for established companies, it has also opened new avenues for emerging tech entrepreneurs. Canada has a world leading ecosystem of accelerators and government support programs to help these entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses from Canada to the global stage.

Canadian talent is bar none and you can see this in the list of Canadian female led tech founders including Joanna Griffiths of Knix, Noura Sakkhija of Mejuri, and Eva Wong of Borrowell. But less than one-fifth of Canadian start-ups are majority owned by women. And the recent pandemic has hit working women hard as many juggle parenting, homeschooling and looking after household duties, all on top of a day's work. These new pressures and realities come on top of barriers that have already existed for women in the industry, who have for decades been up against "glass ceilings," stereotypes and male-dominated industries, especially at founder and C-levels.

Canada's female founders have already proven that women have a remarkable ability to persevere and innovate during challenging times and create technology that solves real problems. Like Joanna Griffiths, founder of Knix, who has proven that there's a market for "real talk" when it comes to women's bodies. Or Noura Sakkhija, the founder of Mejuri, who redefined the fine jewellery industry and took her business to the next level while pregnant with twins. Or like Eva Wong, whose company Borrowell has blazed trails in the fintech industry and is helping people take control of their credit and finances.

As we look to rebuild the economy, we absolutely need to think through how to effectively support women in the workforce and at home. To help foster Canada's community of women founders, Google launched a three-month digital accelerator program, focused on women tech founders from ‘high-potential seed' to ‘Series A' start-ups in Canada and the United States. The program offers mentorship and technical training, as well as an alumni support network to help women-led start-ups scale up their business. The program attracted almost 1,000 applications, and last month, we revealed the first cohort, with five Canadian companies selected. For many women entrepreneurs, getting the support they need is half the battle, and that's what we're hoping to bring to the table with our accelerator program.

Developing Women Entrepreneurs and Leaders

My advice for women tech entrepreneurs is to treat leadership as a journey, not a destination, and to not be afraid of being uncomfortable. Whether it's upskilling on digital skills with GrowWithGoogle, taking on a new stretch assignment or asking for feedback on a big presentation, investing in your personal leadership development is one of the highest impact things you can do. Growth comes from the stretch zone, so you need to step out of your comfort zone to really develop.

Hire great talent and create a business culture that drives impact and growth. Founder-CEOs have surrounded themselves with talented individuals who share their vision, values and passion, but also bring unique skills and perspectives to help their business excel. They say that culture eats strategy for breakfast and I believe that culture starts with a diverse set of leaders who are values based and lead with purpose.

Last, seek mentors and sponsors. Good mentorship is anchored on diversity and the strength of relationships you've built within your network in and outside of work. There is so much value in a virtual board of directors; they can act as a sounding board when you hit a roadblock and help you see the bigger picture from a different angle. This is more important now than ever in this complex work from home environment we all find ourselves in.

Canada's digital ecosystem is enabling women tech founders to grow and scale their businesses faster than ever before. Understanding how to partner and leveraging talent, tools and capital can help accelerate the next generation of women entrepreneurs.

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