Opening doors for women to invest

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In season 3 of the Netflix comedy series “Grace and Frankie,” the titular characters start a sex toy company for women over 60. It brought forward the importance of women’s sexual health, at any age, without the sniggering jokes, underscoring once again the value of women supporting women.

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Opinion

In season 3 of the Netflix comedy series “Grace and Frankie,” the titular characters start a sex toy company for women over 60. It brought forward the importance of women’s sexual health, at any age, without the sniggering jokes, underscoring once again the value of women supporting women.

Imagine what it would be like if you were a woman trying to get funding for the prototype of a pleasure accessory device and running to a bunch of male investors. North Forge Technology Exchange CEO Joelle Foster told me the story of a woman seeking investors in her female sexual wellness company who experienced this scenario.

“The guys hearing her pitch were pretty good, but can you imagine how much easier it would have been if it had been a group of women she was speaking to?” Foster asks. “Also, if female investors had been part of the pitch, maybe she would have received funding.”

North Forge CEO Joelle Foster is seeking to attract more women as investors in local startup businesses. (File)

This is one of the reasons why Foster is putting together Manitoba’s first Women’s Equity Lab investment group. She’s opening up the opportunities for women to invest in promising startups in Manitoba in exchange for a portion of the business.

In Canada, usually, to be considered an accredited individual investor you must pass some pretty lofty financial gateposts. First, you must have an income of more than $200,000 per year, or a joint salary of $300,000, in each of the past two years and must be expected to reasonably keep the same level of income. The other alternative is that you must have at least $1 million in assets, either alone or jointly with a spouse.

But Foster is making it easier for women to become “angel investors” — individuals who invest in promising startups in exchange for a piece of the business — without having to be accredited investors. She is seeking to open the doors for women to become non-accredited investors in order to enter the world of investing and have a say in startup companies offering interesting opportunities.

Foster worked with the Manitoba Securities Commission over the past seven months to get this exemption, as a way of getting more women investors to back women-led businesses. She is now actively recruiting female investors to join the Women’s Equity Lab Manitoba (WEL MB).

Foster says she did this because she is committed to addressing “women’s chronic and systemic under-representation in early-stage investing. Currently only three per cent of investment dollars go to women-led businesses, despite more than 40 per cent of companies being women-owned.”

The exemption means half the women she recruits can be non-accredited investors. To participate in the first fund costs $5,500.

Foster is hoping to raise $150,000 to $200,000 with the aim of helping Manitoba-based startups. The decision on who gets how much funding will be made by the investors. She’s hoping that there will be two rounds of intake each year.

There are other active investment groups in Canada. The Women’s Equity Lab started in Victoria in 2017 and will be running its fifth group soon. Vancouver now has investment labs, and there is one in Toronto and another in the Okanagan. Silicon Valley also has one established.

According to Foster, as of May 2022, WEL is comprised of more than 150 women angel investors who have collectively invested in 26 companies. Of these, more than 65 per cent were founded and/or led by women.

To make this work, Foster hopes to get 30 to 40 women to pool their money and to sit as a team to evaluate pitches on early-stage investment portfolios. Depending on the type of applications received, startups could receive anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 toward their business.

The intent, says Foster, is that the women investors will use their “collective expertise, capital and insights.” Foster says that “by increasing the number of women shareholders, female advisers and board members in emerging local companies, we will enhance the ecosystem and generate long-lasting effects.

“Women can have an impact on the availability of capital, the types of companies that get funded, the composition of boards and the executive teams of growing private companies. This only makes us stronger.”

Women are still missing in executive positions in Canada’s corporate boards. While the numbers may be changing, they still make up only about 20 per cent of the director positions and there are still far too many male-only corporate boards. Perhaps getting more female investors involved is an alternate way of changing that dismal equation.

Women who want more information about the Women’s Equity Lab can contact Joelle Foster at jfoster@northforge.ca.

» Shannon Sampert is the former politics and perspectives editor at the Winnipeg Free Press and a communications consultant. She was the Eakins Fellow for the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada for winter 2022 and was the recipient of the Rita and Charles Bronfman Award for Excellence in Teaching in Canadian Studies for the 2021-22 academic year.

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