Pivoting With a Helping Hand: How Communitech’s Fierce Founders Program Supports Female Entrepreneurs - Workhaus

Two weeks ago, individuals and organizations around the world showed their support to women on International Women’s Day; a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

This year’s International Women’s Day also brought attention to the fact that women in Canada have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. A recent RBC-led survey concluded that almost half a million Canadian women – mostly young people and visible minorities – who have lost their jobs since the pandemic began are not yet back at work. Another 100,000 women in Canada have left the labour market altogether. It’s essential that these women rejoin the labour market as prolonged employment carries risks of skills erosion making it harder to return to the labour force later on.

Jobs that are typically female dominated like those in the hospitality, retail, food, and tourism sectors have been the most affected. In fact, according to the same RBC-led survey, many of these jobs will no longer exist due to reasons such as the rise of e-commerce, the shift to work from home/work from anywhere, or the sheer number of shuttered businesses in hard-hit sectors.

These challenges are compounded when you factor in major disruptions at home including most school-aged children attending online school and complex mental health issues that are affecting families of all sizes.

The government has already made some steps in the right direction to address these challenges such as promising funding to the provinces for training and re-skilling programs, helping businesses survive through subsidies and loans, and promising national childcare.

At Workhaus, we support women who carve their own path and may see the pandemic as an opportunity to pivot their careers and start their own businesses. However, much like the pandemic, this presents its own unique challenges with resources for women-led startups being notoriously hard to access

Luckily, there are various programs across Canada that actively work to help women-identifying and/or non-binary founders start and grow successful businesses. Fierce Founders, offered by Kitchener-Waterloo based Communitech, is one of these amazing programs.

Fierce Founders Bootcamp is a fast-paced business and personal growth program for Southwestern-Ontario founders at the ideation stage. Following this program is the newly launched Communitech Fierce Founders Uplift program, which is designed to help underrepresented and minority women grow their startups. Woman-identifying and/or non-binary founders from underrepresented groups in this program will receive $10,000 in non-matching funds and mentorship from Communitech’s expert team of Growth Coaches.  

And for those women founders who are further along in their company journey, Communitech offers the Fierce Founders Intensive Track program. Companies in this program receive up to $50,000 in matching funds and hands-on mentorship from our team of Growth Coaches. 

Since the program’s inception, administrators have continually reimagined and innovated how they deliver the programming based on feedback from founders on their ideal support system. “Each business has unique needs and the mentorship required shifts depending on each company’s strategy, so we developed programming that focuses on customized growth plans. With this approach our Growth Coaches are able to provide more value to the founders,” explained Michelle Engelhardt, Program Manager for Fierce Founders.

With the pandemic disproportionately affecting women, particularly those within minority groups, the Uplift tract in particular is unique because it provides early-stage companies with non-matching funds, which isn’t common among programming for this stage. “Getting access to early funding is difficult, especially for women. Communitech is helping bridge that gap,” adds Engelhardt.

With so many women experiencing unemployment and skills erosion across Canada, programs such as Communitech’s Fierce Founders give hope to those who want to pivot their careers and potentially bring their own business or “big idea” to life.

“There’s no way of knowing for sure what the post-COVID world will look like, but I do hope more women choose to act on their “big ideas.” I’ve been working closely with many brilliant and hard-working women over the past four years, and I would like to see that number climb despite the hurdles to success the pandemic has created,” said Engelhardt.

The power and impact of Communitech’s Fierce Founders programming is incredible when you look at the number of successful women-led businesses that have received access to typically restricted or limited resources. To understand how the program helped them as well as what it means to be a women-identifying and/or non-binary person carving their own path, we asked a few founders what the 2021 International Women’s Day theme of #ChoosetoChallenge meant to them in relation to their business. Here’s what a few had to say:

SolverGen Inc
Founder: Jane Sun

“As a molecular biologist working in the life science industry for the last 15+ years, stepping out of my comfort zone to put on the entrepreneur hat was terrifying. Building software without a background in computer science was a cherry on top. It’s been a journey with ups and downs, but I truly believe it’s pertinent that we as women continue challenging ourselves and challenging the norm to demonstrate that possibilities are endless. This mission became ever closer to my heart since my daughter was born. She watches my every move as I navigate through life’s various twists and turns.”

Lisnen
Founder: Eyra Abraham

“It’s not often that a black woman who happens to be classified as a person with disability is running a tech company in Canada, or around the world for that matter. I challenge the existing norms of what a tech founder looks like by founding a deep tech company and yet changing the narrative of what a tech founder should be. There is talent in our community that is waiting to be seen and utilized that can benefit our society but sometimes it takes one representation for others to realize what is possible and see things differently to make their impact.”

For more information on Communitech’s Fierce Founders programming and application timelines, you’re encouraged to visit their website

For more programs supporting women-identifying and/or non-binary people, check out these resources for Ontario and Alberta.