How women tech entrepreneurs are breaking through the glass ceiling: CATA WIT (Women in Tech) By: Maria Cootauco, Info Executive
February 16, 2010

Women in Tech: Enterpreneurship Best Practices, View the Video on CATAnet TV

With the post recession bubble in our midst and Canadians looking at moderate growth ventures in favour of high-risk gambles, the growth of women entrepreneurship in the country is a hot topic. Recently, CATA WIT, a Canadian “Women in IT” forum, commissioned a case report on the emerging issues around women’s leadership and discussed the findings in a teleforum.

“The discussion about women’s entrepreneurship is quite muddied and the reason is it often revolves around the rationale for gender difference that people come into the conversation with,” said Barbara Orser, Deloitte professor at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. “Some of us might think about socialization, economists talk about human capital … certainly in our sector, technology, there are cultural issues and fit issues.”

The teleforum touched briefly on some specific challenges women business owners face that came to light in the course of the case report. They included finding the right mix of capital, attracting and developing talent, the role of government in facilitating or deterring growth, and a non-gender neutral technology industry.

Access to capital figured heavily in the discussion, launched by the results of a Statistics Canada and Industry Canada survey that indicated women are less likely to apply for supplier credits, loans, leasing and equity when compared to men.

“(It’s) quite interesting because if you don’t apply, it might mean that your business is undercapitalized,” Orser said. “When we asked women in this country why is it that you haven’t applied, some might think it was because of discrimination, but the number one reason for both men and women was the financing was not needed.”

And that’s why building a solid business model was a top key finding of the report – without a good plan, finding capital to start, sustain and grow a business will be an uphill battle. “One of the things that was loud and clear from the case study is there’s not enough time spent on building out the business model,” said Anne Raymond, proprietor of Xtreme Productivity, a Canadian a career coaching company. “The most successful businesses … looked at their business in a way that was scalable, that used the Internet for efficiencies, that allowed the firm to customize output ???output with really standardized inputs. Many looked at a model that allowed them to use bootstrap capital and to leverage suppliers for capital and beta-testing purposes.”

The report also underscored the importance of a diversity of competencies at the executive level. Business owners who possessed a wide breadth of experience in their careers saw the most success, according to the study. “And if you don’t have diverse skills … hire or outsource some of those competencies,” Raymond advised. “When we looked at those competencies in terms of what was most aligned with the growth of the firm … the technical acumen underlined the growth. Technology and some sense of technical skills is really important.”

Keeping IP close to home was also another factor that helped lead to success, Raymond said. “A number of business owners talked about how this is obviously their collateral and when you’re small or nascent, there’s always an opportunity to outsource or share some of the IP. And consistently, the word I’m hearing from these successful business owners is keep it close to home. It’s not what they outsource.”

In terms of growth enablers, the importance of developing positive customer relationships and the benefits of early exporting topped the list. Orser used the example of a woman business owner of a solar bike company in Montreal who leveraged her business relationships to expand her business.  “She was able to build out this technology with the city of Montreal and the parking authority … it was all about relationships,” Orser said. “The Montreal parking authority was in fact the agency that sourced her primary supplier which was a manufacturer of bikes … That whole trusting relationship has been built into what’s now a whole series of growth opportunities.” 

Lastly, Orser advocated for women entrepreneurs to explore the option of exporting their good or service early on. “Many of the business owners we spoke to were out of the gate as global entrepreneurs,” Orser said. “They’re retaining the R&D at home but they’re out of the gate and using the U.S. market to beta test their products and attract investors … They see the U.S. as a source of where they’re going to attract most of the investment capital.”