The world is in transition. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, amongst many things, the massive burden shouldered by women in society, the unbalanced responsibility they carry and challenges they face. This is made apparent by looking at the disproportionate numbers of women on the front lines as essential workers across hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores and the service industry to their roles as caretakers and providers in their own homes and communities.
It is a common theme for women to carry multiple roles, in addition to the systemic challenges across the intersections of gender, race, class, ability and more, impacting how women navigate the world and the surmounting obstacles they encounter because of it.
The startup landscape is no different.
It is not a hidden fact that globally, less than 1 in 5 businesses are owned by women. We have a massive charge ahead of us, as a society, as a region, and as an ecosystem, to demonstrate and showcase the positive change that is needed and will be led forward by the founders we see today. Not only do they need to build successful and innovative companies, but they are leading movements to create sustainable, better ways to be as a society.
As part of Innovation UBC, entrepreneurship@UBC is moved by our mandate to propel the research and innovation from the university into the world to create significant impacts, but also build the leaders who will spearhead this charge of a better society that reflects the region’s diversity and spirit. Accelerating early stage venture creation from the university’s rich landscape of research and true, transformative innovation, is in tandem to the importance of building the leaders who are at the helm of these companies.
Pairing academic excellence with entrepreneurial thinking, we are seeing the talent emerging from UBC to be that of incredibly qualified, agile leaders braced with the grit and resilience characteristic to entrepreneurs. UBC is a world class university and bedrock of innovation, translating the university’s leading-edge research in areas like climate change, sustainable cities and life sciences into tangible impacts.
Venture builders backed by academic rigour and discipline bring unique and important insights and knowledge to the venture creation process, stemming from and validated in academia. These ideas and discoveries are then transformed for impact through incubation and acceleration at entrepreneurship@UBC with our network of partners like the Institute of Computing, Information, and Cognitive Systems (ICICS).
Meet some of the founders from our program who are creating game changing companies, representing the next wave of leaders in BC:
Spearheaded by founders Aria Hahn and Brianna Blaney, Pocketed was born from the Co-founders’ experience building deepND: an AI hiring solution for hourly workers. The pandemic forced a major pivot for the founders, with much of their deepND clientele being restaurants and retail, both sectors drastically impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. From this experience, the founders spun out Pocketed: a grant platform that leverages the power of AI to help time-strapped entrepreneurs get easily matched with grants they qualify for in minutes.
Pocketed was launched in under 100 days with an oversubscribed alpha in (under) 1 day, a testament to the duo’s strong partnership, resiliency and dedication to helping the broader startup landscape thrive. Both multiple-time startup founders, Aria and Brianna are incredible leaders representing the future of our ecosystem.
It was after meeting a family without running water in her hometown of Valparaiso, Chile, that Viridis Co-founder and CEO, Macarena Cataldo-Hernandez, decided to dedicate her life to developing technologies to change this situation and improve people’s lives.
Her company, Viridis Research, was founded to help ensure communities around the world can get safe, clean and sufficient water through electrochemical water treatment technologies, and to empower those communities by providing the tools and knowledge required to solve their own water issues. Often the only women of colour in business meetings, Macarena is setting the pace for cleantech leaders and CEOs locally, helping to change the innovation landscape more broadly.
Stemming from her childhood in Cameroon on her family’s cacao plantation, Emkao Foods founder Ayissi Nyemba started her company in response to the challenges and inequity faced by her country’s cacao farmers. Founded in 2017 after immigrating to Canada, Emkao is a startup food processing company focused on the production of organic and transparently sourced cocoa ingredients – cocoa butter, cocoa powder and related products.
The founding mission of the company is to buy high quality cocoa beans at a fair price, and to process them into higher value added products for sale to businesses in Western Canada and beyond, generating a premium product for Emkao’s customers, aid small farmers in Cameroon, and help transform their local economy.
Led by CEO Ekaterina Nosova, Cyberspline Games is an independent gaming company transforming their love for adventure and story telling into memorable interactive creations that capture the imagination and inspire gamers. As an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC with her PhD focused on Machine Learning, Ekaterina offers a glimpse into the life of an academic entrepreneur, balancing her background in academia and research with her passion for gaming, weaving in her own creativity and style of leadership. Ekaterina represents the incredible talent coming from the university and parlaying that into venture creation for impact.
These leaders have demonstrated extraordinary amounts of knowledge and fortitude in carving their paths through early stage venture creation. Their contributions are key to our region’s prosperity and are examples of some of the changemakers coming from the university and through entrepreneurship@UBC’s venture building program.
Female founders are, in many cases, the first to carve out new territory for themselves in the innovation space. This, amplified by the effects the pandemic has had on women (across multiple intersections), has created layers of systemic pressures forcing women to work even harder to achieve these successes. It is crucial that the BC ecosystem works collaboratively to build a movement to support these visionaries and innovators who can co-create better systems for collective change and help support early stage founders in becoming the leaders they need to be, to achieve their visions.