University of Waterloo leads change with women in tech and HeForShe at #WIMIn2016

#WIMIn2016

This weekend, Waterloo Women: Ideas, Makers, Innovators (WIMIn) brought over 100 women together at the University of Waterloo to inspire, explore, and grow their ideas across a variety of different disciplines.

“We know that we have some work to do to improve gender equity on our campus, but fulfilling these commitments is fundamental to our University’s long-term success, and to the quality and betterment of society.”
 
– Feridun Hamdullahpur,
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Waterloo

UW’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Feridun Hamdullahpur, has called out the reality of gender inequality, urging a change for the better. His voice is joined by many in the tech sector across Canada, who recognize the economic, social, and cultural value of promoting gender equality within their organizations.

In a great step in this push for equity, WIMIn, the first event of its kind—and certainly not the last—builds on the commitment made by UW to the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign, a global solidarity movement for gender equity. In May 2015, UW became Canada’s first and only organization to participate in UN Women’s Impact 10x10x10 framework, making gender inequality an institutional priority.

By offering stories from successful, entrepreneurial women, along with resources and workshops, the hope is that WIMIn will be able to inspire these young women to act on their ideas and create the next big startup or social venture.

Saturday kicked off with a keynote by Lauren Lake, a co-founder of Bridgit, who dove into her background as a civil engineer turned entrepreneur and startup founder. From one previous experience in a male-dominated industry, construction, to another in technology, Lauren has been able to overcome these gender challenges to emerge as a female leader.

Many may have been introduced to her company, Bridgit, as the top team at Google Demo Day’s Women Edition. Bridgit, the only Canadian team at the event, beat out 450 other startups from around the world. The result is indicative of the potential of female-led startups and women in tech when given opportunity.

Lauren Lake #WIMIn2016

Lauren Lake, Co-founder of Bridgit, speaks with women from the University of Waterloo. Taken by Karel Vuong.

Similarly, Caitlin MacGregor, CEO of Plum, has overcome her own set of challenges while building and running her own successful startup with her husband and co-founder, while also raising their two children.

“We all know what success looks like in this industry. Jeans and a hoodie. If you don’t fit that pattern, there’s an immediate bias that sets in.”
 
– Caitlin MacGregor, CEO of Plum

In their talks, Lauren and Caitlin both touched on the unconscious biases that exist within the tech sector. For example, when minority entrepreneurs like women attempt to raise money from VCs, they run into difficulties that their white male counterparts do not.

“Pattern matching,” a technique used to identify in an individual the traits of successful entrepreneurs and companies, can cause many women to fall victim to the stereotypical perception that success can only take place in the form of a 20-year-old guy in jeans and a hoodie. The resulting difficulty for female-led startups to raise money calls for an elimination of gender-based and non-business-related pattern matching.

Caitlin MacGregor #WIMIn2016

Caitlin MacGregor, CEO of Plum, sharing her stories and advice to the future female entrepreneurs in the room. Taken by Karel.

To help enable the women to overcome these obstacles, WIMIn offered workshops on how to seed and grow ideas into feasible startups through validating their own ideas, crafting their value proposition, and delivering compelling pitches.

At the end of the ideathon, the following groups were selected as finalists:

  • Patch: a platform that provides an inclusive community for women who enjoy gaming
  • Sunshine: an app that enables caregivers of autistic children to track and share behavioural patterns
  • Click: an integrative dating app that doesn’t let looks define you
  • Yari: a hands-free app that enhances the accessibility of doorways
  • D.A.M.: a platform that eliminates drug miscalculations in the acute care industry
  • PASS app: an app that provides evidence-based mental health support to let the bad moments pass
  • kloc studios: a business that offers customisable, handmade floral installations
  • Notice: a convenient and centralised platform to source student volunteers
  • PAWsitive Living: a platform that connects foster animals with nursing homes to offer a better quality of life
  • CanvasCarrier: a platform that supports artists while simultaneously creating uplifting healthcare spaces
#WIMIn2016

A group pitching their idea conceived over the weekend to Tania Del Matto, Director of St. Paul’s GreenHouse. Taken by Karel Vuong.

In the end, three ideas were picked by the judges for ‘Best Pitch’, ‘Biggest Social Impact’, and ‘Most Innovative’.

With today being International Women’s Day, WIMIn, the United Nations, and the HeForShe solidarity movement are uniting with women for results worth celebrating: gender-based barriers are being broken down.

The momentum needs to continue, with a greater representation of women in technology and in the startup world. The collaborative and unified efforts of organizations, businesses, women and men will mean a better future for us all.

Special thanks to Emily Ross for help with this reporting.

Karel Vuong

Karel Vuong

Karel is BetaKit's correspondent in Waterloo Region. After a stint in Silicon Valley, Karel wasn’t convinced by its appeal and returned to the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor. He is currently a designer at Vidyard and the founder of Spaces, the place to go to discover where Canadian tech and innovation comes to life. If you have a space you’d like to show off, he’d love to talk.