Women leaders at Shopify launch new angel group to invest in women and non-binary founders

A group of individuals who have helped lead and build Shopify have launched a new angel group in Canada, focused on investing in women and non-binary founders with a specific focus on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)-led companies.

Called Backbone Angels, the group consists of 10 angel investors who have held various management-level roles at Shopify. The launch of the angel group was announced Monday, International Women’s Day.

The group includes Shopify chief talent office Brittany Forsyth; Erin Zipes, vice president of assistant general counsel; Anna Lambert director of product acceleration; Konval Matin, director of merchant storytelling; Atlee Clark, the director of operations for Shop; Solmaz Shahalizadeh, VP of commerce intelligence; and Arati Sharma, founder of Ghlee and former director of product marketing at Shopify; among others.

Having all met while working at Shopify, the group has made more than 50 individual angel investments over the years. Backbone Angels was launched because the group wanted to create a space to support the companies the individuals invest in. “We make individual investment decisions but collectively support every founder in our portfolio. Whether one or all of us has invested capital, the group is invested in your success,” Backbone states on its website. Sharma called this “the power of the collective.”

Sharma, who recently departed Shopify for her own venture, told BetaKit Backbone “years in the making.” She noted the group has provided not just capital but sat on company boards and provided mentorship to each other and other founders and entrepreneurs. The conversation to launch Backbone started a couple of years ago, with the women were looking to bring their network and experience to the broader Canadian startup scene.

The 10 individuals have been behind the scenes building Shopify for a collective eight years. “Over the past decade, all of us have had this front-row seat to scaling and growing a company,” said Shahalizade, noting that the idea behind Backbone is to bring together the women’s collective expertise in a variety of areas to support portfolio companies.

The name for Backbone comes from the group being the backbone that has helped scale and develop Shopify into the major e-commerce player that it is today, as well as a backbone and network for each other.

The group plan to invest in companies looking for early-stage, family and friends capital. With no specific vertical in mind, they plan to invest across a spectrum of sectors, from tech to direct-to-consumer.

Women and non-binary founders have long been underserved when it comes to private capital for their startups. According to research from the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub firms owned by men are more likely to receive venture capital or angel funding and other forms of leverage such as trade credit or capital leasing. Firms wholly owned by men are four times more likely to report receiving venture capital than firms wholly owned by women. Men-owned firms are also more likely to use trade credit, capital leasing, venture capital, or angel funding while women-owned businesses are more likely to use a source of government funding.

Companies founded and led by BIPOC women are even more underrepresented in these categories. For example, in the United STates in 2018 11 African American women raised $1 million in venture capital funding, which worked out to about 0.2 percent of all venture funding that year.

“We need a collective effort to change where money goes, which founders are backed, and by whom,” Backbone Angels wrote on Twitter. “This is why we started Backbone. We are coming together to invest in women and non-binary founders with a focus on investments in Black, Indigenous, and Women of Colour-led companies.”

“We believe that there is space for many founders to thrive and be successful, and we know that access to the resources it takes to succeed are not equitably distributed,” the group stated. “We are here to help close the gaps. As a founder, you will access expertise in product, data, UX, marketing, talent, legal, operations, and strategy.”

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Associate Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.