Photo: Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism, announces $880,000 in FedDev Ontario funding for Communitech’s new Fierce Founders Accelerator for female-led startups.
Communitech is launching an accelerator program for female-led tech companies in an effort to boost diversity and business performance within Waterloo Region’s startup community.
The Fierce Founders Accelerator will provide seed funding and mentorship to about 20 early-stage companies, spread over several cohorts, over two years. Startups admitted to the program will have at least one female founder or top executive.
FedDev Ontario, an agency of the federal government, will provide up to $880,000 to Communitech to support the accelerator. Each company will receive up to $30,000 in funding without having to surrender any equity, and six months of residency in the newly expanded Communitech Hub in downtown Kitchener’s Tannery complex.
“Women play an integral role in the success of businesses,” said Bardish Chagger, Canada’s Minister of Small Business and Tourism and Kitchener-Waterloo MP, who announced the funding at the Hub before a large crowd today. “Today’s announcement not only builds this thriving region, but it supports women in the technology sector.”
Chagger noted that the new accelerator is among the first in Ontario to exclusively focus on women founders.
Research has repeatedly shown that businesses with greater numbers of female leaders perform better than their competitors, but women have been chronically under-represented on founding teams and in executive positions, especially in the tech sector.
Communitech has been working in recent years to address this imbalance through several inititatives, including bootcamps, workshops, mentorship and its other accelerator programs, and partners including Deloitte, TD and Google have thrown significant support behind such programming. The Fierce Founders Accelerator marks an escalation of these efforts.
“We’ve seen first-hand that companies with diverse teams perform better,” Communitech CEO Iain Klugman said. “However, we have not seen the number of female entrepreneurs coming through Communitech that we should. Research also shows that women-led businesses have a harder time accessing venture capital. We’re launching this program to address both those issues.”
The new accelerator expands on Communitech’s Fierce Founders Bootcamp, an annual summer program that began in 2014 to help kick-start female-led startups. The winner of this summer’s bootcamp will automatically earn a spot in the new accelerator’s first cohort this September.
“We offer programming for every step of a startup’s life, from idea and implementation, to scaling up and securing sales,” said Danielle Graham, Manager of Communitech’s Women in Tech program. “Through Fierce Founders, women entrepreneurs have the opportunity to turn their business ideas into a reality with the bootcamp, and then accelerate it into a scalable business.”
Steve McCartney, Communitech’s Vice President of Startup Services, said the new accelerator “builds on a history that already exists” at Communitech, and cited audience member Caitlin MacGregor, CEO of Plum, a growing HR software company that took part in Communitech’s Hyperdrive accelerator a few years ago. “This now allows us to take it to the next level.”