Region: Waterloo Region
Program: Investing in Business Innovation
Total funding allocated: up to $880,000
In a world that has been defined by male-driven technology companies, Waterloo Region’s Communitech is reshaping the boundaries and breaking the barriers associated with this industry. Its Fierce Founders program, offering an all-female business accelerator and bootcamp, is making positive strides in the tech sector, resulting in more female-run businesses not only existing in the industry, but succeeding and thriving as well.
Communitech has been a key innovation hub for the Waterloo Region since 1997 and has supported thousands of tech companies while helping to build a globally recognized technology cluster. Its Fierce Founders Accelerator, created in 2014, provides women-led technology companies with the tools they need to excel in this competitive market. This is Canada’s first female–focused initiative of its kind and was supported with an $880,000 investment in 2016 through FedDev Ontario’s Investing in Business Innovation initiative.
“FedDev Ontario’s support of the Fierce Founders Accelerator has been instrumental to the program’s success,” says Kelly McGregor, Manager of Fierce Founders at Communitech.
The Fierce Founders Accelerator is a structured six-month program that helps participating women entrepreneurs work through initial product development, customer validation and ultimately the securing of early-paying customers. During their placement, founders receive mentoring and training, and have constant access to experienced growth coaches who help them develop a customized business plan. To date, 22 companies have participated in the accelerator and 15 more are scheduled to participate in 2018.
Since Fierce Founders was launched, Communitech has experienced the positive effects of this accelerator. Its number of active start-up clients that have women in leadership roles has risen measurably in all Communitech programs, from nine percent to over 27 percent in just three years.
“The key to advancing female entrepreneurs is providing them with the expertise they need to assert themselves and the confidence to overcome adversity,” says McGregor. “Starting a company is a lonely journey, so being able to connect with other females who are going through the same things is also invaluable.”
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The program’s six-day bootcamp competitions have been an integral part of the accelerator’s core programming. Participants develop their business model, pitch their business, network with investors and advisors and attend exclusive workshops over the six days. Winners of this bootcamp competition receive $100,000 in seed funding and acceptance into the Fierce Founders Accelerator. The competitions are held twice a year.
Erifili Morfidis of web service company iRestify Inc., is a graduate of both the program’s accelerator and bootcamp components. According to Morfidis, Fierce Founders is a “champion” for women entrepreneurs with a team of industry experts and mentors available on demand to accelerate tech start-ups.
“It’s changed the face of technology,” she says. “What a difference it makes to fund and encourage women.”
Daniela Roeper is the founder of Borealis Wind, a company that prevents ice build-up on wind turbines. In August 2016, she earned first place in the Fierce Founders Bootcamp competition and was grateful for the support she received.
“Coming from an engineering background, I lacked concrete business knowledge,” says Roeper. “The bootcamp was an amazing learning opportunity. I’ll continue to learn from and connect with brilliant, driven women in the accelerator.”
The Fierce Founders Accelerator has created over 30 high-skilled full-time jobs in the Waterloo Region. Most importantly, it’s providing ambitious women with the support and opportunities they’ve earned, directing them towards success and opening their eyes to all the possibilities along the way.