Innovation Guelph significantly impacted our goal to work towards moving the needle for women in business with our successful funding application to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) enabling Rhyze Ventures. We received additional funding from NRC-IRAP to fund a new Rhyze Up! Program as well.  These two new programs are customized for women entrepreneurs.

Since women entrepreneurs positively impact our entrepreneurial ecosystem, we would like to reflect on some of the amazing women who have been involved with Innovation Guelph, many of whom are STEM innovators who never cease to inspire us.

To clarify, what exactly is STEM? If you’re not already familiar with it, the acronym may have you envisioning the stem of a flower or a wine glass. However, it stands for the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

There is a growing demand for STEM workers today, as they largely make up the driving force behind innovation. In recent years there has been a push specifically for women in STEM. Even though the numbers seem to be growing, less than 25 per cent of the STEM workforce consisted of women as of 2016.

According to the society of women engineers, more than 20 per cent of engineering graduates are women, but only 11 per cent are practicing engineers.

“Female participation in STEM is key, as STEM skills are crucial for innovation and solving economic and societal issues. The statistics are troubling: Among workers aged 25 to 64 in scientific occupations, only 28 per cent are women, 2016 data from Statistics Canada reveals. As of December, 2016, women accounted for just 30 per cent of research chairs at universities.” (link to original article)

The women and women-led companies featured below are spearheading innovation in both STEM and business and are excellent examples of why women are important contributors to STEM and business.

UTComp: Composite asset intelligence you can count on

In the past, evaluating pipes, tanks and other equipment could only be done by cutting into them, which was costly, time consuming, and jeopardized structural integrity. UTComp has revolutionized the industry with their UltraAnalytix™ inspection system, ensuring the safe performance and maximum lifespan of fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) and other composite industrial assets.

The company, founded in 2008 by Jo Anne Watton and Geoff Clarkson, received WES funding this past year. With the grant money, they plan to bring a new technology to their customers regarding quality control in manufacturing.

“We’re excited to see where that goes over time,” Watton said.

What advice would you give to young girls or women who want to pursue business leadership?
“Don’t take no for an answer. You have to know your stuff; what it is you’re doing it and why. Just because somebody says you can’t, doesn’t mean that they’re right. Just keep going, but make sure you’re well researched and well-equipped to move forward.” – Jo Anne Watton

RilleaTech: Chemical management made easy

Have you done WHMIS training so many times that your eyes glaze over when you read the word? Then you should be thrilled to hear that RilleaTech has an innovative alternative to WHMIS training; and it’s one that doesn’t require you memorizing every little fact about chemical safety!

SDS RiskAssist is an app that’s “like having a chemical safety consultant in your pocket,” as it digitizes safety data sheets, helping you make informed decisions about chemical management.

CEO & engineer Lisa Hallsworth co-founded the company along with her husband, Rob Hallsworth.

Lisa spent 30 years managing chemicals for high-risk chemical companies, and she wondered how other organizations managed them. When she started asking around, she discovered that many of them don’t have the resources to understand safe chemical management.

While they have their benefits, chemicals are often considered to be dangerous. RilleaTech wants us to understand the hazards chemicals possess and how to use them safely, protecting ourselves and the environment.

Over the course of her career, Lisa has often found she was one of the only women in the room. In fact, since she started out in chemical engineering thirty years ago, she’s doubtful that the number of women pursuing engineering has increased at all.

In navigating such a male-dominated profession, she has noted a difference in the way men and women communicate in the boardroom.

“The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a woman, is that women speak differently about things, very holistically about solving problems, and men don’t always understand the underlying idea. I feel like men speak more about what they’re going to cost, and get to the money, and there’s a way that successful men have communicated over time, and they’re comfortable communicating [in that way]. And so, when a woman presents an idea in a different way of communicating it, it doesn’t always resonate with them. If you don’t have a male advocate in the room, sometimes it’s just silence, and the topic is changed.”

“For a long time, I didn’t appreciate that it was maybe a psychological difference in the way men and women communicate. What I thought was, oh, my idea isn’t valid. It wasn’t until much later in my career that I realized I needed to find that way to communicate my idea so that it will resonate. It’s not that the idea is bad, it’s just the way they’re receiving it.”

Lisa attributes much of the discrepancy in Angel and VC funding to the difference in communication between men and women. 

SpeakFeel: Exceptionally innovative software & blockchain development

Founded in 2009 by Kelly Brooks, SpeakFeel is a women-led software company that offers exceptional web and mobile application development services. SpeakFeel has seen a great deal of success and growth in recent years, receiving WES funding in 2019, and adding cutting-edge artificial intelligence to their repertoire. Their new platform, Quarter4, will provide professional-level data-driven insights that predict team and player performances, engaging sports enthusiasts of all levels.

Brooks, a self-taught programmer, and one of the few female tech CEOs in Canada, fell in love with the tech industry because of the creativity involved. Despite her success, Brooks has been told time and time again that she can be “too emotional.” But she believes her success has been largely in part to her emotions, using them to her advantage.

“Lots of technology now requires emotional thinking,” she said. When it comes to artificial intelligence especially, she believes a high degree of emotional aptitude can be an asset.

The tech industry has taken large strides over the years in terms of gender representation. Brooks believes it won’t be a problem soon enough as she notes there are few barriers for women in the industry today.

“The tides are changing for women; any progressive tech company is actively seeking women. We need to stop thinking in these old ways and just think about the way it will be in the future.”

Schema App: Professional Schema Markup Tools

Do you ever wonder how search engines like Google sort through the results? Schema Markup helps search engines understand content so that your website can be found and stand out in searches across various devices and platforms. Guelph-based Schema App empowers you to do this without ever having to write code, making it incredibly user friendly.

CEO and co-founder Martha van Berkel is a visionary, who possesses the unique ability to create and define new markets, get customers excited about opportunities and onboard them. As the tech industry continues to become more inclusive, she believes one of the biggest challenges for women in tech today is a sense of self-doubt.

“I think that often we convince ourselves that we can’t do something. The great news is that this is easily overcome by choosing a “can-do” attitude and surrounding yourself with a supportive community and mentors. If you choose to believe that you can do something, then break down the big goals (and challenges) into smaller pieces and tackle them one at a time.”


KPM Power: There’s a better way to power your products

KPM Power is a Canadian company specializing in customized lithium ion battery solutions, global supply chain services, UL certification and design for manufacturing.

Karen Lai, an electromechanical engineer, and the president and founder of KPM Power, never envisioned herself as an entrepreneur.

“I realized that integrity, culture and purpose was important for a company. As a new employee, I can’t easily change the culture. I realized that I wanted to create this in my own company. My husband, Pete, told me that instead of investing our money into RRSPs or TFSAs, he wanted to invest our money in me. Pete felt that believing me would give us the biggest return.  I wrote another business plan, quit that job and got my first consulting contract one week later.”

When she was studying mechanical engineering, Lai found herself as one of five women in a class of 80.

“I would never put up my hand and ask questions. I was too shy to sit in the front. I remember always feeling dumb and asking for help from guys in my class that I felt were just naturally smarter. During co-op jobs, I remember having to laugh off inappropriate comments towards me about my body or my race. In my career, it took a while, but my confidence grew. In that company where I worked for 12 years, I was able to triple their revenues.”

Lai recently met with a female co-op student who said there were 20 girls in a class of 100: a big jump from when she was in school.

“The teachers today are mindful about encouraging girls to raise their hand in class to answer questions, but it is still the boys that are more confident to do so. I think over each generation, this is improving, however, I do believe in building the confidence of girls. I do believe in exposing them to more STEM activities and letting them feel comfortable in that environment.”

What advice would you give to young girls or women who want to pursue business leadership?
“Your ideas matter; feel confident enough to share them.”

Canada also needs to have more women in high-productivity jobs. Female workers currently make up only 35 per cent of managerial positions, 23 per cent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers, and 20 per cent of small business owners.