I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read espousing the need to fund more women led companies, or provide more mentorship opportunities.
The truth? Getting funding for a start-up is hard no matter who you are. Is it harder for a woman? Maybe…. Probably. I’m certainly not trying to downplay the stats on men vs. women-led companies getting VC funding. In truth, the bigger problem for us was experience (i.e. previous successful exits) and connections. Unfortunately, the whole thing is somewhat of a vicious circle. (But please, whoever you are with funds pen-marked for female-led companies, do give me a shout because it certainly seems like a funding desert from my seat at the table).
Does that mean that start-ups without previous experience or a tie-in to someone entrenched in the start-up sphere can’t get funding? No. We’ve all read success stories of a viral product from complete unknowns.
Is it a lot harder? Absolutely.
As you know, things began rather slowly at Kabuk. After all, we were all working full time jobs and doing whatever we could in our spare time. Funding wasn’t even a question at that point. Any accelerator, incubator or VC we approached said we were too early stage. At the beginning, we were 100% self-funded and we did what we could. We had a great idea, but execution took time as we had to weigh every penny (should I be saying nickle now?) spent. A company with prior start-up experience or personal capital can almost, shall we say, bypass this teething stage. They have the resources to get things done quickly and try multiple approaches. They have the connections and clout to forgo the “You’re a pre-revenue start-up. Come back to me after you start generating revenue” talk.
Does it bother me when I read in the news that those same companies who turned us away are now funding earlier stage companies with very similar concepts but co-founders with proven start-up success? 100%, but it doesn’t change where we are today and how we got here. Would we have gotten better reception if I were a man? Who can really say? It’s certainly possible that a more aggressive personality and inclusion in the boy’s club could have opened more doors. What I really believe is that lack of start-up experience and cred was more of a factor.
What’s the solution to all of this? If I was sitting on the venture capital side of the table, I would undoubtedly rather risk my capital on a known commodity too. Is that the best way to build and nurture a culture of innovation? Not really.
We were hanging out on a limb, having self-funded Kabuk’s development for at least a year, when we raised our friends and family round. I will be forever grateful to all of our wonderful investors who believed in us and gave us the capital we needed to go it full time and make us a “real company”. Perhaps having such a difficult journey to get here makes us appreciate every new feature, every new release even more.
Anyone involved in a start-up will know that funding is a stressful, soul-crushing process. I have to say, however, that the start-up culture among Canadian companies is fantastic. Companies and associations in Canada always seem ready to have an intro conversation regarding synergies or take a look at our demo. I think Canada is one of the best places to be involved in a start-up and I wouldn’t trade places for the world. Still, there is much that could be done in terms of increasing access to and availability of funding.
I don’t have all the answers and, yes, talk is cheap. What are some of the ways you can think of to build a better culture of innovation in Canada? What would you like to see?
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