Calgary-based group expanding to Edmonton to help female startup founders get funding

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A Calgary-based organization breaking down barriers between women startup founders and investors is setting its sights on Edmonton.

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The51, which launched in 2019, helps women-led startups across North America secure venture capital (VC) and has already invested in a few Edmonton companies. But on May 12, organizers have plans to formally connect with local investors and entrepreneurs at a community engagement event Downtown.

Shelley Kuipers, one of the founders and CEOs of The51, told Postmedia the organization serves as a “Financial Feminist” platform that brings together women and gender-diverse founders with investors of the same ilk.

“The51 was inspired by the fact that women really aren’t being invited to early-stage investing, and women aren’t being invested in,” Kuipers said. “We’re championing women in this ecosystem as investors, as entrepreneurs and as founders.”

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According to figures released in April by Pitch Book, a financial data and software company, businesses founded solely by women received only 2.2 per cent of the total capital invested in US venture-backed startups in 2021. Since 2008, that figure has bounced between 1.8 to three per cent.

Having invested in 38 North American companies, including Edmonton tech startups True Angle and Areto Labs, The51 focuses on ventures where women not only have a hand on the helm, but also equity in the company, Kuipers said: “That becomes a bit of a defining factor for us.”

The51 is currently investing from its first fund raised in fall 2020, she added, which isn’t limited to a specific sector and is made up of 90 per cent women’s capital.

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Research suggests women-led startups stand to gain when venture capital firms backing them have women as general partners (GPs).

A January 2021 paper by Sahil Raina, assistant professor of finance at the University of Alberta’s School of Business found that, compared to startups led by men, women-led startups were 63 per cent less likely to successfully exit VC financing through an acquisition or initial public offering when the venture capital firm’s general partners were all male.

“Strikingly,” the paper added, there was no such gap among startups financed by firms led by female general partners.

“There certainly is something about the female general partner that correlates with female startups doing better,” Raina told Postmedia in a teleconference meeting. “It’s not that the male-led startups do worse, when there’s a female VC, it’s that the female-led startups do better.”

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According to the paper, further analysis suggests firms led by female general partners close this performance gap by more accurately evaluating female-led startups.

Some reports also show women-led startups performing better than those founded solely by men.

In 2005, US venture fund First Round began collecting data on its investments, and found 10 years later that companies with a woman founder performed 63 per cent better than those founded by all-male teams.

It’s some of these findings, along with learning and networking opportunities available through The51, that organizers plan to share with an Edmonton audience.

“The broader opportunity is, no one is investing in women — or very few are — and so we’re trying to be the destination or the platform to make that happen,” Kuipers said. “It should be a very good return for your capital.”

The organization is also raising capital for a second, similarly sector-agnostic fund as well as a $50-million food and agricultural technology (Agtech) fund that will include underrepresented founders, such as people of color and members of the LBGTQ2S+ community, she added .

Kristina Milke, partner at, Nicole Janssen, co-founder and co-CEO of AltaML and Sharleen Oborowsky, CEO and co-founder of Yogapedia, will host the event.

Those interested in attending are invited to contact Milke and Janssen on LinkedIn.

[email protected]


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