Whether you’re setting up a femtech business or embarking on a fundraising round, we’ve got first-hand advice from trailblazing women in tech. 

Picture of femtech entrepreneur Rachel Bartholomew

Rachel Bartholomew, founder of Hyivy Health and Femtech Canada

To start and grow a femtech business in Canada, it helps to learn from one of the best. Waterloo-based serial entrepreneur Rachel Bartholomew is the founder of pelvic health company Hyivy and Femtech Canada, an online platform to mobilize resources, drive awareness, and foster a collaborative community within the women’s health innovation sector. As the femtech landscape evolves, Bartholomew shares key lessons and helpful advice to help you achieve success as a woman entrepreneur at any stage of the founder journey. 

    1. Don’t give them a reason to doubt you. When it comes time to court investors, Bartholomew believes it’s crucial that your pitch backs up your claims: “I’ve got my numbers. I’ve got my market. When I present, it’s clear what I’m doing and that I know what the hell I’m talking about,” she says. “Being bulletproof is ultimately what this is about.”
    2. Embrace the power of your personal story. Don’t shy away from sharing your journey, including the challenges you’ve faced and lessons learned. In a crowded startup landscape, Bartholomew finds that leading with her story as a cervical cancer survivor can humanize the pitch and create a deeper connection with potential backers.

It’s okay not to know everything because, to be honest, the research hasn’t been done, so let’s all just talk about something we don’t know and try to figure it out together.

Plus, it demonstrates your resilience, adaptability, and that you’re capable of navigating obstacles: “I always come out with my story first. I find that talking about what I went through removes a cloak or opens up a channel like, ‘I’m being vulnerable and open with you, I want you to be vulnerable back with me. And it’s okay not to know everything because, to be honest, the research hasn’t been done, so let’s all just talk about something we don’t know and try to figure it out together.’ That’s how I lead the conversation.”

  1. Seek out insights. Speaking of research, as a woman in business, seize every opportunity to enrich your understanding of the market, customer, and competitive landscape. For Bartholomew, that meant tapping into the other patients at the cancer centre where she was treated and turning private facebook groups into quasi focus groups for prototype ideas. She also leveraged her built-in access to medical experts and clinicians (true story: she pitched her concept to her radiologist while strapped to a radiation machine), to help inform R&D.Moreover, Bartholomew continues to invite patients to share their stories through Hyivy’s website with the hope of learning from them: “Everyone is unique and has something that can add to what we’re working on. So, if there are any patients out there that are willing to talk or need a safe space, we have that, and we want to hear from you.”
  2. People are as important as the product. As a two-time CEO, Bartholomew knows that success in the role transcends growth targets and driving sales; it hinges on the ability to lead and empower a team. “A lot of my headspace is dealing with people, motivating them and, you know, keeping them employed,” she says. “When you get into business, you think it’s all about creating and selling something. No, it’s literally talking and dealing with different personalities and people every single day. There’s a lot that goes into the culture-building side of things.”
  3. Build community, but think beyond it. While Bartholomew is bullish on femtech’s growth, she’s also realistic about the limited opportunities Canada’s smaller tech ecosystem offers female founders. “If e don’t have the budgets to adopt innovation in Canada’s hospital systems, and we don’t have insurance programs that can help support these things, how are we ever going to make any advancements?” she says, reinforcing the role Femtech Canada plays in providing founders resources, connection, and community. “It’s slowly improving, and we’re getting there, but in the meantime, female founders need to learn to ask for support where they can find it; don’t go it alone.”

Sources of startup funding for women entrepreneurs

headshot of Parneet Dehl, RBCx's VP of Life Sciences

Parneet Dehl, VP, Life Sciences, RBCx

It probably comes as news to no woman tech entrepreneur that securing startup funding, especially in Canada’s smaller market, can be a struggle. Female founders consistently receive a smaller share of VC deals—just 10 per cent in Canada and less than two per cent in the U.S.—and the numbers are even more dismal if you factor race into account. However, Parneet Dehl, VP, Life Sciences for RBCx, insists that a range of potential investment sources exist. “I think there’s a growing recognition of specific health needs at the investor and federal level in Canada,” she says. “Over the last few years I’ve seen a notable shift in funding mentality from thinking it’s niche to potentially enormous.” 

Over the last few years I’ve seen a notable shift in funding mentality from thinking it’s niche to potentially enormous.

While exploring venture capital firms for funding is an ideal avenue for early-stage tech startups, a more targeted approach can significantly benefit female founders. Explore VC firms that specifically champion female-led startups or have a specific interest in femtech not only increases the likelihood of securing funding, but also ensures alignment with investors who understand and appreciate the unique challenges and opportunities within the women’s technology sector. RBCx is a partner of powerhouse women VCs like Michelle McBane of StandUp Ventures and Janet Bannister of Staircase Ventures, who are dedicated to investing in female-founded and led tech companies. 

Grants for women entrepreneurs also play a significant role in supporting innovation and technology startups. Government programs, such as the Industrial Research Assistance Program and the Women Entrepreneurship Fund, offer financial assistance, mentorship, and resources to female-led tech ventures. Dehl also points to general tech funds in Canada like the Business Development Bank of Canada’s Thrive Platform for Women and MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, which can offer valuable funding and support for startups across various sectors. 

We know that incubators and accelerators are working with femtech companies to better represent themselves to investors by providing more information around how to appropriately benchmark when evaluating them,” she says.

Family offices can also be a viable source of investment, offering private capital from affluent families looking to diversify their investment portfolios. Many family offices are increasingly interested in supporting innovative tech ventures, providing not just funding, but often strategic guidance and industry connections. 

Additionally, female founders should consider networking within the Canadian startup ecosystem, attending pitch events, and engaging with angel investors who may offer crucial support, both financially and operationally, to help scale their companies. “When it comes to navigating the fundraising landscape, femtech and female founders need a diverse arsenal of strategies,” she says. “But at the end of the day, emphasizing the opportunity and transformative potential makes it more attractive to investors regardless of gender.”  

RBCx offers support to startups in all stages of growth, backing some of Canada’s most daring tech companies and idea generators. We turn our experience, networks, and capital into your competitive advantage to help you scale and make a meaningful impact on the world. Speak with an RBCx Advisor to learn more about how we can help your business grow.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.


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