How this startup aims to transform transgender care


Monthly Archives: June 2017

How this startup aims to transform transgender care

The month of June is almost over, which means Pride Month is officially winding down.

For years, civil rights groups focused their efforts on guaranteeing that LGBTQ Canadians could marry, live and work without fear of discrimination. While there’s still more that needs to be done, 2017 saw a slew of long-awaited, and well overdue, civil laws enacted.

Earlier this month the federal government passed legislation that would protect transgender Canadians from gender-based discrimination. The law also expanded the country’s hate speech laws to make targeting someone based on their gender expression illegal.

Meanwhile the Canadian government is pushing forward with legislation that would pardon or expunge criminal convictions for thousands who were arrested — before same-sex relations became legal in 1969 — under the country’s gross indecency laws.

Maggie Bergeron and her co-founder Ellie Afif are using their Toronto-based startup called Embodia to help transgender Canadians in a new way. Their company which produces educational courses recently launched a new series aimed at helping pre- and post-surgery transgender Canadians. It’s the first of its kind in the country and a big step forward for transgender men and women across the country looking for online guidance.

The duo were inspired to launch the series after realizing there were few places that provided similar offerings, especially outside of major Canadian cities. The team behind the course worked with researchers, nurses, doctors and the transgender community to make sure the content was accurate and helpful.

“The course is meant to support the community who identify as transgendered or gender diverse and want to be aware of the best protocols and health available,” says Bergeron. “The video course is meant to help transgender people through the transition period through exercise and mindfulness training”.

Noah Hicks couldn’t agree more. The Niagara resident says his trans journey was largely aided by his laser-like focus on fitness and health and wishes something like this existed before he transitioned three years ago.

“Fitness was a big part of helping my mental well-being while dealing with gender dysphoria – it was such a positive outlet that helped me not only mentally, but physically, and I still continue to work out and enjoy it as a part of my regular routine.”

For Bergeron a gap in the market, like this one, is an opportunity for Embodia to make a difference. “Some healthcare providers wouldn’t have specific knowledge about how to empower people going through transition and give them a supportive community. Through Embodia there’s a forum for transgender Canadians and people taking the course, who then can choose to post anonymously and find specific exercises and track progress”.

Of course this is just the beginning for what the company plans to offer minority and LGBTQ Canadians in the future, she says. “It’s the beginning for us and the timing is good for creating this consumer facing course because we just launched another course on the cultural implications about minority groups, LGBTQ, religious groups, Judaism, Hinduism and Muslim and what you need to think about.”

5 essential tech-y Twitter accounts to follow

Like everything in life, success is often all about who you know, or in some cases who you follow. If you’re looking for advice on how to land your next VC or beat the mid-day energy slump, here are the people (and news organizations) you should follow to stay motivated and in the loop.

1. @TechCrunch

If you don’t already follow them, TechCrunch may soon become your go-to source for tech news. The tech blog has got your back when it comes to providing real-time breaking news.  Find out exactly what’s happening in Silicon Valley and around the world, plus read interesting analysis and opinions from the best in the industry.

2. @RyersonDMZ

Looking for the latest gossip the upcoming entrepreneurs or where you can find the latest accelerator programs? Then our online channel is a must follow and also includes exclusive news about new startup partnerships, programs across the globe, seminars and success stories. Craving more startup news? Check out our online magazine here.

3. @TheNextWeb

The Next Web caters to early-stage entrepreneurs by keeping readers in the loop about all the remarkable stories and updates taking place in the exciting world of tech. Widen your knowledge on tech news by reading opinionated perspectives and get access to exclusive TNW deals on the hottest gadgets and services, here.

4. @BetaKit

Rather than just giving you breaking news, BetaKit focuses on telling you only what you need to know about the Canadian startup landscape and why. BetaKit provides in-depth analysis of everything you want to know about the tech industry with a focus on the Canadian market. For more than 140 character tweets, check out their website.

5. @AnilDash

If you’re looking to learn more about venture capitalists, how to attract investors, diversity in Silicon Valley and abroad then Anil Dash is your guide. He offers knowledge on how to help people of colour break into tech and why it’s important to diversify the tech industry.

How Knix Wear founder shipped a million undies around the world

When Joanna Griffiths decided to quit her job at the ripe, ol’ age of 28 she never thought her split decision would one day lead her to launch Knix Wear , a Toronto-based lingerie startup, let alone net her over $2 million in sales, she admits.

But that’s exactly what it did and four years after starting the company on the floor of her living room she’s now shipping her high-tech, leak-proof underwear to women across the globe—everywhere from South Africa, to the U.S. and Afghanistan.

While her garments have garnered powerful praise from influencers since its 2012 launch—Metro News Canada, the Wall Street Journal  and New York Times, to name a few—Griffiths’ entrepreneurial journey is far less sexy, she confesses. The now thirtysomething encountered her fair share of problems during the startup’s early years and worked non-stop to get the business off the ground.

“It was scary,” she explains. “Being an entrepreneur is like a series of trade-offs, you’re always evaluating resources versus reward. The more prepared you can be for that type of lifestyle, the more you can think it through and know what your life will look like. I worked 24 hours a day and never stopped.”

The entrepreneur’s startup story is groundbreaking simply because through it she managed to create an apparel category that had never existed: leak-proof garments. Knix Wear was one of the first to market underwear to women who suffer from incontinence (light leaks), with company offerings later growing to include activewear clothing and period-proof panties for teens and adults.

A look at the breakthrough product that pushed Knix Wear into the limelight:

Her secret to success lies partially in capitalizing on the needs of what she felt was an underserved community. “I remember talking to women, who had kids, that would pick up Depends underwear because it was the closest thing they could find at the store and that resonated with me.”

Although her crowdfunding skills haven’t hurt her company’s overall success either. Since the company’s launch Knix Wear’s team has launched three online campaigns that have exceeded their crowdfunding goals. Her most recent campaign featured the company’s eight-in-one bra and raised more than $1 million on Kickstarter; the largest amount for any fashion project.

Despite her success, she’s quick to warn entrepreneurs about the perils of raising capital online.

“What I’ve seen happen is an expectation amongst entrepreneurs that if you put your product up it will sell like crazy. They underestimate the work it takes,” she says. “It’s probably the hardest work you’ll do in a 30-day period in your life.”

For instance weeks before the company’s latest campaign launched she and her team worked tirelessly to promote the company’s products, line up orders and respond to customers around the world within tight time frames.

In fact, if possible, she suggests new entrepreneurs avoid crowdfunding altogether until they have the capacity to fill large orders on demand. “We’ve learned the hard way from our early campaigns,” she says. “We had this amazing pre-market sales and momentum, but then spent the next nine months just trying to catch up and fill orders. People have to think long and hard about it. It’s not easy as everyone thinks it is.”

While the startup landscape has changed drastically since she launched her business, Griffiths is proud that her team has remained in the city she was born. Toronto entrepreneurs shouldn’t be too quick to leave the city behind these days, she adds. For anyone hoping to mimic her rise to the top she believes flying across the border is a must, but relocating isn’t necessary anymore and encourages entrepreneurs to explore options at home.

“There’s really nice growing and robust ecosystem that’s emerging [in Toronto]. There was definitely a time one-to-two years ago where we thought we had to move to the U.S. because I was getting that feedback from potential investors and now I’m not hearing that as much.”

Life lessons: Confessions from an entrepreneur who sold his startup

Life after an acquisition can be complicated.

For most founders, the possibility of landing a big exit is a good thing. It usually means a decent amount of cash and, in most cases, the chance to stick around as an employee or consultant long after the contract ink has dried.

While some end up missing the hustle and bustle of entrepreneurship, many find that working at a big company—after years of living the startup life—gives them time to regroup and tap into resources they could only have dreamed of when they were going at it alone.

No matter the outcome, the decision to sell a company can be an intensely personal and a difficult one to make. Robleh Jama, DMZ alumni and founder of Toronto-based app studio Tiny Hearts, knows the process all too well. The entrepreneur’s startup was purchased by Shopify in 2016.

After the buyout he and a few of his colleagues stayed on to join Shopify’s special project department where they now make experimental apps for new audiences. At the time of Tiny Hearts’ acquisition, Jama’s small, yet thriving, company had nine full-time employees and three part-time associates.

Before Shopify approached him about a potential acquisition he had never really considered selling the business. “It wasn’t really an idea I thought about,” he says.

His plan was to always grow with the company long into the future but as time went on, he noticed that scaling it would take more resources than his team had at their disposal. Shopify—an Ottawa-based company with offices in Toronto, Montreal, Waterloo and San Francisco—had connections around the globe to push his ideas to the next level.

“The acquisition was very organic,” he said. “[Shopify and Tiny Hearts] started off as a working relationship first and then grew from there. It was the best way to do it.”

Not everyone will find themselves in the same situation as Jama, but there’s nonetheless a few crucial things entrepreneurs should understand before taking an all-out company buyout, he explains.

Here’s his advice for entrepreneurs considering an exit and what they should know before signing on the dotted line.

Get your company ready by doing good work

A big payoff should never be the end goal for any entrepreneur, but if you’re looking to partner with or be acquired by another company you should make sure to create something of value on a regular basis, he says.

“It all starts with and ends with producing great work,” he explains. “You’ve got to think what value does a company want or look for. It’s better to think about it that way instead of reverse engineering an acquisition. That won’t work,” he explains.

At Tiny Hearts, creating great products meant making sure his company always stayed on top of new trends in the mobile industry and applied them whenever possible to upcoming projects. It also helped Jama, he admits, that he was personally invested in learning as much as he could about mobile-based applications in his free time.

Another piece of advice? Make sure to network with as many people in your industry as you can and stay grateful. “We met people at the DMZ that are still friends of mine to this very day and connected me with other people in the field.”

Wait for the right partner

Just because a company makes an offer doesn’t mean you have to take it, he explains.

Jama and his team worked with Shopify on several projects beforehand and were well acquainted with the company’s products and, more importantly, how they could help each other elevate the work they were already creating.

He also knew how he would personally fit into its company culture as an employee. A fact that he says founders shouldn’t be too quick to overlook. “I knew what they were like. I don’t think I could work at a company that wasn’t Shopify. I was looking to level up and learn to build products at scale and they were the ones that could do it.”

Not to mention that he’s also happy with the work he’s doing. Any role you or your team take on post-acquisition should be discussed in detail before any contracts are signed, he explains.

“Working at Shopify is like a honeymoon that doesn’t end because the team I work with is autonomous and doing what we used to do at Tiny Hearts—pumping out mobile products. We’ve been given the resources to do what we’re most passionate about so we can just focus on creating  innovative and experimental products.”

Seek out legal help ahead of time

There’s no shame in asking for help, especially if it involves money. Exits can mean a host of new problems, which can sometimes include doling out money or company shares to employees and should be taken seriously.

The best thing for companies to do is find someone who can help lay everything out in black and white and take emotions out of the picture, he says. “Find someone you trust and go from there.”

Last, but not least: Do your homework

Jama and Shopify executives made sure the buyout process went slowly. It took almost a year between initial talks to a contract signing.

“The idea was floated, casually, when we started working together, but we didn’t want to rush into. We said let’s continue to work together to see how it goes. After we worked with the team on an app called Frenzy we realized that Shopify was what Tiny Hearts could become if it were on steroids and were on board.”

Luckily over the years Shopify had acquired several local companies before Tiny Hearts, which made the process that much easier for Jama and his team. “Shopify had done this a handful of times of times so they made the process super smooth from the conversation to getting the deal done to transitioning, but we made sure to talk to people [clients, staff, industry professionals].”

How the DMZ is helping Toronto startups crack the U.S. market

For Canadian entrepreneur Ami Shah finding a space in New York City to call home while she networked with local business leaders and pounded the pavement in town was never really an option. Sky-high office fees, a weak loonie and the city’s competitive rental market meant finding something long-term was almost impossible.

When she and her team would travel to Silicon Alley they would have no choice but to work out of crowded coffee shops. In most cases hopping from one table to another in an effort to find a working outlet or in some cases just huddling around a computer, often with luggage in tow, trying to broker deals or hold conference calls.

“It was a nightmare,” the successful co-founder of education software company Peekapak explains. “I was always moving between coffee shops; buying just enough coffee so I could use their Wi-Fi. Have you ever had to rely on a coffee shop to livestream a meeting while someone in the background blends coffee or yells on the phone beside you? It’s not good.”

In the past, a lack of office space was a headache-inducing barrier for Canadian entrepreneurs, like Shah, looking to put down roots in the U. S. or dip their toe in an international market close to home. But all that will soon change. As part of a collaboration between the DMZ and Primary, a New York-based coworking office, entrepreneurs affiliated with the DMZ accelerator or its network of partners across the country will get 10 desks on site to use in NYC anytime, free of charge.


Companies that apply and chosen to take part in the program will get access to desks at Primary’s 25,000 square foot facility in lower Manhattan and a combination of wellness and startup services, like free fitness classes, tickets to weekly in-house events, private offices and concierge services. DMZ startups will get up to four free months and non-DMZ companies up to 30 days.

Such a collaboration will open up huge doors for Canadians in the booming city and give entrepreneurs a chance to make vital connections with local talent, broaden their investor pool and, more importantly, meet future clients.

For a successful entrepreneur like Shah, this space’s real value lies in its strategic location and it’s not hard to see why. The city is already home to several venture capital firms—attracted by the city’s booming tech industry—and headquarters for educational companies like Scholastic and Pearson, an education and publishing company.

The DMZ news also couldn’t come at a more fortuitous time for her. Peekapak left the DMZ in June for a brand new office in Toronto’s west end and earlier this year was invited to attend an influential meet-and-greet in New York City with the city’s local tech influencers. Cementing any relationships she’s made at the event will take time and a dedicated place where she can bring potential clients will help.

The upside of having a DMZ-branded office in New York isn’t lost on Addo Smajic, co-founder of Reportin either. He plans to take advantage of the Primary’s offerings later this summer.

In fact, the entrepreneur, who counts Microsoft and Google as startup supporters, is already well acquainted with how important the New York scene can be for a startup’s prospects. He’s made valuable connections during his time in the U.S., met investors that back his products and even managed to finagle his way into getting his very own 2-1-2 area code.

 “You have to put in the work to be an entrepreneur, but you also have to be in the right spot as well,” he says. “This, the DMZ, will put you in the right spot.”