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4 ways you can take your website copy from good to great

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4 ways you can take your website copy from good to great

DMZ guest blog by: Karina Barker, DMZ EiR


As one of the DMZ’s tactical EiRs, I get the incredible job of working with founders to help them amp up their copywriting. Not only do I offer strategic advice around brand positioning, voice, content, etc., I also get to roll up my sleeves and
do the writing alongside the founders.

Over my time in this capacity, I’ve noticed several common questions emerge as startups work to articulate their value proposition. While their vision might be clear in their minds, crafting website copy that has customers sitting up and taking action can be more of a challenge.

With more than 16 years under my belt as a copywriter and communications specialist, I’ve written for every kind of organization, from government, to startups, to Fortune 500 companies. I’ve seen firsthand how small mistakes can limit your copy’s impact—and how some simple tweaks can make all the difference. Seriously!

Here are 4 tips you can use to take your website from good to great:

 

1. Nail your homepage headline and sub-headline

According to the Nielsen-Norman Group, users leave websites on average after about 10-20 seconds. That means you’ve got less than 10 seconds to make your value proposition clear and convince visitors to stay. 

Your homepage headline and sub-headline are the first things visitors will see when they land on your page. That means these are your best shot to convince a visitor to stay (and hopefully convert). 

One of the most common mistakes I see companies make is focusing their website on them

A common format you’ll see is: We offer [this service] by doing [this thing]. Or, similarly: At [company], we help [this type of person] do [this thing].

But the goal of your website isn’t to share information about you. The goal of your website is to attract and convert customers. And that means you need to turn the spotlight on your customer —and talk about them.

Take a look at this homepage headline from Wealthsimple. 


Image: Wealthsimple

They don’t say “We help you do money right.” 

Instead the headline is direct and it implies “I’m going to do money right (with Wealthsimple’s help).” That subtle shift makes the reader see themselves in the headline.

The subheading then goes on to clearly articulate the actual “thing” that Wealthsimple offers (“powerful financial tools”) and the action-packed benefits that the customer can expect to derive (“grow and manage your money”).

While Wealthsimple makes it look easy, this kind of copy can take time and work (not to mention testing). If you don’t know where to start, a great first step is “voice of customer” research. Interview your customers, survey your product testers, read your online for views and search for the words your target audience uses to talk about benefits. This gives you a foundation to begin crafting and testing your headlines.

 

2. Don’t underestimate the power of social proof

Social proof is a powerful form of persuasion. When you include social proof in your webcopy, you tap into one of humanity’s deepest desires: to belong. 

We all put a lot of value on what we see people we trust doing and supporting. When we’re trying to decide between all the different options out there, we look to see what other people are doing. In fact, 91% of consumers read reviews before making a purchasing decision.  

If you’ve ever wondered why brands are willing to pay influencers big bucks for endorsements, this is it.

Here are some ideas for how to include social proof for businesses, even if you’re just getting started:

  • List any awards or prizes that your business has received
  • Share press/media/interviews covering your company
  • Run a social media campaign (and offer incentives) to encourage users to rate or review your product 
  • Request reviews or testimonials from existing customers
  • Create case studies based on real-life clients—or if you haven’t worked with any clients yet, craft use case studies that use a character that customers will identify with. (Note: always be clear if a study is based on a hypothetical rather than real world client.)
  • Share logos of high-profile clients that you’ve worked with
  • Share the number of users you’ve reached or clients you’ve served

Certain types of social proof will be worth more to certain audiences. Think about what can do to move the needle the most, and work towards collecting and presenting that type of social proof.

 

3. Keep your calls-to-action consistent

A call-to-action (CTA) is the moment when all of the work you’ve put into the rest of your copy gets put to the test. The CTA is where you encourage visitors to take your desired action. 

In order to craft a successful CTA you need to: 

  • Know what you want a visitor to do. Sign up for a free trial? Subscribe to your newsletter? Book a call with your sales team? 
  • Make it stand out. Pick the right spot, colour, visuals to draw visitor’s eyes to your CTA.
  • Be direct. CTAs are usually imperatives that begin with an action word. “Sign Up Now,” “Learn More,” “Start Your Free Trial.” Your CTA is not the place to get too wordy. 
  • Offer incentives. Make it easy for visitors to say yes by adding a line or two below your CTA: reassure visitors (e.g. cancel any time) or offer a desirable incentive (e.g. 10% of your first order)
  • Create urgency. Make visitors take action while they’re on your site. Use time words (e.g. sign up now, grab your instant download) to create a sense of urgency or signal time constraints (e.g. limited time offer)

But one of the most common mistakes I see is a lack of consistency in your CTA copy. If you want visitors to follow through, your CTA must be crystal clear–and repeated over and over. 

You can’t possibly miss Hubspot’s CTA. Not only is it in bright orange, it’s repeated word-for-word in their header and navigation bar. Even though their CTA is a little on the longer side, you know exactly what you’re supposed to do next (“Start free or get a demo”):


Image: Hubspot

In essence, when crafting your CTA, ask: What should the user do, and why? Your CTA should work in tandem with the rest of your webcopy to drive that message home. Inconsistent messaging (or multiple, competing CTAs in close proximity) can confuse your target audience or, worse, make them lose trust in your business. 


4. Boost interest with a unique brand voice

Once you’ve nailed the technical copywriting pieces, you can take your website (and your brand) to the next level by honing your brand voice. 

While it can seem daunting, developing your brand voice doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Reflect your audience. Go back to customer profiles and reflect on the voice used by your ideal clients. Is your target audience young and sassy or mature and sophisticated? 
  • Name three characteristics of your ideal brand voice. Authoritative? Trustworthy? Quirky? Cool? Passionate? Informative? Pick three attributes that capture the essence of your business. 
  • Define the dos and don’ts of your brand voice. Once you have your three characteristics, you can get more detailed on how this translates to your copy. For example, if you pick “trustworthy” as one of your attributes, your dos and don’ts may include: 
    • Do: use honesty, direct language, be transparent, share mistakes, follow-through
    • Don’t: push the hard sell, use jargon, over promise, trash talk competitors

As you grow, you can build out your brand voice into a document to share with anyone who is handling communications for your business. And remember, as you grow and change, your brand voice may develop too. 

If you need help with your copywriting, I’d love to chat! Learn more about how DMZ’s EiRs can support your business here

Demystifying menopause: How Womaneze is helping women navigate menopause and regain control

On Wednesdays, we startup.


To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders center stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins! 

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs. 

This week, we had the pleasure of chatting with Salma El-Yassir and Marijana Novakovic, the Co-Founders of Womaneze, to learn more about their startup, how they’re helping women navigate menopause, and their hopes for the future of the femtech industry. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves, and how you founded Womaneze?

We are two women who have crossed the threshold of 60! We both went through menopause and had difficulties with it, but at the time, there was very little information and support available for women. 

As a result of hormonal changes, we had both been battling the extra pounds that come with menopause. We met for the first time through an online forum for managing weight. Eventually, we became good friends, travelling to visit each other with our families in our respective home countries!

We had hundreds of conversations about our experiences battling the physical, psychological and social onslaught of menopause without any tangible support – all while holding down jobs and raising our families. 

Despite being well-informed on health matters, we both felt blind-sided by menopause – the topic of menopause isn’t openly spoken about, making it a taboo topic in women’s health. It is only referred to with a witty smirk or an embarrassing silence, even though it affects every single woman alive.

That’s when we decided to team up and found Womaneze, a platform that we would have only dreamed of when going through menopause. 

Marijana is a lawyer and an ex-banker, and Salma worked in both healthcare and development. We decided to leave our respective jobs to work for ourselves and create a company that reflected what we stood for.

Supporting women through menopause was something that we both cared deeply about, and we knew it was time to take the leap and make a positive change. 

As our next step, we both pursued postgraduate education. Salma has a Master of Public Health and a Master’s of Public Administration, the latter from Harvard, and Marijana has a Master of Laws specializing in EU Law, and HR. We each held senior management positions in our respective fields, and are trained and certified coaches, which is very helpful in creating safe spaces for women to interact and share their own experiences of menopause. Our skills are complementary, which allows us to focus on our strengths and be supportive of one another. 

What exactly is the Womaneze platform, and what is it trying to accomplish?

Womaneze helps women navigate menopause and regain control naturally. It’s a platform that aims to normalize the experience of menopause by bringing the subject out into the open, so women do not have to suffer in silence and feel alone. 

We’re proud to say our community has over 44,000 women who engage with us and with each other on a daily basis. 

Womaneze takes a scientific, but non-medical approach, to menopause. We focus on how a woman can help herself, and others around her, to better understand menopause by using holistic strategies that have been proven by science. 

Of course, there are women who require medical assistance during menopause, but for the majority, it is a natural (yet challenging) transition. We help women understand what is going on in their bodies, what to expect, and how to reduce the negative effects of hormonal changes.

We are creating a space where women can speak openly about their own experiences, and find information and support. We support women through normalization, information and communication. We do this by: 

  • Shedding light on the 47+ symptoms of menopause. Most women are surprised to learn that their symptoms are menopause-related, or that perimenopause can begin in your early 40’s.
  • Allowing them to express their doubts, fears, and worries. Often overlooked compared to the physical effects, there are psychological effects caused by changing hormones. When women are surrounded by others in the same boat, they feel empowered to share stories and strategies that help them cope. 
  • Making research accessible. We highlight natural ways for women to help themselves by curating research.  
  • Helping with hot flashes through tech. We have developed an app that focuses on helping women find natural ways of dealing with hot flashes. 70-80% of women going through menopause will experience hot flashes and in some cases, they can be debilitating.

We help women understand what is going on in their bodies, what to expect, and how to reduce the negative effects of hormonal changes.

What have been your top lessons learned since starting Womaneze? 

  1. The importance of clear communication between founders. A good working relationship among founders is the basic building block of a successful startup. Learning to manage differences of opinion (often strong ones) in a productive manner is very important.
  2. Finding a co-founder with complementary skills. No one can be the best at everything. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses is key, as is leveraging the strengths of others. Knowing when it’s best to get out of the way and letting others do what they do best is essential.  
  3. Don’t be wedded to a single idea. Continuously collect data and adjust as you go along. Data and metrics help illuminate the way and avoid costly mistakes.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Being an entrepreneur is about taking risks and learning from them!
  5. Being an entrepreneur can be very tough. There is so much to learn and juggle. Make sure to manage your own doubts and fears and keep your head above water!

The femtech space has certainly been growing, as there has been a boom of new products and services developed to support women’s health. However, only 5% of femtech startups address menopause. Why do you think this is the case?

One of the main reasons is the lack of funding and investment, as women-founded startups receive far less funding than male-founded ones. In 2020, women-founded startups received 2.3% of all VC funding.

The ecosystem has an age bias that tends to favour younger founders, who are often less likely to be interested in menopause. People often have an image of what a founder looks like — a 20-something male and who only survives on ramen and works 24/7. 

Women entrepreneurs who are more likely to be interested in the menopause space are less likely to fit the false pretences of what founders ‘should’ look like. 

The consumer technology revolution has only really taken off in the past couple of decades, with the use of smartphones becoming almost ubiquitous. The generation of women used to managing their health and tracking their data is only now beginning to enter perimenopause and explore solutions to help manage their health. 

Today, there are a plethora of period and fertility tracking apps in comparison to menopause apps. This trend is beginning to shift as more tech-savvy women begin to enter the menopause transition. 

There is also the undeniable — the taboo nature of the subject. Like fertility issues (another taboo subject until recently), menopause is an aspect of being a woman. Historically, society has placed a large emphasis on the fertility of women. Menopause announces the end of fertility and this can be difficult, leaving many women feeling invisible.

For all the progress that society has made in the gender equality arena, this remains an issue that needs to be addressed, and many startups are beginning to do so. Menopause is not sexy; men often cringe when it comes up, and younger women often feel that it is irrelevant to them, as it is a ways away.

People often have an image of what a founder looks like — a 20-something male and who only survives on ramen and works 24/7.  Women entrepreneurs who are more likely to be interested in the menopause space are less likely to fit the false pretences of what founders ‘should’ look like.

Menopause support has been identified as the next game-changer in the global femtech industry. As new startups look to enter the space, what do you hope for the industry to achieve at large?

We hope that the voices of the 1 billion women in menopause are heard. 

We hope new startups in the space call out the organizations and industries that need to step up and pay more attention to older women. 

The needs of women in menopause change — their skin changes, their hair changes, even the way perfume smells on their skin changes. The beauty and clothing industries need to pay more attention to this demographic, and cater their services and products to better suit their needs. 

More importantly, the workplace needs to accommodate women who are in the different stages of menopause. Women often have to leave their jobs because of the overwhelming nature of certain symptoms. There is a huge opportunity for HR policies to adapt and support their women staff, similarly to providing maternity and paternity leave. 

A supported employee is a happier and more productive one.

We’d like to see more women in menopausal transition come out from the shadows and demand better products and services that cater to their particular needs. The way menopause is discussed and managed needs to change completely. 

Femtech founders have faced challenges in fundraising, as a majority of VC investors are men. Apart from market opportunity, why should more investors look into supporting femtech, and products and solutions that support women going through menopause?

Market opportunity and return on investment (ROI) are the primary reasons that investors decide to invest. However, there are more and more investors who are beginning to define ROI by more than just profit, but social good.

Every investor, regardless of gender, has a vested interest in bettering the lives and health of women. They have daughters, sisters, friends and mothers. Women account for half of the population, and addressing women’s health improves the diversification of investor portfolios.  

What advice would you give to founders looking to break into the femtech space?

We think it is very important for founders to really understand the niche that they are addressing. Listening to what women want and are really looking for is essential. 

Younger women have a different attitude towards their health and what they expect. They are more vocal about what they need and are beginning to reject societal norms that have been created by advertisers and society. 

They are demanding a different approach, which incorporates a less prescriptive attitude, and validates their unedited experiences with their own bodies.  

Femtech should be less about the tech and more about the needs of women. Although tech is ‘sexy’ we must remember that it’s an enabler to solve an issue, not the solution itself. It’s important for people on the tech side to be fully immersed in understanding the problem. We found that having a female CTO was crucial, as the work was also relevant to her and she genuinely cared about it.

Founders looking to break into femtech should make sure their team is reflective of the women they are looking to support. At the very least, the startup should have women as close advisors. Experiencing the issue firsthand leads to a deeper understanding and, therefore, a better product.

Femtech should be less about the tech and more about the needs of women. Although tech is ‘sexy’ we must remember that it’s an enabler to solve an issue, not the solution itself.

Are there any women founders that you both look up to for inspiration? 

We admire courageous and forward-thinking entrepreneurs such as:

  • Sarah Blakely, the Founder and CEO of Spanx, for her tenacity and unwillingness to listen to the nay-sayers, and for making Spanx a huge success.
  • Nadia Boujarwah, the Co-Founder and CEO of Dia&Co, for her tenacity and belief in her vision that led her to create a successful company with over 145 employees. She saw a need for fashionable and fun oversized clothing, and she went out and created it. She had to speak to around 100 investors before she could get investors to see her vision. 
  • Rochelle Weitzner, the CEO of Pause, a well-aging company creating skincare products for women in menopause. We love her concept of well-aging rather than anti-aging. 
  • Sonsoles Gonzalez, the CEO and Founder of Better Not Younger, a company creating hair care products for menopausal women.

What’s in store for Womeneze? 

Womaneze is in the process of launching its first premium features for the Hot Flash Help app as well as launching a space for women to find products that help with menopause.We have a list of premium features that we will be introducing in the next few months. Women will be able to specify what issues they want to track, and export data in a format that helps them address their hot flashes with their health provider. 

We will also be including a feature where women are matched with other women to create support groups based on issues they are experiencing in menopause, interests, or geographical location.

Womaneze will be offering a 60% discount for premium features until mid-September 2021. Head over to their website to learn more. 


Make sure to follow the DMZ on
Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram to follow our ‘On Wednesdays we startup’ women founder series. 


To learn more about the Women Founders Programs, visit
dmz.to/womenfounders.

From a family roofing business to $10M CAD in seed funding

How a 3rd generation roofer is disrupting the roofing market

For years, roofing has been seen as a traditional industry, relying on skills passed on from one generation to another. After working in the space for nearly 12 years, Richard Nelson, Founder and CEO of RoofR, saw an opportunity to introduce an innovative solution to modernize and digitize the field.

RoofR’s software allows roofers to measure any roof from anywhere with near pinpoint accuracy through aerial imagery and creates polished proposals that help seal the deal. Their tools help roofers streamline their workflow, helping both homeowners and contractors.

We caught up with Richard to learn more about how their company has evolved over the years, their recent raise, and what they have in store for the future.  

For years, roofing has been seen as a great trade in the construction industry, but not necessarily an industry that adopts new tech solutions. As a third-generation roofer by trade, could you tell us a bit about what led you to found RoofR?

Richard Nelson working as a roofer at the beginning of his career.

“The first time I was on a roof, I was 12 years old. Roofing was our family business: my grandfather was a roofer, my uncle was a roofer, and my dad was a roofer. I was a part of the family business for nearly 12 years and then took a job with one of the largest roofing contractors in Toronto. I soon realized how broken and archaic the roofing industry was, and knew I needed to do something to fix it. 

So I decided to quit my job, sell my house, and put everything I had into RoofR. Together, with my partner and CTO Kevin Redman, we decided it was time to disrupt the industry. 

What I realized as a roofing contractor and salesman was just how many inefficiencies existed. Consumers did not have a way to find good roofers, and there was a lack of tools available for roofers to streamline their workflow digitally.

This sparked the vision of creating an end to end roofing platform that helps both homeowners and roofing contractors — a software as a service (SaaS) for roofers.”


“This sparked the vision of creating an end to end roofing platform that helps both homeowners and roofing contractors — a software as a service (SaaS) for roofers.”

How would you describe the experience of introducing a new tech platform to a market that may be hesitant to change? How did you break into the industry?

“I come from a family of roofers, and even some of my family members were a bit skeptical of the idea. Traditionally, the construction industry was not tech-enabled, but ultimately I understood the pain points that these roofers were going through, living it myself.”

Richard knew that if he could build a really powerful, but simple software for roofers to utilize, he could make a big difference in the industry. 

“As we began to roll out SaaS features, specifically the measurement tool that allows roofers to measure through satellite, there was certainly some push back from roofers who typically use a tape measure.”

Rather than driving to a client’s house to take measurements, go back to the office, and then return with a final quote, roofers can enter an address in their system and have a complete roof measurement within minutes that auto-calculates material quantities and creates a professional proposal a customer can e-sign. 

“Once we explained to roofers the benefits and the value that we add, that skepticism was pushed aside and they were willing to adopt.”

When the pandemic hit, going digital was inevitable for roofers. This presented an opportunity for RoofR to really solidify its position in the space. Roofers needed to be able to provide quotes and proposals to homeowners digitally, so they had no other choice than to look for reliable solutions they could trust in order to keep their clients safe. Roofr was the solution.

Could you explain to us exactly how the RoofR platform works?

“We enable roofers to measure any roof, from their desk, or in the field, in under two minutes with near pinpoint accuracy through our aerial imagery software. Roofers can then take those measurements and auto populate proposals that can be sent to their customers for e-signature.”

From measurement, to proposal, to a signed contract, RoofR has created a sales toolbox for roofers — automating the entire process under one platform. 

It was recently announced that RoofR secured $4.25 million USD in funding, bringing your new total amount raised to $8.25 million. What does this new round of funding mean for the company, and do you have any specific plans?

Kevin Redman CTO, and Richard Nelson CEO of RoofR.

“We are obsessed with providing a world class customer experience. We go above and beyond with every single customer, even if it doesn’t necessarily scale. With this investment, we plan to build out our sales, customer success, support, and engineering teams to help drive this world-class experience.

What impact did the DMZ have on RoofR’s trajectory?

I was not able to get a meeting with a venture capitalist (VC) before my time at the DMZ. Within two weeks of being part of the program, I had a handful of meetings with VCs that were able to help me refine my pitch. 

Our time at the DMZ helped set us up for our Y Combinator interview. I was able to connect to other founders that had also gone through the YC interview process, and had mock interviews to get hands-on investor practice. I credit a lot of us getting into Y Combinator to the DMZ.”

Moreover, the DMZ was able to help RoofR expand its network and gave the startup a sense of community. “Whenever I needed help, I could walk into the DMZ’s common space and find someone knowledgeable to ask questions, or reach out via email. It was a sense of community that I really loved. And I needed it at that time, because being a solo entrepreneur can be wildly lonely.”


“Whenever I needed help, I could walk into the DMZ’s common space and find someone knowledgeable to ask questions, or reach out via email. It was a sense of community that I really loved. And I needed it at that time, because being a solo entrepreneur can be wildly lonely.”

As an Alumni-in-Residence at the DMZ, what has been your favourite part about mentoring other startups?

“I get a lot of joy out of being an Alumni-in-Residence. I love giving back and helping founders with advice and insights to help them avoid the same mistakes that I’ve made. Being exposed to all the other innovative startups and business models that are being leveraged is also very captivating.”

Richard played a part in helping DMZ alumni company Turing Labs get into the Y-Combinator as well, which he described as “an incredible moment that allowed him to give back to the community.” 

What advice would you give to a fellow founder who is looking to raise funds for their startup?

“When you do get a chance to meet with an investor, make sure you know your numbers. This is a mistake that will affect your credibility. Investors will likely ask you about your growth rates, unit economics and number of active users…etc, so make sure you are prepared.

Focus on telling a story. Rather than just reading off of slides, paint the bigger picture. Remember that as a seed stage company they are often investing in you rather than the company. Sell yourself – why are you the best person to build this multibillion dollar company? Can you pivot if need be? Make sure to really craft the narrative around the size of the opportunity, why now is the time, and why you’re the best person to do this.”

“Remember that as a seed stage company they are often investing in you rather than the company. Sell yourself – why are you the best person to build this multibillion dollar company? Can you pivot if need be? Make sure to really craft the narrative around the size of the opportunity, why now is the time, and why you’re the best person to do this.”

Are you also obsessed with providing world-class customer experiences? RoofR is growing rapidly and has a wide-range of positions available including, sales, product, engineering, finance, and customer success. Head over to jobs.lever.co/Roof to learn more! 

The DMZ has transformed to offer a brand new startup experience

We’re taking a personalized approach to startup support and delivering a more hands-on, tailored experience for startups  

Many startup incubators that exist today still take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when providing support to startups, meaning founders receive the same programming and services across the board.

At the DMZ, we know how important specialized support is when creating a business; strong foundations are key to building pathways to success. Each startup has a unique set of challenges, and our new model takes a personal approach to support, focusing on one-on-one mentorship to help overcome them. 

With a rising demand for early-stage startup support at the onset of the pandemic and a lack of resources and programming available, the DMZ knew it was time to refocus efforts and fill a pivotal gap for founders in the ecosystem.

The DMZ’s new Incubator model has evolved to take a more customized, hands-on approach in an 18-month program to help founders obtain market validation and gain traction.

So what exactly is different about the DMZ’s new Incubator model? Let’s dive into it, shall we?

The DMZ’s Incubator now offers startups:

  • Smaller and more intimate cohorts of no more than 15 startups
  • 18 months of hands-on support, segmented into three, six-month phases to help founders achieve product-market fit, maximize early sales, and attract investment opportunities
  • A customized approach to addressing a founder’s startup challenges: executing a go-to market strategy, acquiring lighthouse customers, gaining media exposure, exploring global expansion, preparing for the next round of funding, and more
  • 60+ hours of one-on-one time with Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, in-house subject matter experts and additional time with DMZ staff
  • Exclusive perks and discounts from 100+ partners including AWS, Google, Hubspot, and more worth over $600K in business savings
  • More curated workshops and peer-to-peer sessions to share insights, lessons learned, and best practices on a wide range of topics
  • More support with fundraising strategies, pitch coaching, and getting introductions to investors in the DMZ’s VC and angel investor networks within Canada and beyond

Beyond the Incubator program revamp, the DMZ has also launched other programs over the last year, including its Bootcamp, to support founders who aren’t eligible for the Incubator yet.

The DMZ’s vision is to support the full entrepreneurial journey of an early-stage founder: from personal founder development, to business ideation, product development, sales growth, and scaling.

Giving a hand to those who need it most.

The DMZ recognizes that underrepresented founders face various barriers when it comes to starting and growing a business, including being subject to systemic racism and inequities that have only been heightened by the pandemic. 

To help create a more equitable and inclusive startup ecosystem, the DMZ has also expanded its programming for Black and women founders, equipping them with an additional stream of tailored resources they can tap into.

Startups with at least one founder who self-identifies as either Black or a woman will have additional peer-to-peer support, intros to funders dedicated to Black and women-led ventures, partnership and pilot opportunities, marketing and PR opportunities, special resources, events and more.

Don’t just take it from us – check out what founders from our inaugural cohort had to say about our revamped model.


“We have seen tremendous growth in our company and in our ability as a team to execute and strategize — the support has been fantastic. The Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) that we have worked with are literally extensions to our team. The other companies in the cohort have been supportive and transparent in sharing their experiences with us, sharing great resources that can benefit everyone.” – Ayodele Pompey, CTO and Co-Founder of SmartTerm 

“Many of the same problems exist for all startups, and by working alongside experienced mentors who have walked the same path, you can accelerate and understand the challenges at hand with greater clarity. The DMZ is truly a fast track to growing your startup.” – Sarah Rennick, Founder of Alli

 

“The DMZ is truly a fast track to growing your startup.” – Sarah Rennick, Founder of Alli 

“Being in the DMZ incubator program is like having a GPS for your startup journey, and the Black Innovation Program is the ‘Iron Man’ to DMZ’s ‘Avengers.

By itself, the BIP program is a fantastic offering. When you combine it with the DMZ Incubator program, it extends the level of support available to someone like myself as a founder of colour. The last 12 months have brought renewed acknowledgement of social issues facing the Black community, which the tech industry is guilty of as well. But rather than looking back, the DMZ is building a tech ecosystem where Black founders are well represented and can access the resources they need to build great products and companies.” – Baba Ajayi, Founder of Andie

“Being in the DMZ incubator program is like having a GPS for your startup journey.” – Baba Ajayi, Founder of Andie

“As a part of the Incubator, we have a customized plan that was created for us to grow and dedicated mentors to work with. The DMZ’s focus since day one has been on practicality, providing us with real tangible support to grow and succeed.” – Zach Sheng, Co-Founder of Charmy Pet

 

 

 

While our model has evolved significantly, all DMZ programming remains to be driven by the same four founding pillars:

Community: The DMZ allows founders to tap into an unmatched local and global community.  Founders will build relationships, grow their professional network and connect with like-minded peers. 

Coaching: Startups have access to years of experience in the industry with more than 20 of the DMZ’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, specializing in sales, marketing, product, leadership, technology, operations and more.

Customers: The DMZ helps founders power their sales engine, connect with the right customers and fast-track growth. Startups will learn how to drive customer acquisitions.

Capital: Founders will learn how to create fundraising strategies, develop data rooms, get pitching practice and receive valuable introductions to investors.

Think you have what it takes to scale your business?

The DMZ is looking for promising and high-impact tech entrepreneurs who are ready to take their startups to new heights. 

Do you have:

  • A business dedicated to solving a compelling problem using innovative technology
  • At least one full-time founder dedicated to the program
  • A driven, coachable, and collaborative leadership team
  • An in-house technical lead
  • A functional MVP
  • The ability to become a venture backable business in a growing market

Head over to dmz.to/incubatornews to apply for our next Incubator cohort, kicking off this September. Applications are open until July 31, 2021. 

Not quite ready for our Incubator yet? Check out our pre-Incubator program, Bootcamp.

Make sure to follow us on Instagram @RyersonDMZ to catch our alumni success stories all summer long.  

How to raise capital for your startup

Get advice from tech founders who have closed multi-million dollar investment deals for their startups.


DMZ’s startups and alumni have raised over $1 billion CAD in funding. Curious to learn more about the investment trends, and the startups that helped break $1 billion?
Click here

Let’s face it. If you’re a startup founder, you’ll need to learn how to raise capital at one point or another.

At the DMZ, we appreciate how overwhelming the wild ride of funding a startup can be. Raising capital is, without question, one of the most challenging aspects of growing and scaling a business.  

Luckily, many DMZ alumni founders have been successful in attracting investors and securing funding – but, at one time, they were also in your shoes. In light of DMZ startups and alumni breaking $1 billion in funding, we asked founders for their best advice and lessons learned when it comes to startup fundraising. 

Here’s what they had to say. 

“Create a job description for your ideal lead investor/board member. Evaluate everyone you meet through that lens. Helps flip the power dynamic. Are they the right investor for you?” Bryan Gold, Co-Founder and CEO, and Adam Rivietz, Co-Founder and CSO, of #paid

paid

What’s new with #paid?

Co-Founders Bryan Gold and Adam Rivetz were recognized as part of Forbes 30 under 30 marketing and advertising list. Read more about their feature here

“There is plenty of capital out in the market, especially as markets are looking to bounce back from Covid. Founders need to focus on their business and the pain points they are looking to solve first. Get some early adopters and initial traction to prove the product market fit and the capital will follow. Founders often make the mistake of going after capital first to bring the idea to fruition, but with tools and resources these days, getting an MVP out by bootstrapping has become a lot easier.” – Kumar Erramilli, CTO and Co-Founder of ACTO 

What’s new with ACTO?acto

ACTO’s growth was accelerated following an $11.5 million USD funding round last August. Since then, ACTO has made two strategic acquisitions to bolster its mobile learning and patient-facing education capabilities, building on its promise to deliver true omnichannel education for learners within the care industry!

“Many tech founders look to raise capital to fund the development of a product or service, but bootstrapping and getting small loans from friends or family not only serves as a good vetting for your idea, but also can carry you through early development and allow for closing of the first couple of sales. This can go a long way to getting a better evaluation for your capital raise and minimizes costly early dilution.” – Adrian Bulzacki, Founder of ARB Labs

What’s new with ARB Labs? arb labs

ARB Labs launched ChipVue, a new optical based bet recognition™ system that provides real-time slot-like analytics for blackjack, baccarat and other carnival style table games. Learn more about ChipVue here

“Be very mindful of the investors you bring on board and really understand their motivations, expectations and their ability to support and partner with you over the years. Bringing on an investor is analogous to being in a marriage and so focus on building those relationships.” – Nishaant Sanghavi, CEO and Co-Founder of EnergyX 

What’s new with EnergyX?energy x

EnergyX was 1 of 6 tech firms in Toronto chosen by the federal government to receive funding to help support their long term growth. EnergyX is receiving $500,000 to expand its customer base and increase automation!

“Don’t build everything in-house! Many tools out there can create the “Wizard of Oz” effect of your product.” – Karen Lau, Co-Founder and CTO, and Michael Van, Co-Founder and CEO, of Furnishr

What’s new with Furnishr?furnish

Furnishr is growing! They are expanding their operations, sales and development teams. For more information on how to apply click here.

“When looking for investors, don’t be afraid to branch outside of Canadian borders.”– Eropa Stein, CEO and Founder of Hyre

What’s new with Hyre?

hyre

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hyre pivoted and now offers an employee scheduling platform for the healthcare industry, in addition to the hospitality and restaurant industry.

“The right fit with your investor is worth waiting for if you can afford it.” – Karim Ali, CEO of Invision AI

What’s new with Invision AI?invision

Invision AI has joined forces with Thales and Metrolinx to develop advanced autonomous technologies for rail systems with support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN). Plus, they recently announced they have successfully completed high performance portable roadside vehicle occupancy detection field tests with over 97.5% precision! 

“Invest time in building your network. Create connections with people in the industry well in advance of needing the funding. When you are ready to start raising money, it will come much easier if you have developed the right connections.” – Erifili Morfidis, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, and Charlotte Gummesson, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, of iRestify 

What’s new with iRestify?

With the onset of the global pandemic, iRestify had to make some tough decisions and pivot as most of their clients, which were commercial office tenants, no longer had use for their space. As a result, they shifted their efforts and focused on the multi-residential property management sector. Learn more about their story of determination and growth here

“Fundraising is 70-80% preparation.” – Casey Binkley, Founder and CEO of Movia

What’s new with Movia?

Movia recently partnered with Corus entertainment to help launch two new tv shows, The Equalizer and Clarice. Movia’s truck advertisements offered the chance to bring the big screen feeling to the ads themselves, along with the ability to reach target audiences. Check out the full case study here

“Think long and hard about what you want to accomplish with your business, and what’s most important in your life before you raise a dollar.” – Corey Gross, CEO and Founder of Sensibill

What’s new with Sensibill?

Sensibill announced their new Sensibill Platform, which includes two new solutions, Spend Manager and Spend Insights, which aims to give financial institutions deeper data and insights needed to better serve and nurture financially resilient, loyal customers. They were also awarded with FinTech Breakthrough’s personal finance innovation award!

“Having access to required capital is a critically important aspect of growing a new venture. For new tech founders, surround yourself with trusted advisors who can guide you through the process of the structuring for and raising of capital. Having good advisors to be sounding boards for investor materials and your pitch is important. Treat raising capital like sales: create the right messages ahead of time, build a good funnel of prospects, get active and communicate often, don’t be afraid to hear the word no, listen to the feedback, but be selective on what you choose to refine, celebrate your wins and keep going. Treat your investors well as they can be extremely helpful in finding other investors. Most importantly, be yourself and speak confidently about your venture.” – Brian Deck, CEO of Smooth Commerce

What’s new with Smooth Commerce?

Smooth Commerce has launched great brands including Mary Brown’s, Fresh, Denny’s, Chop Steakhouse, Maker Pizza, Pizzeria Libretto and many more. Plus, Invest in Ontario named Smooth Commerce as one of the top 12 fintechs to watch in 2021 as they continue to elevate ordering and delivery and they were listed as one of Canada’s 2021 Best Workplaces™. 

“The most important part is having product market fit. Have a product that customers want regardless of how ‘beta’ it is. With that comes growth in your key metrics and makes everything a lot easier!’ – Hussein Fazal, CEO and Co-Founder, and Henry Shi, Co-Founder, of Snapcommerce

What’s new with Snapcommerce?

Snapcommerce recently secured $107 million CAD in growth funding, signalling confidence from investors in the company’s mission to expand beyond the travel industry! With the new round of funding Snapcommerce is looking to expand in different verticals, hoping to transform the way people shop on their phones. 

“It’s sales. You’re not raising funds. You’re selling shares. So run it as a sales process with a deadline. If you think you can generate anything close to the same amount of cash by spending that energy and effort on customers you’d be much wiser to sell products for cash than equity.” – Brennan McEachran, CEO and Co-Founder of Soapbox

What’s new with Soapbox?

Soapbox released a new Zapier integration, enabling teams to instantly connect Soapbox with over 2,000 apps to automate their work and become more productive. Users can now unlock powerful integrations like Asana, Trello and Microsoft To Do.  

“Take your time to identify VCs with investment portfolios that are aligned with your specific business sector. “ – Laura Bryson, COO and Co-Founder of SWTCH

What’s new with SWTCH?

Earlier this month, the federal government announced a $235,000 investment for SWTCH to install 61 electric vehicle chargers across Ontario and Quebec. By leveraging SWTCH’s solution, the government hopes to encourage the adoption of zero-emission vehicles and provide consumers with more green options to charge and drive their vehicles! 

“Raise money only when it’s absolutely necessary. You want to raise money when you feel like you will get favourable terms. To get favourable terms, you need to show traction and that takes time. So instead of coming up with an idea and thinking “I need to raise money”, try to do as much work to prove out the value of that idea (create a non-functional wireframe, get feedback from potential customers, etc).” – Swish Goswami, CEO and Co-Founder of Trufan 

What’s new with Trufan?

Trufan announced the completion of its $2.3 million CAD seed round this past March, bringing their total funding to $4.1 million CAD. They plan to launch a consolidated platform later this year that will allow any brand to generate, segment, and activate first party data.

“My advice to founders raising for the first time: spend a few weeks preparing all your materials and test out your messaging on a variety of audiences. Once you go out to raise, run a rigorous process and focus on finding the best partner that will support your vision for your business.” – Monika Jaroszonek, CEO and Co-Founder of Ratio.City

What’s new with Ratio.City?

Ratio.City is hiring! Their team is looking for a Lead Product Designer to help them translate user stories into effective and intuitive interfaces. Learn more about the position and apply here

“Every founder should find one or more capital partners as a growth partner in all aspects of business and life, because the two are inseparable. An ideal investor will be a good companion when say, a global pandemic hits and supply chains are just as disrupted as childcare plans, or when a parent gets ill just as you land a major customer. Together you’ll make difficult decisions and find new opportunities.” – Manu Kabahizi, CTO and Co-Founder of Ulula

What’s new with Ulula?

Ulula recently was awarded the 2021 #StopSlaveryAward by the Thomson Reuters Foundation for their innovative Kufatilia mobile-based impact monitoring project, that reports mine accidents, theft, corruption, fraud, child labor, environmental issues, and more in the mining sector.

It took 11 years for DMZ startups and alumni to break $1 billion in funding, but with our current momentum, made possible by our dedicated founders, we are confident we will be able to reach the next billion in a fraction of the time. 

Looking for even more expert advice on how to raise? Be a part of the next billion. Learn more about DMZ programming here.

Event Recap: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Underrepresented communities continue to face systemic barriers and steep challenges when it comes to accessing entrepreneurial opportunities from Canada’s thriving tech ecosystem. As tragic events continue to take place around the world against visible minorities, confronting racial injustice continues to be a necessity and change can only begin with open and honest conversations.

In light of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Abdullah Snobar, Executive Director of the DMZ, took to LinkedIn to chat with leading executives and startups to discuss how we can collectively create an equitable future for Canada’s tech ecosystem.

Meet our panelists:

With this conversation, we strived to have an open discussion around the importance of diversity in our ecosystem, share lived experiences and underscore the important role we all play in creating an inclusive and equitable tech community.

Let’s dive into it. 


Question 1

Question 2


Question 3

Question 4 


Question 5


Question 6


Question 7


Question 8


For the entire LinkedIn chat conversation, please click here.

At the DMZ, we know that a strong tech ecosystem is one that fosters diverse perspectives and actively removes barriers for those hindered by systemic discrimination. We continue to actively work on leveling the playing field for everyone’s entrepreneurial success. For more information on our Black Innovation Programs, please go to dmz.ryerson.ca/bip/ 

You’re invited! Women Founders: Stories of Resilience

You’re invited to join the DMZ for our annual International Women’s Day event!

On March 8th at 1:00 PM EST, we are bringing together our community once again to highlight stories of resilience after a uniquely challenging year.

Tune in to hear firsthand from inspiring women founders, the hurdles they’ve faced, and how they have thrived through challenging times. Join this hands-on session to engage with fellow entrepreneurs and want to celebrate the achievements of women!

Moderator

Amoye Henry, Co-Founder of Pitch Better

Panelists

We’re thrilled to announce our line-up of trailblazing women:

RSVP here to reserve your spot.

Dream of getting acquired one day? Get first-hand insights from a founder who’s done it

Derek Hopfner, DMZ alum and Co-Founder of Founded, gives an inside scoop on the motivation behind building the startup and getting acquired, along with advice founders should consider to achieve a successful exit someday. 


When Founded launched in 2017, co-founders
Derek Hopfner, Shane Murphy and Travis Houlette were driven by the company’s mission to make the legal side of business an effortless experience for entrepreneurs. 

Within a few short years, thousands of dedicated business users joined Founded. Fast forward to this year: the company made the announcement that they had been acquired by RBC Ventures!
In the coming months, the platform will merge with
Ownr, RBC’s existing platform for small business incorporation – but the whole Founded team is staying intact and moving under the RBC Ventures umbrella, together.

Getting acquired is what many young startups hope and dream for one day, but many overlook the meticulous planning and strategic considerations that need to happen at an early stage. We spoke with Derek Hopfner about the experience of scaling Founded, and what startup founders can do early on to position themselves for a successful exit.

Take a look at our Q&A with Derek to hear what he had to say. 

Founded company logo
What does Founded do?


Founded is an online legal platform with a focus on making entrepreneurship easy. When starting a business, there is an endless number of things that entrepreneurs need to think about early on, so taking away the legal components and making it really simple for them was something that was really important to us. 

An entrepreneur can join Founded (soon to be Ownr) and can use the platform to navigate various legal tasks as their company grows. This includes anything from preparing an employment agreement for a new employee to creating website terms of use and privacy policy. You can even create an employee stock option plan, something that’s gaining popularity from startups.

Founded platformIt sounds like the platform is valuable to companies at all stages of growth, not only young startups looking to get incorporated?


That’s true! Many entrepreneurs start their company on Founded, but we also bring on companies that have incorporated elsewhere and want to benefit from using Founded’s technology for legal work going forward. 

A nice way to think of it: there are a lot of programs in the accounting field, like Quickbooks, that help entrepreneurs with the accounting side of things. Founded is like that, but for the legal side of things.


What was the motivation behind creating Founded? Were you ever an entrepreneur who experienced similar challenges with getting legal support?


I’m a former lawyer, so I actually saw it from the other side where I did a lot of corporate commercial work with businesses. Oftentimes, legal work was expensive for startups or they saw it as complicated. They didn’t want to meet in a lawyer’s office – they wanted to do things electronically, quickly and seamlessly.

Two out of the three of our founders are lawyers: myself and Shane. Travis is our CTO and Head of Product, and he had the experience from an entrepreneur’s standpoint. Shane and I saw the problems through a lawyer’s lens. We’ve got a good combo between the three of us!

Founded team
What was the process of scaling the company? Did you have a funding strategy?


We launched in October 2017, so we were in operation for about three years before getting acquired. 

We were really lean on funding. We had some angels that supported us but never completed an institutional round of venture capital funding. We also had support from the Ontario Centre of Excellence and government programs like IRAP.

We grew our sales and revenue and always reinvested it back into the company. That meant hiring for sales, marketing, developers – but we have always had a lean team. 

Our primary marketing strategy involved using Google Ads, high-quality blog content, and partnering with local entrepreneurship centres like the DMZ, MaRS and Enterprise Toronto. That’s really what allowed us to scale. 

We also had a really strong product, so word of mouth helped a lot. People would use the platform, have a great experience, and go on to encourage their friends to use it.


How did joining the DMZ help Founded?


During our time at the DMZ, the company got to a profitable state, which allowed us to continue growing without having to rely on funding.

There are two big things in particular that come to mind that allowed us to do this: we gained a stronger understanding of how to accelerate our sales processes, and learned how to read and analyze our data to then base our strategy around it.

Everything was super helpful – marketing was great, product was great, the programming was really holistic.Founded acquired by RBC

Many founders’ biggest dream is to get acquired and get that big exit. Was getting acquired a goal you were working towards from the early days?


It wasn’t necessarily the goal. When we started the company, we were really driven to make entrepreneurship easy.

When you decide to take money from funders, you have to realize they’re not doing it purely to support you and your goal to build a company – they do expect some sort of return to the investment that they’re making. I think most entrepreneurs realize there needs to be some thought towards an exit strategy.
We had been working with RBC for two years. It was never our goal to get acquired at this exact time – it was pretty organic. 

I think it’s helpful to start thinking about it early on when starting a company. That being said, if you were to ask me five years ago if the largest bank in Canada were to acquire a legal technology company, I would have never imagined that!


What advice would you give a founder that is interested in getting acquired? What are some important things a founder should consider? 


It’s important to understand, early on, what the implications are if you’re taking funding, especially from VCs. Understand how dilution works. Angels are one form of funding, but once you move to institutional funding, there are strong expectations for returns on their investments – to the tune of 10, 15 or even 20 times the initial investment. You need to find a path to hit those metrics. 

Next, in the early stages of building a company, take a look beforehand at the exit opportunities that may exist in your particular industry. It’s not a bad idea to look at each industry and understand the valuation multiples which exist. In most cases, you’re putting your whole life into your business – likely a lot of financial resources. So, if you have two choices that you’re equally passionate about, why not go with the industry that has a multiple exit of traditionally 15x revenue, versus another that might only be 2x or 3x. 


Now that you’ve gone through most of the acquisition process, do you have any important lessons learned to share with other founders?


Be open to business opportunities as you are growing the company because you don’t know where they’re going to lead. I don’t think it was really on our radar that RBC was going to be our acquirer when we started working with them a couple of years ago, but that turned into something real this year. Where you start with a company is not where you’re going to end up, and I think being open and fluid about that is important. 

If you’re having discussions about an acquisition, it’s going to take a lot of your time – a lot more than you’d think. It’s so important to make sure your team is still focused on delivering value each day with the acknowledgement that this acquisition might not go ahead.

Also, don’t put 100% of your time and efforts into the acquisition, or you’ll leave your business behind. You need to continue to drive value to your customers and keep building a strong business. That’s really the best counterpoint to any negotiation. If things fall through, you can then walk away at any time and continue pursuing your business.

startup team communication
When should a founder communicate with their team that an acquisition could be in the works? 


I think it depends on the team and its size. Because of COVID and everything that was going on in the world, we kept our team focused on building the product and helping customers until the later stages of the acquisition.  That was the right decision because of the uncertain environment the world was in

Communication strategies will differ from one company to the next. Do what’s best for your company, for your team, and for the environment you’re in.


Thanks, Derek! Now, what’s next for you and the Founded team? 


We’re all now RBC Ventures employees! The whole team came over, which I’m super happy about. We get to pursue the exact same thing that we were doing before, but with a much bigger budget and more resources.

I’m as excited as ever to continue to deliver on the same mission to help entrepreneurs all across  Canada, and ideally look to new jurisdictions as well.  We’re lucky in that everything is kind of the same for us, but now we just have more opportunities and resources to deliver!

Congrats to Derek and the entire Founded team on your success, and thank you for your commitment to helping entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey. Keep up with Founded over the coming months as it integrates with RBC Ventures’ Ownr to bring the best business formation and legal tools together under one roof.

Tackling the cybersecurity gender gap: Empowering women to lead the way in tech

Hear from RBC leader, May Sarout, on how we can close the gender gap and encourage more young women to get involved in cybersecurity

 

Don’t miss Women in Cyber, an exclusive panel event hosted by CanHack & Hackergal, coming up on November 18. Keep reading for more details.

The gender gap we see in tech isn’t exactly a novel issue. In the cybersecurity field, women only represent about 20 percent of the workforce. The gap has indeed narrowed in recent years, however, the industry still has quite a long way to go to achieve equitable gender representation.

May Sarout headshotThankfully, organizations like RBC have several initiatives in place to ensure we are closing this gap – from educating young women and launching partnerships like CanHack with the DMZ, to looking inwards at the organization’s hiring practices to ensure there are diverse individuals represented in tech and leadership roles.

As the Senior Director of Cyber Security Strategic Partnerships and Innovation, May Sarout is working hard to increase the representation of women in Canada’s ever-evolving tech sector. May’s passion for advancing gender diversity and empowering young women in tech is clear; her involvement in initiatives like CanHack, participation in tech events and speaking panels and efforts to raise awareness for more women-identified leaders in cybersecurity are collectively making an impact to tackle the diversity gap.

RBC CanHack DMZ event

May shared her insights on the barriers for women in cybersecurity and how young women can get a head start on a successful career in the field. We also asked May what advice she would give tech companies on building diverse teams, and how they can be more intentional about implementing inclusive hiring practices.

Here’s what May had to say.

 

Why does the cybersecurity gender gap exist?

 

In my opinion, there are three major reasons why there are fewer women in cybersecurity than there should be. First, there is a huge misunderstanding and misconception about the cybersecurity field, and this leads women to shy away from it. Second, there is a lack of understanding of the variety of roles within cyber, which I will speak to a little later. Lastly, when reviewing job roles, women are generally less likely than men to apply for jobs where they don’t meet every single qualification on a job description – making the number of women in an applicant pool even smaller.

 

How do we address this gap? What can we do to fix it?

 

I have a few suggestions, and RBC is already working to address all of them. The first thing we can do to address this issue is create programs that are specifically catered to women.

Another thing we can do to address the gap is to invite more successful women role models to share their journeys on speaking panels and events. This allows younger women in the audience to envision themselves in a similar leadership position and reassures them that they too can be successful in the field. Further to that, it’s important the outreach to young women is there so that they are aware of these events and opportunities in the first place.

We need to be sharing more information about the variety of roles in Cybersecurity. The more that women know about available roles, the more likely they may see themselves in a role.

For the young women-identifying innovators who might be interested in exploring a career in cybersecurity but aren’t sure what their options are, what could a career path in this field look like?

 

There are so many different paths to take!

On one hand, some career paths may take a more technical route. But on the other hand, some Cyber roles require no technical skills. Effective cybersecurity is about more than the technology alone. We need people in cybersecurity that have a thorough understanding of human behaviour and can take a psychological approach to reducing cyber risk.

There are also roles that are involved in the marketing, education and awareness around cyber, and these roles may require little to no technical skills. These roles might require some domain knowledge, but it’s more important the individual has a marketing or communications background than cyber.

Finally, many roles fall in the middle of this spectrum, including project management, business analysis, quality assurance – every cyber organization needs these roles, and these skills can be transferable from other fields in tech. As long as you have the passion for cybersecurity space, you will likely find a role that’s right for you!

 

How can young women get involved in cybersecurity early?

 

There are plenty of initiatives that allow youth to have fun as they learn about cybersecurity. CanHack, the initiative we host in partnership with the DMZ, is a great way for young women to get involved early. It’s a fun challenge that helps participants think critically and use problem-solving skills. Hackergal is another great organization that has opportunities designed especially for girls.

There are also lots of business associations catered to women in cyber that you can get involved with, such as Women in Cybersecurity. Leading Cyber Ladies is another one to check out. Take a look at LinkedIn, there are always events going on related to the industry.

The good thing about the days we’re living in now with virtual events is that you’re not restricted to attending events just in your local area. The world has become much more global, and in a way, it’s opened up more doors!

What advice do you have for tech companies that want to adopt more inclusive practices?

 

Study after study shows that diverse and inclusive teams are more successful. When it comes to diversity, we shouldn’t focus solely on gender diversity. We should look at all diverse talent, whether it’s gender-based, culture-based, age-based, or experience-based.

The advice I would give to companies would be to set certain goals related to diversity and inclusion. Be mindful of what you want to achieve. Declare diversity and inclusion in your performance targets and make sure you track it and measure it on a consistent basis. Diversity and inclusion have to be prioritized.

It’s important to have diversity and inclusion measures within your hiring process. For example, at RBC we ensure that there is diversity in all teams and across all levels of the organization. Hiring managers must report on how many diverse candidates they interview and whether their chosen candidate was a diverse hire.

Beyond setting targets, it’s also important to make sure you have a culture that fosters diverse hiring. If you want to hire more Black, Indigenous, or People of Colour, you must include members of those communities in the recruitment process. This will allow job candidates to see that they have a place in your organization and feel more passionate and confident about the selection process.

How does your team at RBC take measures to address the gender gap issue that exists in the cybersecurity field?

The purpose of the Cybersecurity Strategic Partnerships and Innovation team is to be a major catalyst in growing and lifting cybersecurity talent, thought leadership and innovation in Canada. We do this by growing the cybersecurity talent pipeline, training programs, advocating for diversity and increasing diversity of available talent, increasing interest of future generations in cyber.

First, we’re addressing the cybersecurity gender gap through RBC’s internal recruitment processes. This is prioritized for all areas of the organization at the Executive Committee level. Our Senior Vice President of Cyber Security is a woman – Laurie Pezzente (who has won Canada’s Most Powerful Women – Top 100 award, among several other awards). Additionally, two of the four Executives reporting to our SVP are also women.

RBC is constantly being recognized for its diversity and inclusion initiatives. It’s not just cybersecurity, either – RBC is focused on promoting diversity in all fields.

We partner with organizations like Ryerson and the DMZ on initiatives such as the Cybersecure Policy exchange and CanHack. We’ve also built the RBC Women in Cyber stream within the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst.

This year, for CanHack 2021, we set specific targets to increase women’s representation.

Not only will CanHack be offered to Canadian students coast-to-coast, but CanHack 2021 will also be special in that DMZ will run women-only workshops on a number of cybersecurity topics to support women in STEM, and work with organizations like Hackergal to inspire and recruit more female participants to the challenge.

Calling all Canadian high school teachers and community supervisors! Would you like to learn more about CanHack and other cybersecurity opportunities for women?  

Register here to learn more about the 2021 CanHack Challenge.

Join us for the Women in Cyber panel, hosted by CanHack & Hackergal on Wednesday, November 18 at 5:00pm. Register here.

 The panellists will share their experiences as women who are making an impact in the field and address how to collectively create better pathways for women in cybersecurity in Canada.  

Questions related to CanHack? Reach out to Naveed Tagari at naveedtagari@ryerson.ca.

How to pivot with purpose: A Q&A with Hop In’s CEO

Hop In’s CEO and Co-Founder, Erich Ko, proves why adaptability is key to entrepreneurial growth

Hop In is a DMZ Incubator company that provides logistics software services to offer customized corporate shuttle solutions for the daily commute. The startup helps companies retain more talent and access a larger hiring pool while providing employers with a comfortable and efficient commute to work.

Erich Ko is the CEO and Co-Founder of Hop In. What started as a business idea discussed between a few friends has evolved into a startup with a real purpose: to improve economic development issues and make transportation more accessible for workers everywhere.

We asked Erich about what fuelled his interest to become an entrepreneur, his experience in the Startup Certified program, how Hop In was conceptualized and how the company has pivoted its strategy this year.

Here’s what he had to say.

 

Let’s talk about your personal entrepreneurial journey. When did you join Startup Certified? How did you hear about it? 


I was a student working at
Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone Law Practice Program in the same building as the DMZ. By working at the front desk, I was introduced to startups, and through that, I was connected to the Sandbox

Natasha, Sandbox’s then-Director, introduced me to the Startup Certified program. It seemed really cool and had a structured approach. I joined in the Fall of 2017 and wanted to learn as much as I could!

I joined a startup called Curexe at the time. They have since been rebranded as Cevnn Payments.

What was your role within the startup? What areas of the business were you working on?


It started as a marketing role, and I worked on content marketing and organic growth. However, there were only three of us at the time, so I did everything and anything and developed my skills that way.

After that placement was complete, I ended up going back to consult with them for a few months. I helped them grow the team and scale up a little bit as well.

What made you interested in pursuing entrepreneurship?


Before that placement, I had been working for the government for six years. I ran into the “red tape” problem – something that you hear about, but don’t believe it until you see it. I figured that there has to be a faster way and a better way for me to have an impact. I turned to startups. It seems to really be the best way to change something in the world.

I’ve also been restless my entire life! I got in a lot of trouble as a kid and I was doing some things I wasn’t supposed to. Entering the entrepreneurial world helps you channel that energy. I know it sounds cliche, but it really does. 

I can work 40-50 hours straight without sleeping and nobody will say anything (besides my mom!) You’re constantly solving problems; it’s challenging. You never know what the day holds for you, so this was the perfect fit for me. 

This, I know, is what I’m going to do with my life.

Let’s talk about Hop In. What was the story behind creating the company?


I actually grew up with my two co-founders! One of them is my best friend, and our CTO was my brother’s best friend growing up. 

One night while drinking at the bar, we were discussing how we had all lived every problem possible when it came to commuting. That’s when we decided we would try to build an app to solve commuting issues.

Fast forward to today, we’ve snowballed into a bigger problem that we didn’t even know was there in the beginning. There’s a huge economic development issue that is the root of these commuting problems. 

There are these gaps left behind by transit in areas that are outside of the Torontos of the world. Workplaces in these areas aren’t always accessible. We provide a last-mile solution to connect them from the transit system to the workplaces. 

We also realized recently that we can help people from marginalized communities and the shelters, so we are actually working on different job programs to help people get access to better opportunities that they normally wouldn’t have. 

Hop In provides more than just transportation – can you explain how Hop In helps employers?


We help companies expand their hiring pools. One of our companies is Maple Lodge Farms in Brampton. We helped them hire their first employee from Scarborough, which is really not a possible transit route if you don’t have a car, right? That’s the value we add to the companies.

We go to a company and do a needs assessment for free. Employees tell us all about their commutes and schedules. Then, we plug that information back into our internal software system and design customized routes and schedules based on the employees’ needs.

If employers have issues with retention, it’s something that Hop In can also help with. The employer usually covers the cost completely. 

We work very closely with recruitment agencies and staffing agencies. We’re members of the Brampton Board of Trade as well and work closely with all the bodies that contribute towards the development of a city, development of commercial properties, and management of all of those work sites. Hop In works with everybody in that spectrum. 

Our operations are primarily based in the York Region, but currently, we are working on programs with 107 municipalities across Ontario! Our main areas are GTA-focused, and now we are getting out to the rural areas and small towns. 

How does the shuttling aspect of Hop In work?


We work with chartered bus companies that normally do events. For them, working with us is a no-brainer. It’s a new stream of revenue for them, especially during COVID as no one is going to events.

With our bus operators, we are constantly looking at data: tracking rides and optimizing routes. For example, if there were a Raptors game or Leafs game or a parade, we can reroute instantly.

The bus companies we work with are also certified to provide accessible transportation for people with disabilities. We just finished up a pilot with Durham Deaf Services to transport their learners to the facilities.

You mentioned that there has been less of a demand for bus services due to COVID-19. How has the pandemic changed how you operate?


For the first couple of months, everyone was just trying to figure out their place in this world now. We took that time to help those in need. We realized we weren’t going to generate revenue for at least a few months, so we figured we might as well do something productive with the time and help out. 

Hop In paired up with restaurants in Vaughan, Markham, and Brampton and we delivered around 100 meals and free rides to work for healthcare workers. We’ve actually now donated over 20,000 disposable masks across Canada!

We also had to shift the focus of our customer demographics. We had been working with tech companies, but they all started to work from home, so we doubled down on the essential factories and manufacturing facilities that had to stay open.

We did pivot, but nothing too big for us. Our core model stayed the same.

What advice would you give other university students or other aspiring entrepreneurs if they want to start a business?


I have three things. The first one is you just got to go for it. It’s going to be tough, things don’t always go as planned. 

If it’s something you really want to do, then there are a lot of opportunities and you can find help from places like the DMZ. The DMZ taught me so much about design thinking – that was the biggest thing for me to understand how to actually validate this thing!

My second piece of advice is to listen to your customers. I really didn’t understand this point until last year. Build what your customer needs – not necessarily what sounds nice.

The last thing? It’s all about perspective. Especially during times like this – with COVID and the economic crisis happening at the same time – there is always a way. The situation that we’re in is creating a host of problems, but the reason why we exist as entrepreneurs is to solve problems.

A lot of people thought we were dead because we are a transportation company, but we pivoted and we became an essential service to a lot of industries. In times like these, take a look from every different angle and make sure you leave no stone unturned.

I’ll be honest… we are not without our freakouts! But it’s been really, really fun because we’ve just been throwing pasta at the wall and seeing what sticks, right? Every day we are throwing something new out there to see what happens. It’s been kind of fun experimenting that way.

 

Want to learn more? Visit Hop In’s website and follow them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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