How Calgary-Based The51 Is Helping Grow Women-Led Businesses

By Amit Chowdhry ● December 17, 2019
  • The51 is an organization in Calgary, Alberta, Canada that is focused on disrupting the gender imbalance in the VC industry

There are three entrepreneurs and investors in Calgary, Alberta, Canada who are focused on disrupting the gender imbalance in the venture capital industry. Judy Fairburn, Shelley Kuipers, and Alice Reimer launched The51 earlier this year following an event at Kuiper’s home.

In an interview with The Globe And Mail, Kuipers explained that there is a desire for women to leverage capital and invest it in other women and their businesses. “We’ve waited for some time for this financing landscape to change and for the statistics to change,” said Kuipers in the interview. “We could just keep complaining about the statistics, or we can be part of the solution.”

Currently, women hold an estimated 30% of global private wealth according to a 2016 report from BCG. But just 15.2% of partners at Canadian venture capital firms and 11.8% of managing partners are women says the Canadian Women in Venture Report 2019 by Highline BETA and Female Funders.

The51 essentially operates as an investment collective with over 1,000 members. And most of those members are women, but men can also join the collective. The51 does not charge a membership fee, but the networking events have a fee. Kuipers pointed out that The51 is exploring several membership models.

Kuipers is expecting the The51 to move towards a for-profit and non-profit hybrid model in order to meet its goals of helping create wealth and ensure more women benefit from investments. At The51’s events, investors, entrepreneurs, partner organizations, law firms like Osler, and professional services firm like BDO Canada meet to learn about the process of investing in early-stage companies led by women along. Plus The51 introduces accredited investors to entrepreneurs who are seeking funding.

The51 presents opportunities that it discovers, but it is not an actual fund. The decision to put money in companies is up to the investors. Accredited investors associated with The51 have put over $4 million in 12 companies with female leaders in the form of equity rounds and convertible notes.

Christie Stephenson, an executive director at The Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics at UBC Sauder Business School, pointed out that The51 is joining a number of growing opportunities in private and public markets that is addressing the gap in funding available for female entrepreneurs.

“These are often overlooked investment opportunities that are overlooked because of systemic bias,” noted Stephenson. And she suggests the interest in gender-focused investments could lead to real change instead of simply creating a parallel system for women. This is especially fueled by evidence that female-led businesses have higher success rates.

SalonScale founder + CEO Alicia Soulier, an entrepreneur who developed software services to hair salons, received support from The51. And she said that support from The51 has been different than the interactions she had with other investors.

Soulier told The Globe And Mail that salons are free-pouring hair color just like how alcohol is free-poured in bars. And stylists pour color without measuring it so they do not know exactly how much product is used thus making it hard to determine the price for each customer. So SalonScale built an app that utilizes a Bluetooth scale to calculate the amount. And now over 2,000 salons are using the technology.

So far, SalonScale raised $1.1 million in seed funding, including $157,515 from investors associated with The51. And in September, Soulier spoke on a panel at an event by The51 in Calgary.