48 Hours In The Silicon Valley: Canadian Startup Entrepreneur Krista LaRiviere

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By Krista LaRiviere (Co-Founder & CEO, gShift Labs) One of my favorite questions I get asked is, “Is it more difficult to start a software company and raise money when you’re a woman?” My sarcastic answer is always, “I have no idea because I’ve never been a man.” My serious answer is, “I think starting a business, raising capital and growing a technology company are all difficult regardless of gender.”

As a Canadian software entrepreneur, I have the distinct honor of being one of 19 Canadian companies taking part in the C100’s flagship mentoring program December 5-7, 2011 called “48 Hours in the Valley”. Twice a year the C100 invites some of Canada's most promising startups and high-potential technology companies to Silicon Valley for two days of mentorship, workshops, investor meetings, strategic partner visits and networking. An unbelievable opportunity!

Let me tell you why this opportunity is important to Canadian entrepreneurs.

It’s no secret that the center of the software/startup/VC world is not Canada. But, and it’s a big BUT, there’s a ton of fantastic things going on up there. Let me give you a quick sample of the groups and organizations that software entrepreneurs have access to for mentoring, coaching and networking: MaRS, VentureLab, Communitech, AceTech, DigitalPuck, Mentor Mondays, AccelerateTO, CIX and Digi Awards, just to name a few. And, contrary to popular belief we have money to invest: MaRS, Growthworks, FedDev IBI, Omers, Rho, Tandem, Summerhill, Extreme Ventures, BDC Ventures and iNovia are just a few funders. And we have other great sources of funding including IRAP and SR&ED.

What we don’t have is the Silicon Valley. Enter the C100.

C100 is comprised of a select group of Canadians based primarily in Silicon Valley, including executives of leading technology companies, experienced startup entrepreneurs and venture capital investors. C100 members are passionate about leveraging their collective experience, expertise and relationships to help mentor and grow a new generation of successful Canadian-led technology companies.

In a 48-hour period of time, gShift Labs will be fast-tracked through Silicon Valley and provided with networking opportunities that I simply could not coordinate on my own. That’s simply amazing, and I am very appreciative of the opportunity.

But here’s what’s odd -- I guarantee you there won’t be a line up for the women’s washroom.

The C100’s interest in nurturing Canadian companies and networking them into the Valley may help create the next RIM or Nortel or Corel or OpenText or Constellation Software. Kobo, Shopify, Rackspace, and Fixmo may already be well on their way.

Check out our Branham300 listing for 2011 -- there’s a lot of great stuff going on in Canada.

But still no line up for the women’s washroom.

gShift Labs is two years old now, we’ve raised some great capital from some great sources and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

Here are my top 5 tips to other entrepreneurs (male or female):

  • Be coachable.
  • Ask for help.
  • Hustle… everyday.
  • Get involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem regardless of stage: start-up, grow-up or scale-up.
  • Most importantly, give back to the ecosystem and to other entrepreneurs.

This is why the C100 exists and why I get to spend 48 Hours in the Valley getting coached, learning, networking, pitching and understanding how to be a better entrepreneur.

Here’s what’s odd: when I was raising money for gShift, other than pitching to the Golden Seeds Angel Group in New York (they fund women-led companies), I don’t recall pitching to any women investors. gShift’s Board of Directors -- men. gShift’s Advisory Board -- men.

There are some Canadian women tech entrepreneurs moving and shaking the software industry -- Carol Lehman, Sarah Prevette, Shahrzad Rafati, Debbie McGrath, Shelly Kuipers, Kristine Steuart. Plus some fantastic female mentors for us -- Krista Jones, Michelle McBane, Ilse Treurnicht. But I don’t think that we yet have a Sheryl Sandberg.

Where are my female peers and competitors? What is the cause behind the lower numbers of women that enter and excel in this field? Is it fear of the unknown? Are the lower numbers based on trepidation surrounding the field that has to this point been largely represented by men -- very powerful men (think Steve Jobs and Bill Gates)? Perhaps there is still a perception that technology is largely the realm of males, in spite of the large number of females that enjoy its benefits daily. And like science and math in previous times, there may continue to be a pervasive idea that technology is one area where females cannot excel.

The naysayers are wrong. While the existing female tech contingent may not be immediately apparent, they exist and, sooner than anticipated, will be a force to be reckoned with.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Krista LaRiviere is Co-Founder and CEO of gShift Labs. gShift has SEO software for marketers called Web Presence OptimizerTM. gShift gives marketers control over their organic search campaigns just like they have control over email marketing and paid search. Founded in 2009, gShift has hundreds of clients throughout North America. Over the past two years, Krista has raised $2.1M for gShift Labs. Follow her on Twitter at @kristalariviere.