A recent pitch competition celebrated women and gender-diverse entrepreneurs, and two NAIT alums are walking away with $50,000 for their business.
HerStory 2022, hosted by Alberta Innovates and The51 took place in Banff on June 4th. 30 innovators gathered to tell their story, hoping for a different type of pitch competition—one that focused on narrative, relatability, and connection.
According to the HerStory website, “studies show that traditional pitch competitions consistently fail women.” Shelvie Fernan and Victoria Celi, NAIT Alumni and winners of the HerStory competition, know this all too well.
They started their company Fly & Fetch to solve a problem with international shipping, but they’ve found being women has added additional challenges to their journey.
“It’s very sad to say, but sometimes it’s more challenging to find funding, to find people that really trust in our business. Of course, we’ve been working with amazing mentors who support us, but at the same time, we do need to prove to them and other people that we actually are doing something big with Fly & Fetch,” said Celi.
According to Fernan, women of color are still seen as less believable in the world of business.
“It really is harder to be a woman entrepreneur, and a woman of color to be in this space. We’re less believable and we need to work hard to show our traction. There’s a lot of things that we needed to prove first before we can get that support,” said Fernan.
They saw similar reactions at more traditional pitch competitions.
Celi explained that Fernan, who has attended several pitch competitions for Fly & Fetch, sees similar reactions when female entrepreneurs take the stage. “Every single time a woman pitches, they always talk about the challenges, instead of the opportunities that the business had.”
For Fly & Fetch, an innovative company that uses travelers’ luggage space to ship packages instead of air cargo and offers free flights to do so, the reactions bordered on disbelief.
“In general, what we are building is a disruption. It’s something that’s new. Every time we talk to someone about it, they’re kind of mind blown. Like, have you heard of a company that gives free flights and makes money while doing it?” said Fernan.
But at HerStory, the atmosphere was very different.
“In terms of the vibe, I think it was more competitive to be honest, because it’s very focused on women. I know for sure most women are competitive,” said Fernan.
“But at the same time, once you get to talk to everyone else and you realize that you don’t work in the same space, you’re all working on different things, you started forming collaborations…and you realize that as women, we love to help one another, and that is what I saw.”
The reactions to her pitch were also very different.
“After I pitched, the comments I got were all positive, like, “Oh my god this is such a good problem to solve, I agree, I relate to this…” explained Fernan.
The atmosphere of collaboration was something that Fernan loved about competing in HerStory 2022.
“It’s very focused on women. There are women investors, there are women founders, women mentors…it’s all so empowering to see the difference between having women as an audience and not just women as an audience, but women pitching.”
Fernan and Celi continue to grow their business, despite the challenges they’ve faced. They encourage everyone to try their platform, but also to keep trying despite setbacks they might face.
“Just try to do as much as [you] can and to apply to as many programs as [you] can because me and Shelvie…we applied to everything. And sometimes we were rejected…but sometimes we actually got into a program who opened the doors for another program, and another program and another opportunity, and so on,” said Celi.