As a veteran of the tech start-up world, Nicole German understands what’s needed to help female founders get ahead. Now, as vice-president, enterprise digital marketing, at Scotiabank, she’s helping to get those resources into the right hands.
By Shelley White
Every day, talented female entrepreneurs across Canada are innovating — pushing the boundaries of their creativity. But what needs to be done to help women-founded startups survive, thrive and take their businesses global?
“Women have amazing ideas and concepts. We need to bring them to fruition,” says Nicole German, a woman who knows a thing or two about success in the startup world.
A global brand-builder and digital marketing guru — and current vice-president, enterprise digital marketing, at Scotiabank — Nicole has spent more than 20 years helping companies scale and grow, from scrappy tech startups to powerhouse players like SAP and LinkedIn.
To build successful companies, women founders need courage and resilience, she says. They also need a strong network of support. “The most important thing is supporting and advocating for each other,” says Nicole. “Leveraging our networks, mentoring, making introductions, to carve paths and support each other.”
“The most important thing is supporting and advocating for each other.”
That’s why Scotiabank and its direct banking subsidiary, Tangerine, have partnered to support the DMZ at Ryerson University’s Women Founders Accelerator, a national program to help early-stage tech companies get to the next level. Selected companies will benefit from connections with seasoned mentors, hands-on support in areas like hiring and pricing, networking sessions with peers and advisors, a dedicated workspace, and the opportunity to pitch for funding prizes up to $50,000.
Nicole says the DMZ’s Women Founders Accelerator was a natural fit for Scotiabank and Tangerine because of their shared mandate to promote diversity and inclusion in Canada. “We want to help female founders launch and grow their businesses, and provide much-needed access to capital for female entrepreneurs,” she says. “We believe strongly in the startup ecosystem in Canada and want to support that, but we see the need for females to have access to capital as much as their male counterparts.”
Research shows that investing in women founders is good for business. U.S. venture capital firm First Round Capital found that companies with at least one female founder outperformed all-male founding teams by 63 percent over the last 10 years.
But at the same time, women entrepreneurs aren’t getting the funding they need. A 2016/2017 Crunchbase report looking at global rates of investment in women-founded businesses found that only 10 percent of venture dollars between 2010-2017 were invested in businesses with at least one woman founder.
The time is right for initiatives like the Women Founders Accelerator to even the playing field in the Canadian startup ecosystem, says Nicole. It’s a world she knows well — she spent much of her career immersed in it.
Born in Toronto and raised in Brazil, Nicole traveled extensively at a young age with her family and was exposed to many different cultures and languages. Those early years would have a big influence on her future pursuits and her interest in international business and marketing. “While it took me awhile to figure this out, a lot of my fascination was around culture, whether that was business or pleasure,” she says.
After attending Queen’s University back in Canada, Nicole knew she wanted to leverage her international experience and languages. So she went to work for a Canadian startup that had just landed some large customers in South America. “They really needed someone who was able to step in, understand the cultures and speak the languages, so that’s really how I fell into tech,” she says.
Nicole says working in the male-dominated tech environment did sometimes present career roadblocks, but she learned to take risks. She took a new job every two or three years — whenever a new growth opportunity presented itself. “I really just recognized that there are multiple routes to get to a destination, so you often have to take unexpected turns to get to that destination,” she says.
“I really just recognized that there are multiple routes to get to a destination, so you often have to take unexpected turns to get to that destination.”
In fact, Nicole says she never imagined she would work for a bank because of her tech background. But after six months, “I’m incredibly inspired,” she says. At Scotiabank, Nicole is responsible for leading the evolution of the digital marketing function globally, as well as contributing to the bank’s overall digital transformation.
“As any business goes through a digital transformation, they are transforming the way they work,” she says. “The goal is about: How do we be more nimble? How do we collaborate more? How do we break down silos and traditional walls?”
Her advice for women founders aiming to succeed is to surround themselves with the best, at work and at home — building a “powerhouse network of personal and professional people, so you’re always learning and growing,” she says. “Know what you’re good at and where you need to find support in other areas.”
Another crucial element in helping women founders reach their goals is sharing their stories, says Nicole. Talking about successful female-led organizations educates the industry that there are great success stories to be celebrated, and also shows younger women that it is possible.
She hopes that accessible programs like the DMZ’s Women Founders Accelerator will help women push their ideas forward, taking them from the home office to the global marketplace.
“Hopefully, this is just the beginning.”