Skip to content

25 Women to Watch: Succeeding in a COVID World

Canada51 was launched in 2020, with a mandate to grow into a collective of organizations, and individuals unlocking capital to invest inclusively in women-entrepreneurs and women-led companies. As a first step, we have convened our first Canada51 Capital Council. We have partnered with Women of Influence to amplify the stories of these women and their companies, and over the next few weeks you can learn more about them as part of the Women of Influence What Now series.


by Danielle Graham 


2020 has been a year of disruption and change. We are living through the first pandemic of our lifetimes; Millennial’s second financial crisis and the inequalities of our systems are more exposed than ever. Amidst the chaos, there is also an opportunity to break things down and rebuild, to expose what wasn’t working and find solutions to make it better.

Even while facing less access to capital, struggles in the start-up phase and outdated prejudices about women in leadership, women’s entrepreneurship is accelerating within Canada and beyond. In the spirit of collaboration and like-minded missions, Sandpiper Ventures from the east coast and The51 from the west, have come together to launch a new, national partnership to unlock capital and invest in women-led startups across Canada.

The result of our combined knowledge and shared networks is called Canada51.  This inclusive network is intended to grow to include all key organisations and people across Canada who see this as a social mandate and financial and economic opportunity.  Canada51 is committed to increase the participation of women as investors and business leaders and amplify the success of women tech entrepreneurs. 

Within Canada’s technology sector, only 25% of the 4,000 angel and seed-funded software companies have raised enough capital to see them through to the end of 2020. Entrepreneurs are now prioritizing survival by reducing burn and/or production costs. The devastating impact of mothballing exciting growth opportunities and reducing overhead became evident when Statistics Canada reported the second-highest unemployment rate on record at 12% with over 2.4 million Canadians filing employment insurance claims. 

If businesses don’t make it out of this crisis, not only will the impact on the lives of these entrepreneurs and their employees be devastating, the economic engine of this country will cease to exist. Subsequently, Canada’s burgeoning technology ecosystem, one that was just starting to make strides in enabling diverse founders, will become a shell of its former self, with the effort of many over the previous decade amounting to nothing. The silver lining is that COVID-19 is paving the way for a new, higher-tech future, with the potential for faster technology adoption at all levels of society. 

Recognizing that the innovation engine is what keeps our economy running during this crisis, we have been continually inspired by how entrepreneurs have stepped up and built critical solutions in the fight against COVID-19. Within the tech startup ecosystem specifically, we have had countless conversations with founders from coast to coast who are positioning themselves to weather this storm. 

Canada 51’s COVID-specific response is one of the first of many collaborations to amplify women entrepreneurs nationally. We are all investors focused on women founders, and these are founders we’ve known over the years from our programs, community engagement and portfolios. They are forward-thinking and performing exceptionally well even in such challenging times because their tech solutions are exactly what’s needed for our future economy.

These founders are examples of the resilience, strength and leadership our communities need. Below they share their perspectives on the future, and the lessons they are from COVID-19 as we collectively pivot. 

  1. Drones

Alex McCalla, COO & Co-founder of AirMatrix

AirMatrix helps cities and enterprises prepare for, manage and enable drone operations by building millimetre-precise drone roads for dense urban environments. Learn how AirMatrix is helping high-density cities create safe, scalable and efficient transportation systems here.

  1. Fake News

Harleen Kaur, CEO & Co-founder of Ground News

Ground News is the world’s first ‘News Comparison Platform’ aggregating news from 50,000+ publications globally, across the political spectrum. Learn how Ground News provides consumers with deeper coverage analysis to address the problems of misinformation, political bias and sensationalism here.

  1. Artificial Intelligence

Erin Kelly, CEO of Advanced Symbolics

Advanced Symbolics is a market research leader, with Polly, its proprietary Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. Learn how Advanced Symbolics helps businesses and governments better understand their audiences here

  1. Artificial Intelligence  

Donna Litt, COO & Co-founder of Kiite

Kiite, a leading provider of AI solutions for sales, helps sales teams capture, organize and share their documented and tribal knowledge. Learn how their tech sales training program, operating as Uvaro, equips recruits to pursue or grow their careers in tech sales here.

  1. Cybersecurity

Anne Genge, CEO & CO-founder of Alexio Corporation

Alexio Corporation is an award-winning CyberRisk prevention software and training company for healthcare practices and other small to medium-sized businesses. Learn how Alexio specializes in delivering enterprise-class cyber-security to smaller networks here.

  1. Digital Health

Kristal Lewis, Founder & CEO at Senior Care Connect

Senior Care Connect offers a web platform that easily connects those seeking a caregiver with caregivers offering services for hire. Learn how Senior Care Connect is giving families peace of mind and reducing the cost of care delivered here.

  1. Education

Julia Rivard Dexter, Co-Founder & CEO of Squiggle Park

Squiggle Park, one of the fastest-growing EdTech games of 2018, uses a scientifically backed reading methodology for Pre K-2 students to accelerate mastery of skills development in phonemes, phonemic awareness, word work, spelling and more. Learn how Squiggle Park helps students master the skills required to become a strong reader here.

  1. The Gig Economy / Remote Work

Bobbie Racette, CEO & Founder of Virtual Gurus

The Virtual Gurus is a Talent-as-a-Service (TaaS) platform that matches businesses and entrepreneurs with onshore, Canadian and US-based virtual assistants using a proprietary algorithm. Learn how The Virtual Gurus provides an inclusive, cost-effective solution here.

  1. Utilities

Elaine Kelly, COO & Co-founder, Klir

Klir’s integrated water regulatory compliance platform helps water utilities manage their compliance and regulation more effectively. Learn how Klir is helping make water safer here.

  1. Mobile Apps / Artificial Intelligence

Eyra Abraham, CEO & Founder of Lisnen

Lisnen is a mobile application that provides safety and situational awareness to people with hearing loss using AI. Learn how Lisnen is making life easier and safer for the deaf and hard of hearing here.

  1. Financial Services 

Marina Mann, CEO & Co-founder of EatSleepRIDE

EatSleepRIDE Motorcycle GPS® (ESR) is a social, tracking and safety platform for motorcycle riders, with its smartphone technology using mobility tools coupled with AI to improve safety and reduce motorcycle-related injury. Learn how Eat Sleep Ride Mobile is powering new kinds of insurance and making motorcycles more accessible and safer here.

  1. Digital Health

Huda Idrees, Founder & CEO at Dot Health

Dot Health is a mobile platform for the secure retrieval and storage of Canadians’ medical records from any healthcare provider. Learn how Dot Health is connecting the world’s healthcare information here.

  1. Virtual Reality

Nicole McLean, Co-founder of Instage

InStage makes VR speaking experiences, combining believable VR experience with useful analytics. Learn how InStage is increasing the speed that speaking skills and content are learned here.

  1. Delivery Services

Ugochi Owo, CEO of Flindel

Flindel is leading returns solution for online merchants globally with a focus on automating commerce returns. Learn how Flindel is empowering retailers to thrive by optimizing returns here.

  1. Digital Health 

Alexandra Greenhill, Founder, CEO & Chief Medical Officer of Careteam

Careteam Technologies is a cloud-based, AI-enabled digital collaboration and communication platform that enables care planning, patient engagement and offers a set of tools that integrate with other technologies. Learn how Careteam Technologies is helping clinicians collaborate, adapt, coordinate and accelerate their move towards patient-centred care here.

  1. Biotechnology

Bethany Deshpande, CEO of SomaDetect

SomaDetect is an agricultural technology company connecting dairy farmers with the milk-quality indicators most relevant for the management of their production. Learn how SomaDetect is enabling dairy farmers to identify problems early and produce the best possible milk here.

  1. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

Farah Brunache, CEO & Founder of Lagatos

Lagatos empowers digital underserved communities by helping run hyper-localized and accessible IaaS platforms. Learn how Lagatos is addressing the growing digital divide here.

  1. Accessibility

Maayan Ziv, CEO & Founder of AccessNow

AccessNow is a mobile app and web platform focused on connecting people to accessible experiences. Learn how AccessNow is empowering people to search for, rate and discover places and experiences that meet their accessibility needs here.

  1. Identity Tracking

Leanne Bellegarde, CEO of AKAWE Technologies

AKAWE Technologies provides inclusive digital blockchain solutions that embraces diversity through a unified governance process and distributed service model. Learn how AKAWE Technologies is enabling communities, economies, and nations here.

  1. The Sharing Economy

Sarah Selhi, CEO of SpaceiShare

SpaceiShare is a sharing economy platform and that helps property owners manage and monetize their idle spaces. Learn how SpaceiShare is enabling more market transparency and providing renters with affordable space solutions here.

  1. Real Estate 

Monila Joroszonek, CEO & Co-founder of RATIO.CITY

RATIO.CITY provides data-driven insights that can be converted into actionable strategies for cities. Learn more about how RATIO.CITY is helping build better, more livable cities here.

  1. Resource Extraction & Safety

Shelby Yee, CEO & Co-founder of RockMass Technologies

RockMass Technologies is the fastest digital rock mechanics tool for collecting structural orientation data underground. Learn how RockMass Technologies is enabling mines to operate safer and more efficiently through streamlined and digital data collection here.

  1. Music

Laura Simpson, Co-founder of Side Door

Side Door is a platform that matches artists with hosts, builds direct connections and simplifies the show-booking process with easy and transparent digital tools, building communities through the shared experience of art. Learn how Side Door enables artists to monetize their online performances here.

  1. Accessibility

Alwar Pillai, CEO of Fable Tech Labs

Fable Tech Labs has built an online platform that connects researchers, designers and developers with people with disabilities, with the goal of making it easier to create an accessible digital product. Learn how Fable Tech Labs is making it easier for digital teams to engage people with disabilities in product development here.

  1. Personal Care Services

Alicia Soulier, CEO of SalonScale Technology

Launched in 2018, SalonScale Technology has created the world’s first digital colour bar scale for stylists. Learn how SalonScale Technology is providing smart technology solutions and digital tools to help salons succeed here.

In the Canadian tech ecosystem, we have the power of problem-solving and the capacity to build scalable tech-enabled solutions with top-tier talent. I expect to see an increase in the number of technology startups in 2020. Historically, start-up creation spikes post-crisis. Smart, highly capable founders who were let go from corporate roles see this time as an opportunity to “go for it”. Intelligent investors will work hard to find, back and support these entrepreneurs as they look to build the next wave of generation-defining technology startups.

The last few months have a deeper need for these tech solutions and a newfound openness to rapid change that is being readily applied. These founders have not only responded quickly to the crisis, but they were already forward-thinking within their respective sectors, leading the way through the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19. I am hopeful for the continued adoption of these innovative technologies and I know that these startups can play an integral role in the future of tech.

First-hand, I have witnessed the incredible technology being built, some are category leaders and have the potential to change the industries mentioned above for the better. We all are affected by the impact of this crisis and our entire global culture is shifting. These tech founders are ready to lead us into that future.

Picture of Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham is an Investment Principal and Co-founder of Sandpiper Ventures. She has extensive experience across the angel ecosystem in Ontario, particularly the Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor and is a Venture Partner to the Archangel Network of Funds. Danielle has spent her career investing in, amplifying and enabling diverse founders to scale their businesses and succeed.