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‘I have to prove myself’ – Calgary women see improvement but still face tech industry hurdles

Emily Hicks and her fellow FREDsense Technologies co-founders were fresh off success at an international genetic engineering competition and ready to turn their idea into a company.

It wasn’t that easy.

Hicks, a University of Calgary grad with a degree in biomedical science and president of FREDsense Technologies said being young and naïve made delivering their Field Ready Electrochemical Detector (FRED) to potential investors an uphill battle.

The Calgary-based biotech company’s portable tool detects certain chemicals in water sources.

“A lot of people didn’t take us really seriously. They thought it was cute but weren’t sure we could take it forward into a commercial product,” Hicks said.

Being a woman didn’t make the process any simpler. Hicks has experienced a sort of gauntlet maybe her male counterparts didn’t.

“I’ve definitely found there’s scrutiny of women in tech. I really found that I have to prove myself and really show that I have the knowledge, because they’re not really going to take what I say and necessarily believe it,” she said.

“It’s really convincing people that you have the knowledge, and you know what you’re talking about. The numbers are real, the facts are real and that you’re not making this stuff up.”  

According to the Alberta Enterprise Corporation, 2018 Alberta Tech Deal Flow Study and 2016 Alberta Tech Deal Flow Study, only 13 per cent of Canadian tech companies have a female co-founder. In Alberta that number is almost double the national average at 30 per cent.

There’s work underway to push that number higher.

AccelerateAB, the A100 powered tech conference is launching their inaugural Women in Tech Summit, a whole day (April 15) dedicated to women entrepreneurs. It goes ahead at the Telus Convention Centre the day before the larger AccelerateAB conference.

“Championing women in technology is one of the most important causes in our industry today,” said Cynthia van Sundert, Executive Director of The A100, a group that supports Alberta tech entrepreneurs.

“While we have made great strides, it is important that we continue to support and grow women in tech. AccelerateAB’s Women in Tech Summit will focus on accelerating, supporting, and learning from outstanding female entrepreneurs to help continue this positive trajectory.”

One of the biggest challenges Hicks sees for women in tech is in the accessibility of funding.

“That’s still a challenge for women-led businesses. A lot of the statistics you see don’t traditionally see a lot of venture capital and angel investment tech focused business,” she said.

“Women have to prove themselves to get funding to get people to be on board.”

She said while the road to life as a successful entrepreneur can be challenging for anyone – woman or man – she encouraged women to power through, because their skills are critical to the success of today’s companies.

Hicks said that more organizations are realizing that diverse management teams are increasingly coveted. That’s the advice she has for women pushing for a career as a tech entrepreneur.

“Those young women that are starting to enter the tech field have a huge asset in that they bring a different perspective that can be highly valuable,” she said.

Hicks felt the one thing she’s brought to her management team is the ability to relate with others on the team.

“In terms of our company, I’m really able to talk with people and empathize with them and hear some of the issues. I can be more effective at managing the people in the organization because I’m able to a little bit better understand where they’re coming from and I bring that perspective to the team,” she said.

“Other women may have different strengths and assets that they bring, but often they’re just looking at problems from a different experience set or life experience.”

For more information on the AccelerateAB Women in Tech conference, visit their website. Tickets for the conference can be purchased at Eventbrite.