In an effort to encourage more female entrepreneurs to enter the world of startups, MasterCard’s Youth Entrepreneurial Success (YES) program is donating $60,000 to Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone.
Six female entrepreneurs, who must either be a current founder, co-founder or CEO of a startup, will each be awarded with $10,000 in resources. Half of money will be in the form of funding. They will also gain admission into the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) for up to an eight-month period.
The program launched on March 8, International Women’s Day.
Compared to similar Canadian tech incubators, the DMZ has a high number of female entrepreneurs at just over 20 per cent, according to Lauren Clegg, the media relations representative at the DMZ.
A 2013 Industry Canada study shows that more than half of medium-sized businesses have men-only ownership, compared to just four per cent that are owned exclusively by women.
The results are slightly better in small-sized businesses. While male-only owned business still make up more than half, female-owned businesses are at 14 per cent.
The remainder of the businesses in each category have majority male, majority female or equal gender ownership.
Vicki Saunders, current entrepreneur-in-residence at the DMZ, says the tech industry has been trying to solve this gender issue for 20 years, but the numbers just aren’t changing.
She says that a commonly cited reason is that females lack confidence. But she argues that’s not true, and says there are different expectations placed upon male and female entrepreneurs.
“I’ve been to meetings where it’s assumed, completely, that I was a novice,” says Caroline Rouben, co-founder of a DMZ-backed startup, Bombbash.
“You start from a place of fighting to get to the same playing field… to get that initial trust.” Rouben says she has found that negative, gender-based assumptions are made on first impressions, but also notes that men don’t necessarily know that they’re doing it.
“Even men that would consider themselves progressive or support equal opportunity – even those types of men make certain assumptions,” Rouben says.
The DMZ website says the new program will help to strengthen its community of female founders and support them as they scale their businesses.
The program requires a written and video application, as well as a business plan and prototype of the product. Bonus points will be given to startups dealing with online and terminal payment integration, loyalty points, cyber security and financial technology.
Applications for the Mastercard Women in Entrepreneurship Program will be open until April 6, 2015.