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It’s time to elevate your social (impact) game

On Wednesdays, we startup.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to positioning women founders centre stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

For this week’s feature, we handed the reins to Kelly Emery, the Founder of Troop and expert in startup development, to speak to social impact and what startups can do to not only add it to their business models but also elevate their social impact game.

Guest blog: By Kelly Emery, Founder of Troop

When a company helps the community they work in, people take notice. From clients to customers and current employees to prospective talent, social impact initiatives make people feel good about being a part of an organization that does good.

It gives people that warm and fuzzy feeling.

I’m not going to BS you — when times are good, it’s easy to give back and when times are difficult, it’s not. However, when times are tough social impact initiatives are needed most and your employees and customers take notice of how your organization responds to pressing needs in society.

Turn towards social impact initiatives, not away

No doubt, you’ve heard the saying, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ During uncertain times, companies that choose to step up to help are the ones that are set apart. Businesses that engage in social impact initiatives are the type of purpose-driven organizations employees and customers want to align with, especially as we live in a post-pandemic world.

Oodles of research has been done on the topic and I’ve highlighted some in the Troop Guide to Social Impact. For example, studies have shown: 

  • Purpose-driven companies have 40% higher levels of talent retention than their competitors.
  • 88% of employees say their job is more fulfilling when they can make a positive impact on social and environmental issues.
  • 66% of consumers would switch from a product they normally buy to a similar one by a purpose-driven company.

All this is to say — now is the time to ignite a social impact program, if your company doesn’t already have one, or double down on any current ones.

Make a greater impact with social impact

Amp up your organization’s impact by engaging your employees in new and interactive ways. Did you know that:

  •  78% of employees would work for a business if it sought their input into the charitable causes it supports
  • 80% of employees are likely to provide input into the organizations a business donates to if given the opportunity

Employees want to do good at work, and for SMBs looking to make this happen, it’s not always easy to know where to start. Enter Troop.

Troop is a technology-based solution that brings together businesses and their staff with local charities and non-profits. It gives your team a voice in how your company can best help your community with a plug-and-play solution that’s easy to implement and requires minimal ongoing management. 

So how does it work?

Each month your employees receive a curated list of vetted needs in the community and will pick the one that resonates with them most. Based on votes, Troop fulfills the selected need and provides a follow-up so they can see and feel the difference being made in the lives of the people they’ve helped.

Ready to elevate your social impact and do good with Troop? Download our Ultimate Guide to Social Impact, visit the Troop website, or connect with me via LinkedIn for more information.

Supporting moms and dads through the ups and downs of parenthood: How Alli Therapy is taking a parent-centric approach to mental health

On Wednesdays, we startup.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders center stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

This week, we sat down with the Co-Founders of Alli Therapy, Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu, to learn more about Alli Therapy’s tailored mental health solutions for parents, and their thoughts on the massive growth in the mental health space. Plus, we had the chance to connect with one of their certified therapists, Michelle Winterburn, MSW, RSW, to unpack some of the biggest misconceptions about parenting therapy and more.

Alli Therapy is an online emotional and mental health tool to support families through the journey of parenthood, with more than 34 million parents in North America living with mental health issues their mission is to support moms and dads through all stages of parenthood.

Sarah Rennick, Co-Founder & CEO of Alli Therapy

Before founding Alli Therapy, Sarah founded Mama Mobile, an in-home wellness service company for moms and moms-to-be. Unfortunately, as a result of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, Mama Mobile had to cease operations. Wanting to still support the community of parents Sarah had fostered, she reached out to her clientele to gain a better sense of what they felt parents alike needed help with.

“I reached out to the Mama Mobile community to gain a better understanding of what parents actually needed — to see what services or solutions would make their lives easier as they moved through parenthood, said Sarah.

This is how the idea for Alli Therapy came about. While the majority of digital mental health and therapy solutions out there provide great services that are highly needed, rarely do these solutions offer services designed specifically for parents.

“20% of mothers today have postpartum depression, and 57% of parents say parenting is a top source of anxiety,” said Cherry. “A lot of parents experience mental health problems, yet we only ever highlight the rosy side of parenthood. We want to destigmatize therapy for parents, and highlight that everyone has the same doubts when it comes to parenting.”

Cherry Xu, Co-Founder & CTO of Alli

Cherry was also working in the wellness space before founding Alli Therapy, and was introduced to Sarah while she was leading Mama Mobile. Recognizing the opportunity in service marketplaces and being a mental health advocate herself, Cherry pitched herself as a Co-Founder to Sarah, and the rest was history!
Alli Therapy provides an all-in-one solution for busy parents to connect with a therapist that best suits their needs. With the use of matching technology, users are connected with therapists that are not only a great fit for the user’s stage of parenthood, but also their personality.

“We provide all of our users with a free intro session to ensure they feel comfortable with their matched therapist, ” said Sarah. “You’d be surprised at how many people abandon therapy due to a lack of fit, and making sure our users felt good about their matched therapist was really important to us.”

“20% of mothers today have postpartum depression, and 57% of parents say parenting is a top source of anxiety,” said Cherry. “A lot of parents experience mental health problems, yet we only ever highlight the rosy side of parenthood. We want to destigmatize therapy for parents, and highlight that everyone has the same doubts when it comes to parenting.”

The mental health startup landscape is beginning to see a real shift as funding has reached a record $852 million USD globally in the first quarter of 2021, nearly twice the amount raised during the same period in 2020. Cherry attributed the industry’s momentum to the rise of mental health awareness.

“We’re seeing high profile celebrities speak up about their own experiences with mental health, and while we still have a ton of work to do, the stigma is slowly beginning to lift. People like Meghan Markle, The Duchess of Sussex, and Simone Biles, the US olympic champion, are opening up about their experiences, and this sparks conversations around mental health, while also demonstrating that we all face our own challenges, and asking for help is okay.”

Sarah added that seeing TalkSpace, one of the largest providers of online and mobile therapy in the world, IPO earlier this year really solidified the need for mental health services and the opportunity for startups to innovate.

Alli Therapy prides itself on having therapists that actually speak parent. Users can find individual or couples’ support with therapists who specialize in all types of parenthood challenges.

Michelle Winterburn, MSW, RSW, Alli Therapist

Michelle Winterburn, one of Alli Therapy’s therapists, highlighted that stigma and financial restrictions are some of the biggest barriers when it comes to parents accessing mental health services.

“Many people think seeking therapy means they are a failure. Although we have come a long way in shifting the perception of mental health and wellness, the stigma persists.

Finances are always a consideration, especially with a new family. All Alli therapists are licenced and registered, making their fees reimbursable through most extended healthcare plans or as an eligible medical expense on taxes. Therapy may be more affordable than you think.”

Michelle believes Alli Therapy’s approach when it comes to helping parents is truly unique. She highlights three main pillars that differentiate their services from other mental health providers: specificity, accessibility, and affordability.

“The journey of parenthood comes with unique challenges at each milestone. Alli Therapy supports clients from pregnancy planning to empty nesters, which can be a 16-20 year journey. All of our therapists have a special interest in helping parents and have taken additional training in helping parents navigate parenthood related challenges.

It can be hard to find specialized clinics in rural areas. We make specialized therapy accessible to anyone, regardless of location. Further, getting out of the house takes a lot of logistics and planning for parents. Alli Therapy makes it easy for them to have sessions from the comfort of their own homes.

Lastly, Alli Therapy is committed to not leaving any parent behind. We don’t want anyone to not seek therapy due to budget constraints. To accommodate clients on parental leave who may not have insurance, we offer a sliding scale option to offer our services to those who cannot afford the full price.”

Michelle also stresses that seeking parenting therapy does not equate to failure. “This is a huge misconception in the space, but we are all interconnected, and sometimes we need to seek help as much as we are giving help.

As parents we are always giving. When the pandemic hit, we had to continue to give –  but without the support of others in the ways we once had. This takes a heavy toll on many of us, and having a safe space to talk about the highs and lows of parenting with a skilled, non-judgmental, therapeutic lens can make a huge difference for so many.”

 

Want to learn more about Alli Therapy’s personalized support for parents? Check out their website to learn more.

 

Alli Therapy is looking to fuel their growth to provide more parents with the services they need. Interested in teaming up with Alli to improve mental health support for parents? Reach out to Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu!

Meet Senia Wang, the studentpreneur with a sustainable take on the pet industry

On Wednesdays, we startup.


To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders centre stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins! 

We hope to push women founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

We recently sat down with Senia Wang, the Co-Founder and COO of Charmy Pet, to learn more about the company and their commitment to creating ethically and sustainably sourced pet products, as well as Senia’s experience as a woman studentpreneur.

Charmy Pet is a pet nutrition platform and monthly subscription service built to address the importance of individualized diets for pets.

“I think the work we are doing at Charmy Pet can really change the pet food industry. Not only are we providing pet owners with products free from added preservatives, we are fully transparent with where our products are sourced, empowering pet owners to make informed decisions.” Their technology evaluates each pet’s nutritional needs based on breed, age, activity level, and more. Providing personalized pet food, Charmy Pet allows pet owners to track exactly where their ingredients are being sourced, and track their orders in real time. 

The need for real and sustainable products

“Research shows us that pets’ lives are shortened by about 20% today, compared to other centuries in history. This — in large part  — is due to their diets.” 

Senia explains that a lot of pet food today is extremely processed. A majority of manufacturers today use extrusion, a process that uses high heat to turn ingredients into kibble, which removes up to 40% of the ingredients nutrients. 

“At Charmy Pet we want to provide nutritious and sustainably sourced ingredients for pet owners. We believe that long and healthy lives for pets begin with their diets.”  

Supporting Canadian farmers, Charmy Pet sources a majority of its meat from across Alberta and Ontario and is an official partner of Ocean Wise Seafood, meaning its seafood is certified sustainably sourced.

Wanting to be as transparent with their customers as possible, Charmy Pet has incorporated a QR code onto the packaging of their products, allowing customers to quickly access a list of ingredients and details on how and where the protein was sourced.

“Our team consists of environmentalists, and we wanted to create products we could be proud of. The pet food industry has not stepped up when it comes to providing nutritious and ethical products pet owners can feel proud about giving to their furry friends — we knew it was important to adapt to the environmentally-conscious consumer.”

“The pet food industry has not stepped up when it comes to providing nutritious and ethical products pet owners can feel proud about giving to their furry friends — we knew it was important to adapt to the environmentally conscious consumer.”

The realities of being a woman founder

Senia highlights that women founders typically have more responsibilities to juggle and face various external pressures in comparison to their male counterparts. 

“It’s easy to get distracted from others’ expectations of us. While we have seen some change, I do think women with ambitious career goals are still undervalued and are not taken as seriously as men. 

Our performance as women is valued according to different parameters than males, across different areas of life, and it’s important for the ecosystem to eliminate these biases. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what stage of life you’re at, if you have a business idea that you think will serve a purpose, just do it. ”

She encourages all aspiring women innovators to dive right in.

“There is never going to be a perfect time to start a business, so just start however you can. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from doing what you want.”

Juggling school and a growing business

When not working on Charmy Pet, Senia is busy with her undergraduate degree. A 3rd year student at Ryerson University, Senia is studying Hospitality and Tourism Management.

When it comes to balancing school life and Charmy Pet, Senia underscores the importance of organization and having a solid Co-Founder. 

“I have a strong relationship with my Co-Founder, Zach Sheng. We are both supportive, and keep each other accountable when it comes to both school and Charmy Pet. 

We’re strong in different areas. He takes on more of the business development, whereas I lead marketing and customer acquisition. Having a Co-Founder whose skills are complementary to yours is vital, and ensures our time is being used efficiently.”

Want to learn more about Charmy Pet’s products? Head over to their website here.

 

Save 30% on your first order and get free shipping with code CharmyFirstBox.

 

Make sure to follow the DMZ on Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram to follow our ‘On Wednesdays we startup’ women founder series.

 

To learn more about the Women Founders Programs, visit dmz.to/womenfounders

Women founders empowering women founders: How Nouhaila Chelkhaoui is uplifting women-led startups

On Wednesdays, we startup.


Women tech founders drive innovation and the tech ecosystem – when women-led businesses are thriving, the economy at large thrives.

It’s no ecosystem secret that women founders face disproportionate barriers when starting and growing a business in comparison to their male counterparts. Women are often denied business loans because of gender and cultural biases, and women of colour, in particular, face even greater barriers when it comes to accessing startup capital. 

Add in a global pandemic, and women entrepreneurs had one more ball to juggle. On average, women faced greater economic stress, and an increased burden for caregiving and housework. 

We have marvelled at the resilience demonstrated by women founders, and are truly honoured to support them along their entrepreneurial journeys.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders center stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward, and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs. 

To kick off the series, we sat down with Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Manager of the Women Founders Programs at the DMZ to learn about what inspired her to pursue a career in the innovation sector, and her vision for the ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’ series.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I came to Canada at the age of 17 from Morocco – all by myself. I went to the University of Toronto where I studied political science. After graduating, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue. So, I decided to leave Canada temporarily, travelled back to Morocco, and spent almost one year in Turkey where I taught English.

This was the most formative year I’ve had to date. It was the year I realized what I wanted to do – and I decided to come back to Canada to work in the startup ecosystem.

I landed a job at a tech startup helping newcomers access Canadian healthcare. A couple of years later, I started attending the DMZ’s women in tech events. After connecting with the DMZ community, I ended up working with the DMZ and today I manage the Women Founders Programs. 

A few years into my time here, I realized I also had a dream of being an entrepreneur myself, so I decided to found Scale Without Borders.

When I’m not working at the DMZ, I spend my time working on the Scale Without Borders platform that helps Canadian newcomers navigate the tech ecosystem. As a newcomer myself who didn’t have access to the necessary support systems and networks, I wanted to give back to those who faced similar challenges.

What motivated you to pursue a role that supports startup founders?


With a background in political science, I used to think that the only way to solve complex global challenges was at the political level. I then discovered that innovation and entrepreneurship was an alternative way to solving some of our world’s biggest challenges – perhaps a much more effective way!

 

Who are you inspired by? What strong or successful women leaders do you look up to, whether that’s professionally or personally?

At the risk of sounding unoriginal, I always look up to women like Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney, and Emma Watson. But, I also remind myself that they too are imperfect and that’s been very helpful for me.

I wish more women owned up to their struggles so we could all know we’re not alone. I also look up to my older sister and my mother, who are both mentors of mine. My sister, Sara, left Morocco to study in France at around 16 on her own, which really paved the way for me. She pursued a field in STEM and went on to lead a career in an industry that is largely male-dominated. My mother raised and supported the two of us, which played an immense role in my career trajectory.

What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received?

There isn’t anything you need that you can’t find within yourself. It’s often easier said than done, but it is doable – and it’s worth it when it’s done!

“There isn’t anything you need that you can’t find within yourself. It’s often easier said than done, but it is doable – and it’s worth it when it’s done!” –Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Manager, DMZ Women Founders Programs

Who are up and coming women founders that we should keep an eye out for?

Wow, way too many to list. But let me give it a shot.

And so many more. I could really go on here, but there isn’t enough blog space in the world to capture all the outstanding women founders out there.

What is your vision behind starting ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, and what do you hope to achieve with the series? 

I look at the series as a communal platform for women to share the incredible tech businesses they are working on. To me, it’s an opportunity to build authentic relationships in the tech ecosystem with fellow women founders. Plus, it’s a bonus if a business deal comes out of it. All in all, I feel privileged to be part of this group. 

The series will provide women founders a platform to be seen, heard, understood, and promoted. Through this series, women founders will discuss the problems their startups are addressing, their successes, and struggles. I also hope that aspiring founders take inspiration from these stories and find opportunities to connect and learn from some of the trailblazing women we cover in the series.

What are some crucial changes you want to see in the startup ecosystem for future and current women founders?

I’d like to see more resources dedicated to women founders, especially BIPOC, LGTBQ+, and newcomer women founders. 

What do I mean by resources? I mean funding, sponsorship, impactful mentorship, visibility and exposure. I’d also like to see less lip service and performative activities which are primarily motivated by PR benefits.

Another crucial change I think we need to make is to move away from the self-defeating narrative. We must acknowledge the barriers women founders face, and hold those accountable who are benefiting from the uneven distribution of resources. However, we must also do so in a way that is productive and paves the way forward for women founders.

“Another crucial change I think we need to make is to move away from the self-defeating narrative. We must acknowledge the barriers women founders face, and hold those accountable who are benefiting from the uneven distribution of resources. However, we must also do so in a way that is productive and paves the way forward for women founders.” –Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Manager, DMZ Women Founders Programs

What is currently the most challenging part of being a woman founder in the tech space?

Traditionally, women founders are underrepresented and have been excluded from the inner circles that contain key resources and connections. 

This breeds an incessant cycle where women-led startups are at a disadvantage and conversely, other founders benefit from the unfair advantage of being in the circle, creating a vicious cycle. And so, breaking into that circle becomes extremely important. It is a challenge, but one that we can and will overcome. 

Do you think it’s important for investors to seek out women-led startups? What do they bring to the table that’s unique? 

There’s a ton of data out there that demonstrates how diverse teams do better than their homogeneous counterparts.

When I say diverse I am referring to gender and beyond. An intersectional approach is very important, and this is a data-backed perspective.

Additionally, more than a return on investment, seeking out women-led startups also means involving the half of the population that is underrepresented and supporting challenges that are meaningful to them. 

“More than a return on investment, seeking out women-led startups also means involving the half of the population that is underrepresented and supporting challenges that are meaningful to them.” –Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Manager, DMZ Women Founders Programs

What three tips would you give women founders looking to grow and create connections within the startup ecosystem?

There are three foundational values I try sticking to as a woman founder. First, especially when starting out, always ask yourself ‘what is your why’? Would you enjoy doing this work year after year after year? Next, it’s so important to find a balance between healthy urgency and patience. Finding the balance is a process that takes practice.

My third tip for women founders? At the end of the day, put yourself first – before everything, including your business. 


Learn more about and connect with Nouhaila
here.

 

Make sure to follow the DMZ on Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram to follow our ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’ women founder series.  To learn more about the Women Founders Programs, visit dmz.to/womenfounders