Bridging the Gap Between Women and Entrepreneurship

Three winning women founders pitching their companies.
Award winning female founders: Ifeoma Amaechi (left), Lynne Corvaglia (center), and Maryam Abdinejad (right) pitching their companies.
 

By breaking barriers and creating a space for entrepreneurs, The Hub, University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)’s startup incubator, plays a vital role in helping visionary students start their businesses and reach their full potential. While ensuring that every student has an equal opportunity to thrive in the entrepreneurial area they desire, The Hub has made special efforts to increase visibility of women in the space.

Moving along the business cycle can be perceived as tough for women in some cases, but The Hub aims to assure that it is a safe space for everyone to knock on the doors without any hesitance. Gray Graffam, director of The Hub feels that there hasn’t been enough effort made in the past to incorporate women in entrepreneurship in Toronto. The Hub has helped to change that, in its own way, by welcoming more women to The Hub.

“I think it’s a very strong move in the right direction. It’s long overdue,” said Graffam.

The UTSC Startup Competition: Annual Intake into the Hub took place on November 16, where 25 student-led initiatives participated in a competition to win support. The Hub had $30,000 to allocate among eight companies.

Due to The Hub’s attempt to incorporate more women, 75% of winning startups (6 of the 8) in the competition this year were either women-led (3 of the 8) or had a female co-founder (another 3 of the 8). In the past, the involvement of women was about 20%; partiipation has dramatically increased.

Among a field of very talented participants, the winner of the grand prize of $5,000 was S.O.S. Leather, founder of which is Lynne Corvaglia, pursuing a degree in International Development Studies. S.O.S. Leather is a social enterprise dedicated to the reallocation of 64 tons of repurposed leather from old airline seats that will be used to create products and also enable people to think about waste, sustainability, and activate rural economies by creating jobs.

For Corvaglia, The Hub has been supportive since the first day she flew in from Costa Rica to take part in the competition. Vania Sakelaris, a business coach at The Hub has been a critical woman’s perspective for Corvaglia.

“She has really helped me balance talking about my experience and showing that I’m capable of doing this, but also how my market research and my work experience is valuable as well,” said Corvaglia.

Sakelaris believes that The Hub is an “enabler of success.”

According to Sakelaris, along with being a friendly environment for collaboration, where students with similar goals have a shared space to help each other out, The Hub also assists in other ways.

“Our myriad of supports, in terms of information, or access to people, or access to expertise, to help the students help themselves and their journey towards entrepreneurship,” she said.

Similarly, The Hub has played a positive role in Maryam Abdinejad, Chemistry, Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences PhD candidate’s startup, AR & 3D– which enhances student learning in 3D visualization in Chemistry. The group won $3,000 and Abdinejad has expressed immense gratitude towards The Hub as it has been a spot for her to network and also receive encouragement.

“The way that Gray took my hand through these projects and process was insane. Gray was just like a father. It will be in my mind forever” said Abdinejad.

Along with helping students get closer to their goals, the environment and group collaborations at The Hub also empower women who find the space secure. Aytha Maqsood, another participant of the competition, is the founder of Almari 360, who would like to create a South-Asian online dress rental service allowing anyone interested in that particular style of attire to attain them at cheaper rates.

Also, Ifeoma Amaechi, another female entrepreneur in the competition, is the founder of Ibuchi - a unique ethical sportswear brand that blends African culture with sustainability and fair trade. Ibuchi won $1,000 in the competition.

The Hub’s goal is to create more female visibility, and to support efforts in women's entrepreneurship. Initial steps were achieved through a workshop hosted by Sakelaris in October that will continue throughout the year. On top of that, The Hub provides a warm welcome to any individual who approaches them with an idea.

If reading this just gave you a push to go forward with the idea you’ve had in your mind for a while, go for it. It doesn’t matter if you’re not in the Management program. Students working in The Hub come from many areas, spanning the Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, Physical and Environmental Sciences.

Your mere idea today could turn into your own business tomorrow.

-- Article written by Remi Stephanie Rozario

Funding for The Hub’s entrepreneurship prizes is gratefully acknowledged from University of Toronto Scarborough, University of Toronto Entrepreneurship, University of Toronto’s Provost Office, and a generous donation by PixieMood.