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Applications to Women in Cleantech Challenge exceed expectations

July 23, 2018 By: MaRS Discovery District

After a two-month national call for applications, we’re excited to announce that a total of 147 women have applied to participate in Canada’s inaugural Women in Cleantech Challenge, a unique collaboration between MaRS Discovery District (MaRS) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). This is the first of five prize-based challenges NRCan expects to launch this year with a focus on “unlocking breakthrough solutions to complex and persistent problems in developing clean technology.”

The number of applications received significantly exceeded expectations, and we’re pleased to see representation from across Canada. The innovation mix is also impressive, with 38 per cent of applications related to energy technologies, 20 per cent to water solutions and about a third addressing challenges in mining, agriculture and other sectors.

The goal of the challenge is to recruit the top female innovators from across Canada who are working on breakthrough cleantech solutions. Over the next few weeks, a team of advisors and technology experts will conduct a thorough review of applications, reducing the initial group of 147 applicants down to between 25 and 35. From there, follow-up interviews will be scheduled with all shortlisted candidates. By late August, we expect to select 10 semi-finalists who will compete on September 18 at an event held at MaRS for one of five spots in the Challenge’s 30-month program.

“For two and a half years, the five women taking part in this Challenge will work closely with MaRS advisors, federal researchers and a network of experienced mentors to build high-growth businesses around their respective cleantech innovations,” said Jon Dogterom, managing director of MaRS’ Cleantech Venture Services. “Given the high quality of applications, we’re confident that the women-led businesses that emerge from this challenge will become commercial successes with global impact. We’re excited to start working with them.”

Each participant will receive a $115,000 annual stipend to cover living expenses and travel and will be put through an intensive program designed to draw out their entrepreneurial talents, including working closely with business and technical advisers and being matched with a federal research facility that can help accelerate research and development. In return, these women will be asked to fully immerse themselves in their mission.

After 30 months, the woman who has made the most progress with her business and is deemed most likely to commercially succeed will be awarded $1 million to invest in her venture.

A key component of the program is to connect the women to potential customers, partners and investors. Research clearly shows that one of the biggest barriers to success for female entrepreneurs is poor access to capital – what is often referred to as the “gender investment gap.” A recent report from Boston Consulting Group found that, on average, women entrepreneurs tend to raise half the early-stage capital that men raise, despite the fact that women-led technology businesses tend to perform much better during their early years of operation.

Part of the reason might be because there are fewer women leaders in the venture capital community. The recently released Women in Venture study published by the group Female Funders found that two thirds of Canada’s venture investment dollars are controlled by venture capital firms that don’t have female leaders.