LiisBeth Dispatch #24

In this issue: Resistance/Activist Entrepreneurs; Are Women Really Rejecting Gender Based Incubators? Plus Six Mini-Profiles and “Can’t Miss” Events

 (Illustration by Shepard Fairey)

VIEWPOINT

Wow, what a week.

With so much in the news about POTUS (President of the United States) Trump’s extreme behaviours and astonishing executive orders this past week, combined with the horrific Quebec mosque attack, it is easy to believe we are all sharing a bad dream. If you add to that the fact that the Globe and Mail still publishes Margaret Wente’s shock jock journalism, including her Jan. 28 piece telling women to check their privilege, we could justifiably call it a full-fledged nightmare.

But not so fast. There is hope in the promise of resistance.

The phrase “Resistance is futile” is a well known to Borg-loving Star Trek fans, and perhaps even the universe beyond. But here on earth, resistance, especially passionate resistance, is fertile. History tells us time and time again, that it feeds, energizes and gives life to overdue social change.

History also shows us that thoughtful stewardship of our collective resistance energy over time is the key to achieving our desired change. With an inclusive and ecosystem approach, it can raise the roof on civic engagement and incite the otherwise complacent to swell with concern and transform into potent community leaders, or better yet, run for and be elected to public office. Civil resistance works.  Especially when women get really pissed off; consider the 1789 Women’s March on Versailles? But it has to run deep and long if it is going to have an impact.

Resistance can also take many forms—some large, some small—but they all add up. This can include writing an op-ed, calling out unacceptable behaviour at work or on the subway, tattooing a slogan on your body to forge personal commitment to a cause (Yes, I know someone who did this), helping to organize a march, demonstrating, publishing a book, blogging, spending your money differently, and hosting a salon for local influencers.  Although you may not typically consider this, resistance can even take the form of initiating a new enterprise or organization.

Enter the Age of the Activist (Resistance) Entrepreneur

Activist entrepreneurs are not new. But they are rarely included in discussions about entrepreneurship, and there are certainly no incubators or accelerators in Canada dedicated to this genre. It is easy to see why.

Activist entrepreneurs design enterprises or organizations whose core purpose is to challenge norms, re-write laws, hold governments and misbehaving corporations accountable, conduct research, work to change the narrative, make the invisible visible, educate, and enable challenging conversations. The fact is, those who do well under the current system are unlikely to spend time let alone money challenging a system that works well for them. The fact that activism tends to repel financial investors or careerists makes activist entrepreneurs a poor fit for most startup incubator programs.

While conjoined in some areas, activist entrepreneurs don’t fit in with social entrepreneurs either. Activist entrepreneurs work to change the system. Social entrepreneurs work to heal the cracks in the system. Activist entrepreneurs strive for independence from the system, whereas social entrepreneurs, and especially enterprising nonprofits (nonprofits with small businesses on the side as revenue diversification schemes) are often financially dependent on the system (e.g. government grants, corporate sponsorships, or instruments like government-held social impact bonds, etc.).

The fact is, activist entrepreneurship is an outlier. Much of what is offered up by most startup ecosystems, including social entrepreneur programs, lacks relevance for activist entrepreneurs.

But still, they rise.

Some examples of activist entrepreneurial ventures include Rabble.ca  (a media enterprise), the Transition Towns Network (a process innovation), and Idle No More (a grassroots movement). All three were founded in part, or entirely by women.

Rabble.ca, an indie, alternative online news magazine, and now a nonprofit venture, set out to combine activism with journalism and counter the status quo. Rabble.ca was founded in 2001 by women’s rights activist Judy Rebick with support from internet activist Mark Surman, novelist Judy MacDonald, plus well known Canadian activists, including Stephen Lewis and David Suzuki. The site launched by raising $120,000 from the Atkinson Foundation (a Toronto-based foundation focused on social and economic justice) and $80,000 from unions and prominent Canadians. Today the site reports that it averages 450,000 unique visitors per month. The site’s content is free of charge, and it generates revenues through advertising and reader contributions.

While Louise Rooney and Catherine Dunne were students of activist Rob Hopkins in the U.K. in 2004, they developed the Transition Towns concept. The Transition Network, further developed and popularized by Hopkins, helps communities move from oil dependence to local resilience. Today the network has more than 400 recognized member communities around the world and runs a thriving media enterprise, producing books and films sold worldwide.

The Idle No More movement, which opposes resource exploitation on First Nations territory became widely known during Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike. Founded by four women, Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam, and Jessica Gordon in 2012, the still nascent but strong grassroots movement works a bit like a no-fee, loosely run franchise, and continues to operate on donated funds and volunteer management.

These are but a few examples. We quickly could add more. Consider the SlutWalk movement (which went international), founded by Toronto’s Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis (how’s that for exporting?), or the recent 2017 Woman’s March, launched by Hawaiian retiree Theresa Shook. Shook simply put up a Facebook page and it took off–a classic hockey stick rise not dissimilar to the kinds of growth patterns we have seen with famous tech startups. Today the organizers are working on how to grow the movement post-march, and sustain it.  These examples are but a few. There are hundreds more.  We like to think LiisBeth, our little fledgling startup, is another.

Activist entrepreneurship is a distinct form of entrepreneurship. For starters, they are not sparked by commercial market opportunity; they are instead called to serve in response to a form of systems level injustice that they care deeply about. They need mentors with experience with organizing sustainable resistance or movements (veterans like David Suzuki, Judy Rebick), public interest lawyers versus corporate lawyers, plus expert guidance on how to raise and steward donated money, or how to design a grassroots transmedia campaign to publicize their story. But where will they go for this support?

Not likely mainstream incubators and accelerators.

To advance systems change, or deal with reactionary regimes, we need those who march, demonstrate, or run for office, but we also need activist entrepreneurs. If we want to see change, we must be prepared to support them by paying attention to them, engaging with them, sharing organization creation, leadership and governance expertise, helping them implement best practices, and, of course, seed them with a little cash.


THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH

Back in December, LiisBeth contributor Mai Nguyen said, “Have I got a story for you!”

Meet Halifax entrepreneur Katelyn Bourgoin whose startup journey involved crying and throwing up on the bathroom floor, followed by successfully raising $350,000. Whaat??? Yes, pretty impressive! So don’t miss her story on LiisBeth this week and find out more about her new service called “Squads”, an online community of women entrepreneurs who provide each other with objective criticism and feedback via video conferencing.

Also, we hope you enjoy the short Q & A with Sadaf Jamal, founder of Move’n Improve, about her experience attending the Women’s March in Washington D.C. with Moxie Trades CEO Marissa McTasney and her group. Jamal is pictured above–wearing a pink hijab.

Coming soon, a special feature for the month of love (February) by writer Sue Nador on sex-positive entrepreneur Judy K, majority co-owner of the upscale Toronto sex club Oasis Aqualounge. Nador says that researching the story certainly challenged many of her assumptions. Let’s see if the story ends up also challenging yours.


LIISBETH FIELD NOTES

With all the President’s men in the news over the past week, you may be feeling discouraged, but I see a lot of hope in the form of woke and lit startup entrepreneurs working to build a more inclusive, kinder, and equitable world–and earn a living doing it. Here a few of the women I met this week:

As a 26-year-old student and mother of a two- and a four-year-old, Phylicia is busier than most women her age. But that has not stopped her from launching an intimate apparel and loungewear company, Grace & Finesse, for new moms and expectant mothers, which is eco-friendly, stylish, and practical. Carmona says motherhood influenced her decision to pursue entrepreneurship. “I wanted to be a positive role model for my daughter and my son and teach them they can do more than people expect them to be able to do.”

Anum Ayub, 22, founder of Henna Hues provides temporary body art and henna-inspired art products to spread her passion for this traditional South Asian artform to a wider, non-South Asian audience while providing an experience that is fun and relaxing. She has been practicing henna art since the age of six. Ayub hopes to employ additional associates in the next three years.

Suzanne Barr, is the founder and co-owner of a fabulous Riverdale resto, Saturday Dinette. Barr says she was motivated to become a natural whole food chef after losing her mother to cancer. As a supporter of Black Lives Matter, she is also passionate about advancing equality and inclusion. Barr participated as a panelist at the successful launch of the “Kitchen Bitches” conference where over three hundred industry professionals gathered to discuss gender and transgender inequality within one of the fastest growing industries–food.

Mother of two, Thornton, 27, and founder of Grime Queen,  is well spoken, passionate—and believe me, there is nothing grimy about her. A photographer and urbex aficionado (also known as “roof and tunnel hacking”), she creates events in urban, abandoned places. Her company’s focus is on empowering and encouraging underrepresented gender minorities to “actively participate and profit from their passion for the Arts.” Thornton identifies as a feminist entrepreneur, and says this is becoming less and less of a “dirty word”, but it still creates additional challenges. Watch for upcoming Grime Festivals later this year.

Thirty-year-old Carolyn Palmer knows something about having “Her Way”. Her company Her Way is the creator of a new and innovative adult toy, specifically designed to help couples who are exploring sexual options post-physical trauma to women’s genitalia. The product enables an enjoyable sexual experience for couples while limiting the impact to female genitalia, which in turn, promotes intimacy during physically and emotionally challenging times.
Adriana Reyes, 23, wants Durham small-to-medium-sized businesses to grow, and she created Brilliant Marketing to help them do just that. However, at the moment she is somehow holding three jobs to make ends meet while starting her enterprise.

Did you catch the Jan. 30 Globe and Mail article “Why Some Women Are Rejecting Women-Only Start Up Initiatives” by Tracey Lindeman?

Lindeman also spoke to LiisBeth while she was researching the topic.

One women tech entrepreneur told Lindeman that she would never participate in a women-only startup incubator because she feared it would “ghettoize” her. She asked what our thoughts were on this subject.Essentially, our perspective on this was well summarized by SheEO founder Vicki Saunders who commented that women don’t need an investor, incubator or accelerator to ghettoize them. “They’re already ghettoized,” she says.

The article goes on to note that  “The startup community has failed to become more inclusive through self-policing, but it bristles at the thought of government-imposed quotas. And so women have been faced with a choice: Do we continue to wait and hope for a favourable outcome, or do we do something about it? “Doing something about it” has resulted in women-focused programming like SheEO, developed in some ways as a stop-gap measure for the time when parity remains out of reach.

If pay equity or the percentage of corporate procurement dollars going to women-led firms (around 4% after 30 years of lobbying according to WeConnect) are an indication, it looks like it could be decades.Can women entrepreneurs, or our economy, afford to wait?  The numbers are out there. We are nowhere near parity in the startup space. Not an alternative fact.  So how to move forward?

One set of recommendations for achieving these outcomes can be found in the Women Entrepreneurs Ontario task force report published Nov. 2017 which you can download here.

For additional information about women startup equity around the globe, download the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2015 Women’s Entrepreneurship report here.

CAN’T MISS EVENTS

  • Feb 8: Women On The Move Workshop with LiisBethian Patti Pokorchak, “Get More Clients NOW — Without Being Pushy or Salesy!” In this session, you can practise your value proposition—and if you do not know what your value proposition is, you really need to attend this dynamic interactive workshop. Get feedback on what works and what does not in a safe environment. Learn negotiation techniques and how to overcome objections. Go from sales fear to sales fun, guaranteed. Learn how to easily ask for the order and get it! 1-2:30 p.m.
  • Feb 10: The Toronto Feminist Collective presents Galentines at the Steady.  Galentines is a party that celebrates femme friendships. Tickets are $5. You can register here. 8 p.m.-2 a.m.
  • March 2: She Started It: A Film Screening; JLABS @ Toronto, 5-8 p.m. “She Started It” is a new documentary film that follows five trailblazing young female entrepreneurs through their journeys of entrepreneurship. To register, click here.
  • March 9: Bear Standing Tall and Associates will host a three-hour holistic indigenous awareness training seminar using the medicine wheel framework. The seminar will have an emphasis on the role of women in indigenous life, and the state of indigenous women’s entrepreneurship today. Hold the date!  The Eventbrite link will be up soon!
  • March 16: Roxanne Gay, author, introduces her new book Feminism & Difficult Women, 7-8:30 p.m., Toronto Public Library. Register here.

Well, you did it again! You made it to the end! And we really appreciate it! We know your time and attention is valuable, so we work hard to make worthwhile content. As always, if we can improve, tell us. And if we have done well, tell us that too!

We can also use your support in the form of a paid subscription.  Subscriptions options are $3/month, $7/month and $10/month. We accept Paypal and credit cards.  Funds go directly towards paying writers, editors, proofreaders, photo permissions, and illustrators.

Our goal is to get to 1000 email subscribers by March 31st!!  So please share this newsletter to those you know who might be interested.

The next newsletter is scheduled for Feb. 14. Valentine’s Day! In the meantime, keep resisting in your own way, take care of yourself and others. We need all LiisBethians, wherever you are in the world, to be strong for the long haul.

See you in two weeks!

Petra Kassun-Mutch
Founding Publisher, LiisBeth

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