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U of T pitch competition aims to overcome barriers facing women entrepreneurs

Elsie Amoako, the founder of Mommy Monitor, is one of several entrepreneurs who will participate in the Pitch with a Twist competition on March 8, part of U of T Entrepreneurship Week (photo by Chris Sorensen)

The University of Toronto Mississauga is gearing up to host its second annual Pitch with a Twist business pitch competition for women-identifying entrepreneurs.

The event, which falls on International Women’s Day and helps kick off U of T’s annual Entrepreneurship Week, gives women entrepreneurs a chance to showcase their work, network with top companies and win cash prizes as well as in-kind legal services. 

Organized by ICUBE, U of T Mississauga's social entrepreneurship hub, along with Sheridan College, the city of Mississauga and other local partners, PITCH 21 aims to reward promising and diverse ideas while breaking down barriers facing women who want to start their own business.

“At ICUBE, we are advocates of supporting underrepresented groups by helping them access entrepreneurship opportunities,” says Ignacio Mongrell, assistant director of ICUBE.

Research published in Harvard Business Review suggests that women are disadvantaged in attracting financial investment to their enterprises due to persistent gender biases in different elements of the pitch process. The main factor is an overwhelmingly male venture capitalist community, which contributes to the prioritization of male-led startups and a stifling of ideas by women entrepreneurs. 

“The industries where we see a higher representation of women, such as culture-making, education and health care, tend to be devalued,” says ICUBE program co-ordinator Kasey Dunn. “As a result, women pitching innovations in these sectors are often overlooked in favour of high-tech innovations, which, in parallel with the industry itself, are more commonly presented by men.

“We want to level the playing field.”

PITCH 21 will feature a panel of women-identifying judges. They include: Anishinaabe educator Deanne Hupfield; alumna Pamela Uppal, a policy adviser for the Ontario Nonprofit Network who uses a gender-based intersectional lens; and event planning business co-founder Karlena Waugh. As well, to mark International Women’s Day and its importance for spurring broader social and economic progress, the event asks entrepreneurs to demonstrate how their business could help meet one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

PITCH 21 began in January with a call for applications from women with businesses in any industry or sector. It attracted more than 50 applicants. A primary round of judging on Feb. 19 resulted in four finalists with startups in either early or later stages. Up for grabs is a total of $10,000 in cash prizes, plus $10,000 of in-kind legal services from corporate law firm Cassels. 

Among the late-stage pitchers is Chris-Beth Cowie of Empowered 4X, an entrepreneurial leadership training company that helps systemically excluded business owners build wealth. In the early-stage category, Elsie Amoako will present Mommy Monitor, an app that provides customized on-demand support for pre- and post-natal parents and can help predetermine pregnancy complications.

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