When entrepreneur Alicia Soulier is pitching her company to investors, she comes with her own built-in support network. The founder of Salon Scale Technologies, is also more than happy to return to the favour for her counterparts.
Soulier is one of four female entrepreneurs who have joined the Saskatoon-based Co.Labs inaugural cohort. Co.Labs is the city’s first tech startup incubator.
Despite their competitive spirit, the women spend as much of their time promoting each other’s businesses as they do their own. On any given day, they gather together to provide critiques on their respective pitches, conduct joint interviews, or to serve as a dedicated cheering section at startup events, even when they’re vying for the same prize.
The common thread is a personal passion for what they do and a vested interest in each other’s success, in spite of the fact that their businesses are vastly different.
Soulier, for example, has developed a Bluetooth-enabled weighing system that measures exact quantities and costs of hair colouring. This may not appear to be a critical issue for the lay person. But with 13 successful years in the industry, Soulier knows her idea solves a significant problem for salons around the world.
“One of the biggest costs in the industry is hair colour. But there has never been a way to accurately report the exact cost per application versus the labour,” she says.
Being able to charge the appropriate amount of colour usage by weight in real time can significantly improve margins, she says. “Any salon owner knows the worth of hair colouring. In fact it costs 35 times more per ounce than alcohol, and the costs keep going up. But there has never been an accurate way to calculate costing or margins, which could be anywhere from five to 35 per cent.”
The opportunities for salon owners are significant, she contends. “One of our first two beta customers increased revenues by $4,200 a month. The other, $1,900.”
She is now working with distribution partners to expand her reach, as well as forging relationships with salon academies such as MC College, where graduates are provided the software for free.
One of her Co.Labs compatriots is Sheila Maithel, CEO of Brillist Better Projects. The marketing research and analysis professional has been developing optimization software for large construction projects that allows customers to finish projects early and under budget. “The larger the construction project, the better,” she says.
Maithel likens her offering to a Tetris game. “You’re taking millions of project variables and selecting the best iteration for each week of the project.”
Then there’s Heather Abbey from Little Pine First Nation who is developing Indig Inc., an e-commerce site for indigenous artists from around the world. “Our real focus is on promoting art and small businesses worldwide,” she says. “So many indigenous artists’ works are getting undercut. Eventually we want to be the one-stop shop for indigenous e-commerce.”
The fourth member of the close-knit team is Serese Selanders, founder and CEO of ORA. After 25 years in the foodservice industry, she decided to try her own hand at entrepreneurship, developing a cellular-based wearable medic alert technology that can fit multiple formats, from necklaces to fobs.
Her product has now been certified for sale in North America. “It’s not just a pretty jewellery interface,” she says. “It’s also pretty smart in that it can alert multiple people simultaneously and provide the person’s location.”
She says the original intention was to sell the device to a consumer market. But after launching it, she discovered it had much broader appeal on the commercial side, particularly for lone workers at risk. “We just launched over a year ago with the idea of selling to older adults. It turned out that our first customer was a real estate agent. Then we found more and more businesses were approaching us, so that became an easier sell.”
As for early stage startups coming up the ranks, Selanders says the foursome’s mutual support is invaluable as they go through their early stage rounds. “Even though we are each business owners in our own right, we go with each other to pitches and are very supportive of one another. I’m not sure that’s so common with men. People don’t know what it’s like, especially for women entrepreneurs in tech. It all comes from a place of need.”