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Kitchener startup wins praise at Google event for firms led by women

Kitchener startup wins praise at Google event for firms led by women

Posted by PanamericanWorld on December 15, 2015

A Kitchener startup that has developed a communications platform for the construction industry is the winner of a Google pitch competition aimed at companies led by women.

Bridgit, founded in 2014 by Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake, two friends from Waterloo, won the gold trophy at the Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Their admittedly niche idea was founded on the simple premise that the hundreds to thousands of people collaborating on large-scale residential and commercial building projects should have a singular place to stay connected as work unfolds.

"If there's a crack in the drywall that needs to be fixed, someone can photograph it, upload it to the team and the problem gets addressed fast, which is critical in a business where time equals money," says Brodie, who reports 20 per cent month over month growth and 70 clients in the Toronto area, with an expansion to construction-rich New York now underway.

Bridgit's business model is subscription based. By way of example, connecting those working on a 400-unit condo project would cost around $2,000 a month, Brodie says.

The three judges — Sharon Vosmek (chief executive of Astia), Christine Tsai (founding partner 500 Startups) and Charles Hudson (managing partner at Precursor Ventures) — said Bridgit ultimately won from among 11 pitches, due to its focus on "knowing their customers, supporting to their customers and selling to their customers. A lot of entrepreneurs tend to forget about this key piece."

The winner didn't get anything material, just a large gold trophy. But the implication was that the captive audience of venture capital firms could prove priceless.

The 11 startups that made pitches to the judges hailed from nearly as many countries, ranging from Israel to the U.S. Their businesses tackled everything from finance to food. And where some were barely out of beta testing, others already were growing exponentially.

But they all shared one trait: a female founder or co-founder.

The third Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day was the first to specifically solicit applications from companies led by women. Out of 450 applicants, representatives from the 11 companies made their way to the Bay Area. Overseas finalists had their airfare and lodging covered while U.S. entrepreneurs looked after their own airfare.

The Game Changer award, which was voted on by those in attendance as well as others watching via livestream, went to Kichink, a husband-and-wife startup from Mexico City. Kichink is addressing the needs of small business owners who are eager to join the e-commerce revolution but, in Mexico, face the often daunting task of finding separate solutions for online payments, product processing and overall logistics, says co-founder Claudia de Heredia.

Both de Heredia and Brodie said having their respective companies singled out at the Google-sponsored event validated their instincts about their ideas. But both also felt strongly that being surrounded by other women entrepreneurs was an even bigger boost.

"I don't see many women in tech, so for me this is amazing," said de Heredia. Added Brodie: "If we can inspire other young women to take a chance and start a company, that would be great."

Vosmek's organization, Astia, is a non-profit focused specifically on helping companies with women at the reins. Interestingly, she said she "wasn't a fan (of) a women-only approach, but rather of women and men together, that's when you get the broadest array of ideas and thinking."

That said, Vosmek added that "I am a fan of counting, and if you count the numbers, between 2011 and 2014 only three per cent of $50 billion in venture funding went to companies where women were the CEO. So events like this show there isn't a pipeline issue when it comes to companies led by women. That means Silicon Valley venture capitalists need to ask themselves, 'Why do I see so few women?' Looking around this room, it's clear no bar has been lowered in order to get this group together."

Google for Entrepreneurs director Mary Grove said that her organization, which looks to support entrepreneurs and "shouldn't be seen as a Google investment vehicle," will continue to hold Demo Days targeting women as well as events that invite all comers.

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