Michelle & Stephany on Bridging Diverse Funds


Part I: Meet Michelle McBane

Michelle McBane is passionate about working with amazing entrepreneurs applying disruptive technologies to solve problems in enterprise, health, and consumer markets. As a Director at the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, she leads investments in early-stage health and technology companies. Michelle is currently an Observer on the Board of Directors of several companies including Sampler, gShift Labs, and OMX.

Q. Tell us a bit about you.

My background is in engineering and business – I’ve always had a passion for blending the two together. I’ve been a venture capital investor for more than 16 years, more recently focused on seed stage in Ontario, helping to disrupt the traditional ways. Throughout my track record of investing in early stage, I’ve noticed evidence of unconscious bias. There’s a pattern. I joke that my male colleagues who are technical often look “for a guy in a hoodie”. I look at a matrix of different factors, skills, and qualities.

Q. You recently launched StandUp Ventures, powered by MaRS & IAF. What is it and why is it important?

StandUp Ventures is a seed stage fund focused on investing in high growth technology ventures with female founders as key members of the leadership team. We believe that diverse teams make strong business sense and there is a gap in the marketplace that we are uniquely positioned to exploit. Today, female-founded ventures receive less than 4% of VC funding.

Our goal is to make four investments per year across Canada in ventures with at least one female founder: companies like Nudge Rewards, Bridgit, tealbook, and Sampler. The goal is really to move towards more diverse tech organizations who in return will get the benefit of both genders in leadership roles. Quite simply, this helps people have a wider lens.

We are thrilled to have just announced a $5M commitment from BDC as founding anchor investor and our first investment will be in tealbook, a supplier knowledge management platform that delivers actionable supplier intelligence for enterprise, also helping to prepare the company in raising an upcoming Series A.

We have a dynamic team of four and a twelve-member expert advisory board comprised of VCs or entrepreneurs committed to making sure that this program is successful. This is not just about women, it is about diversity and setting up our companies for success with unique access to stellar talent.

Q. From your perspective, why does funding play such a critical role in moving the dial on women in tech and gender diversity?

You can’t be what you can’t see. I was fortunate to have many incredible role models throughout my career. Part of this fund is to highlight role models who also have big exits. Hey, they did it. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it. One at a time and then all of these ‘one at a times’ build momentum.

Every fund has their own investment thesis. It’s not just about women, it’s about avoiding homogenous organizations and building diverse organizations that serve diverse groups of people. Our scope is still pretty wide set so we can look at many pools.

Q. What is your advice for founders?

To business founders – be as transparent as possible as you can around the table. Be open. Never surprise your partners or your investors with bad news. Find ways to be open and transparent. Emails, meetings, phone calls, and beyond. It is so very important and once gone, difficult to regain in the best case scenario.

Part II: Meet Stephany Lapierre

Stephany Lapierre is the founder and CEO of tealbook. Prior to tealbook, Stephany spent 10 years building a successful strategic sourcing consulting firm by helping Fortune 500 companies efficiently find and identify qualified global suppliers able to meet their demand. Based on her experience, she built and launched tealbook in 2014, a cloud platform that increases the scale of procurement by significantly accelerating the supplier discovery process.

Q. Tell us a bit about you.

I never would have expected to be so passionate about procurement! I am originally from Quebec and come from a family of entrepreneurs.  My paternal grandmother ran a bottling franchise for Pepsi after my grandfather passed away unexpectedly in the 60’s. She was a big influence for me. Entrepreneurship is in my roots. I founded my first company (a corporate event planning firm) when I was 18. A decade later, I launched a strategic sourcing and procurement consulting firm which inspired my third company: tealbook. I recognized a huge opportunity to bring innovation to procurement, a function that is critical to healthy organizations and is in desperate need of disruption.

tealbook turns on the light of an enterprise supplier master, fueling it with up to date information and making it accessible across the organization. tealbook aggregates multiple sources of trusted data and uses machine learning to expedite the supplier discovery process. It increases visibility into existing and preferred suppliers while providing instant access to innovative, small, and diverse suppliers which are traditionally harder and more time consuming to identify.  For suppliers, tealbook allows them to have control over their information which can easily be updated. It allows them to build social currency through their client connections which helps them get discovered by similar prospective clients at the exact moment a need is identified. As they continue to engage, the more relevant their new business opportunities become. Focusing on relevant business opportunities saves time and precious resources.   

Q. Walk us through your funding journey so far. What have been the highs & lows?

We were able to generate $1M in revenue along with an initial $1M in angel investment. My first and largest angel investor is a mother of two. The initial capital allowed us to launch the enterprise platform, secure large global enterprise customers and a partnership with Dun & Bradstreet. It was a good problem to have, but we grew faster than I had expected. I needed to raise capital to grow our team, enhance our technology, and successfully onboard our new customers. I had no prior fundraising experience, but took the bull by the horns and started knocking on doors.

Women entrepreneurs still face additional hurdles when seeking venture capital. Someone said to me, “Steph, you have zero chance of getting funded by VCs. I am sorry for being so honest, but the data is not in your favor. You’re female, you have kids, you have an accent, you haven’t been educated at an Ivy league school, you haven’t built a technology startup before, you are a single founder, and the list went on”. I had never viewed myself as a ‘female founder’. It certainly never bothered my clients, employees or countless advisors. I was surprised to hear that the label even existed. I spent several months working to prove this investor wrong, but he was 100% right. I needed to make some changes to overcome my gender if I wanted to be successful at raising capital. So I did…

I was incredibly fortunate to find two highly experienced enterprise software executives, Geoffrey Peddle, CTO, and Ian Woodbury, COO. Ian helped focus our pitch, which allowed us to win the award for “the Biggest Upside Potential” at 48 Hours in the Valley’s December cohort. It gave us visibility and investors lined up. In our initial meetings, most investors were speaking to Ian directly, not knowing that he was not formally onboard yet. It occurred to me that having experienced men on my team was going to be the key to getting funding. I have no ego about it. I just wanted to do what was required to build my vision. Within weeks, we were able to secure funding from angel investors and eventually closed our round with IAF and StandUp Ventures.

I couldn’t be more thrilled and honored to have been selected as the first investment from StandUp Ventures. I was lucky to meet Michelle McBane from the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund (IAF). She quickly recognized the potential and scale of tealbook and was a strong advocate throughout the entire process. She never made me feel like her decision to invest in tealbook had anything to do with my gender, but she wants to fight the stigma and has become a great mentor to many Canadian startup tech founders (male and female)!

Q. MoveTheDial exists for women like you. What are the most helpful things the ecosystem could do?

I’ve received over 80,000 emails in the past year. Very few of my supporters are women. I think that a strong tribe and group of women advisors who mentor and champion other women and who are genuinely interested and available to advance us  will go a very long way.

Q. What is your advice to other women, having been there and done it a few times yourself?

My COO says “magic happens when you are committed”. It is true. Once I committed to tealbook, it was incredible to see the generosity of people wanting to help. Always be open to speaking to someone new. I have met some of my most trusted advisors while traveling. You never know who will be sitting next to you. Put your phone down and take a few minutes to say hi. You might make a life changing new connection or get the one nugget you need that day to make a better decision.