Equal Entrepreneurs: Balancing an expanding business with a growing family
An interview with Amina Gilani, co-founder of Sociavore and Fierce Founders graduate
As both a tech founder with a growing business, and a mom with a growing family, Amina Gilani has had a unique set of experiences as an entrepreneur in Kitchener-Waterloo.
Founded by Gilani, her husband Thusenth Davaloganathan, and friend Taneem Taldar, Sociavore is a web design and digital marketing platform that helps local restaurants create a visible and active web presence that will help their business grow and thrive.
After starting a part-time Masters of Economic Development and Innovation program through SEED, Gilani and her business partners knew they wanted to develop something that would help Kitchener-Waterloo’s vibrant local business scene thrive. While balancing corporate jobs and part-time studies, they developed a mobile platform called MyLocal that helped users locate businesses and services within their immediate vicinity. However, after operating MyLocal for a few years, they noticed the platform was often dominated by restaurants, and saw the opportunity for a new business plan.
“We decided to double-down on local restaurants because they have specific needs, and that's when we decided to create a restaurant-only platform with Sociavore,” said Gilani. “It took time for us to get to the state where we wanted to do something only for restaurants.”
This past January, Sociavore was able to launch a new expansion when they found support from the Communitech Fierce Founders program while Gilani was on maternity leave after having her second child. Created by local startup accelerator Communitech, Fierce Founders is a mentoring and funding program targeted at organizations with a female founder or co-founder. The program provides specific support and training for women, as well as a financial funding for overall business development.
“With the Fierce Founders program, there is no equity that is taken from your company and you are eligible for a 30,000 dollar grant,” said Gilani. “I find here in Canada, even though there are fewer accelerator or incubator programs available, they are [less likely to] take a chunk of your business.”
The Fierce Founders program is not only special because of its funding and training practices, but also because of their flexibility about who can participate, and the acceptance of participants in different stages of life, including those who may be on maternity leave or expecting a child.
Gilani was able to start the program while she was on maternity leave with her second child, and has now been able to graduate from the program while pregnant with her third child. According to a study from TD Bank, maternity leave is often a negative factor in regards to women’s professional development and long-term earnings. The study found that as much as half the wage gap was due to women taking time off work to raise children, and missing professional opportunities while away. By allowing women to continue to work on their ventures part-time while on maternity leave, the Fierce Founders program not only helps raise women’s voices and ideas within the community, but also helps target and dismantle a more systemic issue within our society.
“It's interesting being a woman founder, because there are definitely more and more resources available, but I find, even with me, I have a growing company with my husband, but we also have a growing family. So with the Fierce Founders program, it's really nice to have the support of other female founders, people who are also in different stages of life and have families.”
There is a clear need for women’s centric programming, as female founders will face and experience different obstacles than male founders. The Communitech Fierce Founders program is just one example of a response to this growing demand. It is a successful program that helps diversify Waterloo’s local pool of both founders and startups, and it exemplifies the values that support female founders at various stages in life. These are the same values that the University hopes to continue to develop, as the school and community supports a diverse variety of founders.
“I really think [Waterloo] is a collaborative community, it's not super competitive,” says Gilani. “It might be a Canadian way, but it could also be influenced by the schools being very collaborative when it comes to trying to enhance people as opposed to trying to compete.”
Join Amina and Velocity Start @ Environment on Thursday, Nov. 1 for Equal Entrepreneurs, a panel on women in Entrepreneurship. Sign up here.