Two Alberta CEOs win thousands in investment at national pitch competition

Two Alberta CEOs have won thousands of dollars in investment through a national competition for women and gender-diverse entrepreneurs.

Shelvie Fernan from Edmonton and Lourdes Juan from Calgary are two of the winners of the 2022 HerStory pitch competition run by Alberta Innovates and The51, an organization that invests in startups and companies led by women and gender-diverse founders. 

The pitch competition, held in Banff earlier this month, featured 29 entrepreneurs from across the country sharing stories of how they came up with the ideas behind their companies.

Fernan is the CEO and co-founder of Fly & Fetch, a shipping company that aims to provide faster and cheaper international package deliveries. Fernan won $51,000 for the company through the HerStory competition.

“I was definitely shocked,” Fernan said. “At the same time, you just have to claim it because I also work really hard and my team works really hard.”

Rather than a traditional shipping process, Fly & Fetch pays travellers with extra space in their luggage to carry and deliver packages for clients. The company covers 50 to 100 per cent of flight costs for travellers, Fernan said, and it already has a database of about 7,000 travellers who are willing to deliver packages.

Fernan said the idea for the company came from her own experiences with international shipping. As an immigrant from the Philippines, whenever she sent packages back home to her mother through traditional courier companies, deliveries were expensive and usually took more than a week.

It’s common practice in immigrant communities to ask people travelling back home to deliver packages for friends and family, Fernan said. 

“We’ve been doing this for so long,” she said. “We need to have a business model that would work because a lot of other people want that [quick] shipment as well.”

Reimagining the pitch process

Shelley Kuipers, co-founder and co-CEO of The51, said the idea behind the HerStory competition was to re-imagine the pitch process in a way that serves women and gender-diverse entrepreneurs. 

“Don’t pitch us, but tell us your story,” Kuipers said. “Is there a lived experience behind this? Why are you the one to create this business? Why will this business be successful with you leading it?”

Kuipers said the competition is also meant to be a direct way to increase investment in companies led by women and gender-diverse founders. She knows first-hand how difficult navigating the venture ecosystem can be.

“My own lived experience was it was extremely challenging to raise capital as a woman entrepreneur and founder,” said Kuipers. 

In 2020, female founders received just 2.3 per cent of the billions of dollars handed out in global venture capital funds.

While there was originally only supposed to be one winner of the HerStory competition, Kuipers said the contestants were so impressive that four awards had to be handed out by the end of the event. 

‘Increasing food access across the world’

One of those awards went to Lourdes Juan, founder and CEO of Knead Technologies, a Calgary-based tech company that helps food rescue organizations manage logistics through an app. Juan won $20,000.

Juan said taking part in the competition was one of the best experiences in her entrepreneurial career. 

“It was so wonderful to to be in the room with that energy, to just get to know so many people who are who are doing exactly what I’m doing,” Juan said. 

Juan, whose background is in urban planning, has founded multiple companies and charities, including a spa and the non-profit Fresh Routes, a mobile grocery store and pop-up market that offers produce and other foods at a discounted price.

A Calgarian inspects the quality of produce at one of Fresh Routes’s pop-up market at an LRT station. Fresh Routes is just one of multiple organizations entrepreneur Lourdes Juan has founded. (David Bell/CBC)

Juan said her passion for solving food access issues comes from her own life experiences. Her mother, who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines, used to work three jobs, including as a grocery store cashier, to put food on the table. 

“We were one of the families that just wasn’t in a position to waste food,” Juan said.

“Now, I really am committed to increasing food access across the world through through this new technology.”

While Knead Technologies was only founded this year, Juan said her team has already received calls from organizations across the world from Jamaica to Ivory Coast.

Plans for the future

The various organizations that have invested in the HerStory winners will follow up with each company to see how they plan to use their new funds, Kuipers said.

“We will be going through a due diligence process to make sure that everything is checked out from an investment standpoint,” she said. 

Juan said the money her company won will likely go toward improving the app to better to market to organizations across the globe. 

Fernan said her company is looking to expand its reach. While it currently delivers primarily to Canada, the United States, the Philippines and Pakistan, the company is hoping to reach countries like Brazil and India too.


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