Program finalists receive one-on-one mentorship, specialized resources and investment opportunities
Imagine how easy life would be for entrepreneurs if they could sign up for a platform that matched startups with funders—like Tinder for business grants. That’s exactly the kind of idea that made Pocketed the winner of this year’s Odlum Brown Forum Pitch Finale.
For 20 years, Vancouver-based nonprofit The Forum has been supporting female entrepreneurs across the nation through their educational programs, mentorship programs and community connections. “In Canada, we know that less than four percent of venture capital goes to white women entrepreneurs,” says CEO Paulina Cameron. “And we know from our entrepreneurs who say that if only they could access more money or get the right relationship, or if someone could mentor them, that that would really help them bring their vision to life.”
The Forum Pitch is an annual eight-month long initiative that streamlines access to financial and human capital for women-led businesses.
As such, it provides qualified applicants with one-on-one mentorship and specialized resources, effectively functioning as a community networking event where finalists have the opportunity to land investors. The process culminates with a pitch finale with three entrepreneurs, at the end of which the winner walks away with a $25,000 cash prize.
The most unique feature of this program is that while a panel of judges (including alumni and investors) determine the quarter-finalists and semi-finalists, the audience gets to vote for the winner. And the final event doubles as a fundraiser for the charity, with this year’s having raised over $675,000.
“Over the last three years, the demand for our program has grown by 345 percent,” says Cameron. “So we know that women are wanting to, and are, starting and growing businesses and want the kind of mentorship, education, community, and support that we have to offer.” Out of 352 applicants, the finalists for the sixth edition of the program included grant matching platform Pocketed, biotech startup INViCARE and condom brand Jems.
On April 28, over 2,000 in-person and virtual attendees voted, with Pocketed bagging the majority. “Collectively we’ve had over 1,200 women participate in the Forum Pitch program in the last six years,” Cameron notes. “They’ve grown really significantly, and what they say is that the unique combination—the money, the mentorship, and the community that surrounds them, as well as the confidence they get—is what has really propelled their success.”