The 2023 Women of the Year Awards: Community Builder – Winner

The winner of the Community Builder category of The 2023 Women of the Year Awards is Maninder Dhaliwal, co-founder of Lions Gate International and Startup Studio.

Maninder Dhaliwal
Co-founder, Lions Gate International and Startup Studio

“Think of a rocket ship,” says Maninder Dhaliwal. “It launches from Cape Canaveral, but going to Mars and going to the moon, there’s a one-degree difference in where the ship is pointed. It ends up in a completely different place. And that’s what early-stage startups are like—all you have to do is push it one degree more and they end up on a completely different trajectory.”

An engineer by trade, Dhaliwal co-founded Lions Gate International, a venture capital and business advisory firm specializing in international venture projects, in 2014. She added a sister company to that in 2021 with Startup Studio, an accelerator and early stage venture fund. She’s also a founding chair of TiE Vancouver’s Incubation Lab.

Dhaliwal says her background—she has a master’s in electrical engineering—has helped her tremendously when it comes to understanding the advances in technology that new startups are using to their advantage. 

“I actually know what people are talking about with AI—we knew what we had to do back then, we just didn’t have the computing power,” she says about graduating in 2002. It was a recession, and instead of jumping into the tech workforce, Dhaliwal decided to do consulting work and wait for the economy to get better. In the end, “not getting into tech was a blessing,” she says. 

Of course, she’s used the VC world to keep up interest in that sector, but her interest in creating community goes  beyond tech and investing. In 2012, she became executive
director of Tradeworks Training Society, a nonprofit that offers skill training and counselling geared toward women looking for work. 

“These women didn’t have resumes and were looking for jobs,” Dhaliwal says. “They were having mental health issues or were in an abusive marriage and just got out.” Through the program, Dhaliwal says, they were able to build a skill and get into the construction industry. “When they figured out how to make something, they were so proud.”

When it comes to being charitable, she says, there are two things you can do: “Raise the floor for some, or lift the ceiling for others. Tradeworks was the raising the floor part; the second part, with TiE Vancouver, is lifting the ceiling.”

TiE is a global organization with 62 chapters around the world that focuses on helping entrepreneurs. “The way people give 10 percent of their income to charity, I give 10 percent of my time to charity,” says Dhaliwal. “Well, my assistant tells me it’s a lot more than 10, but I say, Okay, don’t tell anybody.”