Larissa Drobot talks to entrepreneurs all the time.
As the host of TechTalkX, a web series highlighting Hamilton-based start-ups, it's her job to seek them out for the show. And more often than not, the entrepreneurs and innovators she interviews are men.
“We've definitely have not had as many women as men,” said the Mohawk College broadcasting graduate.
Since she started working on the web series, Drobot has been bitten by the business bug and is in the research-and-development stage of her own product.
“It's something that will solve a very common everyday problem,” she said, keeping her idea secret for now.
Drobot represents a growing number of female entrepreneurs in Hamilton.
“There is a bit of a shift now,” said Julie Cole, owner and co-founder of Mabel's Labels, a Hamilton entrepreneurial success story.
Cole and her three business partners started their child-friendly label business a decade ago, when female entrepreneurs were rare and finding the ever-important mentor who is also female was even more rare.
“We had a few mentors, but they were mostly men,” she said, adding that business-minded men and women tend to think differently. “A lot of the women were in the same spot as we were, so our meetings were like focus groups.”
About six years ago, Mabel's Labels was awarded a small business prize from the local Chamber of Commerce and in the subsequent photo-op, Cole and her co-founders were the only women.
She admits it “might still be a bit scarce to find peers,” but there are at least events now specifically aimed at women in business.
Cole is speaking at the Small Business Enterprise Centre's Success in the City conference Wednesday, the second annual celebration of entrepreneurial women in Hamilton.
“It's a good sign and a positive thing we have [the conference],” said the mother of six, who is keen to share tips and tricks of raising a family and running a small business.
'We as young women are not taught to get our hands dirty. Girls were not allowed to break things and put them back to together to figure out how they work. —Shanta Nathwani, Sheridan College
But looking to the technology sector, the demographics are still discouraging for some.
“We as young women are not taught to get our hands dirty,” said Shanta Nathwani, founder of Women In Technology Hamilton and an instructor at Sheridan College. “Girls were not allowed to break things and put them back to together to figure out how they work. It's out of our nature.”
Nathwani said the statement that there is lack of female entrepreneurs, specifically in the tech sector, “hits the nail on the head,” and it's not exclusive to Hamilton.
“It's everywhere. Waterloo, Hamilton, Toronto,” she said. “It's an ongoing problem.”
To encourage entrepreneurship, local institutions like McMaster University have started programs designed to teach those skills. The university's Centre for Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Innovation currently has 53 graduate students between its two masters programs. Of those 53 students, 15 are women.
Drobot has noticed this, too. At the networking events she attends for young entrepreneurs, she sees more women looking to develop products and far more men creating web-based businesses and apps.
The fact that these opportunities exist for women to connect in the city — like Wednesday's conference and meet-up events run by Innovation Factory and Software Hamilton — is causing the shift Cole speaks about.
“Hamilton is becoming a place open to start-ups and welcoming entrepreneurs,” she said.
Now that Cole is a seasoned businesswomen, she is in a position to be one of those very important mentors. Female entrepreneurs call her all the time, she says.
“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” Cole said with a laugh. “That's amazing, we know women are entrepreneurial.”
It's clear that budding businesswomen like Drobot appreciate the path Cole and her colleagues have carved.
“Women who have taken the leap are successful and inspiring,” she said.