Women-led tech company Bridgit Inc. gets $750K investment from feds

Kitchener-based tech company Bridgit is set to receive a $750,000 investment from FedDev Ontario to hire 12 new people and develop a new product.

Company has 50/50 gender split, co-founder says

Lauren Lake says coming from outside Kitchener-Waterloo has helped with her hiring process. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Kitchener-based, female founded tech company Bridgit Inc. is the latest local tech company to benefit from federal government investment in the lead-up to the federal election.

The company, which develops mobile applications for the construction industry, is set to receive a repayable $750,000 contribution that will create a dozen new jobs, FedDev Ontario announced Wednesday.

"It's really exciting for us to be at the cusp of two of these industries that are really growing here in Canada, construction and technology ... and bring them closer together," said Bridgit Inc. co-founder Lauren Lake, 27.

Gender-balance in tech

Speaking to a crowd gathered Wednesday for the announcement, Lake said she's proud of leading a company that currently employs equal numbers of men and women—something she said is unusual in the tech industry.

"It's not just gender diversity, it's diversity of thought," Lake said. "Being able to build a team of people from all different backgrounds, all different industries and with a lot of people who don't have previous tech experience, [co-founder Mallorie Brodie] and myself included in that."

Lake and Brodie moved the company to Kitchener in 2013 based on word of mouth about the local tech industry, despite "not knowing a soul" in the region, Lake said.

The pair are both alumna of Western University in London, Ont., which Lake said has helped them to think outside the box when it comes to hiring.

Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman (left), Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Bridgit Inc. co-founder Lauren Lake (middle) and Kitchener Centre MP Raj Saini (right) pose for a photograph with Bridgit Inc. staff. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

"Neither of us went to the University of Waterloo our friend groups and peers were not from here, and so we're not hiring from our class of people," she said. 

"It's not just from one specific university or one specific class that's generally male."

Speaking on behalf of the federal government, Kitchener-Centre MP Raj Saini told reporters that just 16 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises are majority women-owned, and that investing in women entrepreneurs is a priority for Ottawa.

"We want to make sure that everyone has access to capital, to networking, to talent and resources," he said.

Investment necessary for competition, government says

The investment comes in the months after the federal government ceased payments to Kitchener-based, smart eyewear company North Inc. after the company laid off workers.

North Inc. received a $24 million investment from the federal government in 2018 to create 230 new jobs. In February this year, the federal government asked the company to establish a "path to repayment," according to an e-mail statement from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.

When asked if the layoffs had spurred the government to change its investment strategy, Saini said he couldn't comment on the North Inc. situation specifically, but that most companies who receive federal money have been successful.

"If we want to compete globally, then the government of Canada has to be a partner with business to make sure we invest at the right time, the right stage to help them scale up," Saini said.

For her part, Lake said she is confident about Bridgit Inc.'s outlook.

"We have great traction on both of our products so it's definitely looking good from here," she said.