Toronto

A Toronto entrepreneur needed a babysitter, so she made a childcare app

Women entrepreneurs can apply for up to 60 hours of free childcare to work on their businesses thanks to the Toronto mom behind the Datenight Babysitting app

Women entrepreneurs can apply for free childcare through the Datenight Babysitting app

Elize Shirdel, a mother of two, created the Datenight Babysitting app in 2014 so she could grow her business and go on dates with her husband. (Supplied by Elize Shirdel)

Elize Shirdel is encouraging women entrepreneurs to get out of the nursery and into the office with free babysitting.

The Toronto-based founder of Datenight Babysitting, an app that connects families with local caregivers, recently partnered with a Ryerson University-based institute to help provide free childcare to other moms trying to grow their businesses.

"I'm an entrepreneur and a mom myself and I know how you're always trying to juggle," Shirdel said. "Childcare is such a huge barrier to women entrepreneurs."

She thinks her app can help other women find more time to focus on their business ideas. 

"Just those few hours a week to have dedicated time to work on your business goes so far," Shirdel told CBC Toronto. 

Through her app, working moms can apply for up to 60 hours of free babysitting. Financial support for the program came through the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The Datenight Babysitting app works in the GTA and Ottawa. It's been used to book over 50,000 hours of childcare. (www.weneeddatenight.com)

The program, called the 'Childcare Support Pilot for Female Entrepreneurs,' aims to support mothers with scalable businesses. Women running a business that is less than five years old and employs fewer than six people can apply for the free childcare until June.

Heather Russek, director of policy innovation at the Brookfield Institute, said the think-tank wanted to partner with Shirdel because childcare is an ongoing challenge for female entrepreneurs.

A need for 'famtech'

A mother of two boys with a background in engineering, Shirdel was looking for the next step in her career in 2014 when she started thinking about how hard it is to find a reliable babysitter.

That's when the Datenight Babysitting app was born.

The app allows users to browse profiles of experienced babysitters and schedule interviews with potential candidates. Once they've met and approved a match, they can book and pay for childcare appointments on their smartphones.

Shirdel said her goal is to provide moms running their own businesses with free care so they can focus strictly on work, whether that means attending networking events, last-minute sales meetings or anything in between.

"Building technology for families is important. We talk about 'famtech' — technology for families — which isn't even a word. Agtech, insuretech, fintech — those are words," Shirdel said.

"We see this huge gap in technology for families and we intend to fill it."

Elize Shirdel launched a platform called HELM.life, which helps families prepare to-do lists, after she created Datenight Babysitting in 2014. (Supplied by Elize Shirdel)

Providing supports for women in the workforce is key when it comes to attracting them to the technology sector in the first place, she said.

There are more Canadian women working in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields than ever before, but the number is still a fraction compared to men. And while women represent the majority of young university graduates, they are underrepresented in STEM.

18 per cent of Canadian businesses owned by women

Five per cent of Canadian women graduated with an engineering or computer and information sciences degree in 2016, compared to 25 per cent of young men, according to Statistics Canada.

"We need some organizations led by women, technical organizations led by women, who will build cultures that appeal to women, where women will want to work and that's how you keep technical women," Shirdel said.

Elize Shirdel graduated from the University of Toronto with a PhD in computational biology. (Supplied by Elize Shirdel)

Just under 20 per cent of Canadian private businesses were owned by female entrepreneurs, on average, between 2005 and 2013, Statistics Canada says. 

Women-owned enterprises, however, increased at a faster pace than those owned by men and both men and women over the same time period. 

With files from Kirthana Sasitharan and Dwight Drummond

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