International Women’s Day: Shopify’s Backbone Angels Surpass 2021 Goals

Backbone Angels has already invested US$2.3 million in 42 women and BIPOC-led companies, just one year after launching.

Backbone Angels, a collective of 10 women in tech who met at Shopify, invest in women and non-binary founders with a focus on investments in Black, Indigenous, and women of colour-led companies. Some notable investments include Wethos Virtual, Snack, Willful, and Bird&Be.

Backbone Angels Team

From 2022, Backbone Angels is planning to run multiple cohorts a year; in each, founders can submit their business plans for Backbone to review and consider investment.

From March 8, 2022, to April 19, 2022, Backbone will be accepting submissions for its first cohort of the year. Once applications are closed, the Backbone Angles will review them and applicants can expect to hear a reply by May 18, 2022. This new plan will help create a faster and more transparent process.

According to Solmaz Shahalizadeh, vice president and head of data at Shopify, and founding partner at Backbone Angels, the company is looking to make sure it supports even more founders this year.

A report by research firm PitchBook revealed that female founders secured only two per cent of venture capital in the U.S. in 2021. This is the smallest share since 2016, and shows that efforts to diversify the industry are struggling.

“Women founders are often overlooked in the existing tech ecosystem and processes,” Shahalizadeh said, “especially when existing networks play a huge part in who gets venture funding.” She has felt this first-hand as an immigrant who never had access to traditional networks.

“I’ve had to build and establish those [networks] and I’d love to pay it forward and be able to sponsor the next generation of people that might need similar support.”

Business founders can submit their ideas through the Backbone website to try and get an investment. She said Backbone looks for passionate founders that are solving problems in a scalable way. 

There is no specific industry that the company looks for, as each founding partner at Backbone has their own expertise and interests. For Shahalizadeh, tech, artificial intelligence, data, and healthcare-related companies are of interest. However, applicants chosen get access to every founding partner’s expertise and knowledge.

In 2021, 72 per cent of Backbone’s invested capital went to first-time founders. 

“To be honest, once we started sort of looking at the numbers ourselves, we were surprised and we were very happy with it because for first time founders, it’s their first time doing this. They don’t have a previous pristine relationship with venture capitals,” she said. “This shows that we have at least been successful in what we try to do, which is really to give this funding and opportunity to founders that are historically overlooked.”

Shahalizadeh also said that this data show that there is no shortage of female founders looking for funding. 

The lack of diversity in gender and race in the STEM fields is often what discourages young girls from getting into the industry. She said that to fix this issue, exposure to technology needs to start at a young age. 

“My journey to tech was just very natural because my mom was into programming when I was growing up. So I learned about programming before I even had the chance to feel a bias against it.”

To empower the next generation, Shahalizadeh says it’s important to expose young girls and women to technology careers at different points in their life and education.

“You know, if a girl or woman sees female leaders, sees them in successful tech careers, those are the signals we want… And one of Backbone’s goals is that we support this founder.”

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Samira Balsara
Samira Balsara
Samira is a writer for IT World Canada. She is currently pursuing a journalism degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (formally known as Ryerson) and hopes to become a news anchor or write journalistic profiles. You can email her at [email protected]

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