CFC Media Lab Champions Feminist Business Practices in Newest Program Offering

Posted: Dec 3, 2019

It’s a rare thing to be in a room filled with bright, motivated, progressive women entrepreneurs who are growing sustainable businesses in the digital media industry. Why is this rare? Because these spaces – business ownership, technology and the startup ecosystem (as well as
many others) – have been traditionally dominated by men. Statistics Canada tells us that women comprise more than half of Canada’s population, but only 16% of our businesses are owned or led by women. Women working in tech have experienced the sizeable gender gap in Canada’s technology sector, and male founders traditionally outnumber female founders in startup companies.

It’s for these reasons that the team behind
CFC Media Lab brought said group of female entrepreneurs together last Wednesday evening (November 27) for a networking and community-building event and ultimately to introduce them to CFC Media Lab’s newest program offering – one targeted specifically to women entrepreneurs. Funded by the Government of Canada through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES), the Fifth Wave Initiative is a new suite of programs and services run by CFC Media Lab that is designed to accelerate and sustain the growth of women-owned/led enterprises in southern Ontario’s digital media sector.

Over the years, CFC Media Lab has become known largely for running
IDEABOOST, a successful accelerator and startup community for companies building technology-based media and entertainment startups, products and brands. Since its inception in 2012, IDEABOOST has supported dozens of innovative companies through its programming. So why, then, is CFC Media Lab interested in launching a new accelerator? Well, they discovered that only 27% of the founders participating in IDEABOOST were women. While that percentage is much higher than female founder participation rates in many other startup accelerators, CFC Media Lab knew they could do better. As Ana Serrano, CFC Media Lab founder and CFC Chief Digital Officer, explained, “With the Government of Canada’s announcement of the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy in 2016, we saw an opportunity for us to create an accelerator by women for women, using feminist business practices that need to gain a purchase in a society that’s looking for new [business] models.” Serrano went on to share some of the main drivers for wanting to establish the Fifth Wave Initiative, “Not all women founders are being served by the current accelerator ecosystem, so we need to create an accelerator that meets the specific business needs and lived experiences of female entrepreneurs. […] Secondly, we want to change some of the models that have calcified in the accelerator ecosystem that are actually detrimental for businesses that want to be more sustainable and apply ethical and equitable business practices. […] Thirdly, we want to fill the gap in the current VC system that does not serve mid-size businesses.” And with that, the idea for Fifth Wave Initiative was born: Canada’s first business accelerator for female founders in digital media – including tech or tech-enabled businesses as well as content and service-based companies – that applies feminist business practices.

A woman standing in front of an audience and holding a microphone. Behind the woman is a television and black curtains.

So, what exactly are feminist business practices? Well, that’s one of the topics that attendees unpacked at the event. For the purposes of Fifth Wave Initiative, they are defined as “practices that include equitable and fair activities and attitudes in business development and growth.” Serrano went on to explain that, “Applying feminist business practices requires a certain element of intentionality in the way that you grow your business to be equitable and fair.” But, there are many ways to do that. Attendees broke off into small groups to look at the myriad of ways that people try to grow their businesses in a fair and equitable manner. The energy in the room was palpable as the female founders excitedly shared ideas and insights from their own experience as entrepreneurs. After they had a chance to share knowledge in small teams, the larger group came together to discuss key takeaways from their conversations. 
Here’s a look at some of those key takeaways:

Feminism and women are not interchangeable

Feminism and feminist ideals are not gender-specific, but they are inclusive. Petra Kassun-Mutch (PK Mutch), entrepreneur, journalist, startup professional, founding publisher of Liisbeth, and Fifth Wave Initiative’s Executive Entrepreneur-in-Residence, explained that, “Not all women are feminists, and not all feminists are women – it’s really about worldview.”

Founders are not “one size fits all”

Every founder has a different set of challenges – both in terms of their business, and their life. Accelerators need to tailor activities and programming to the unique needs and circumstances of individual entrepreneurs – which is exactly what Fifth Wave Initiative endeavours to do.

Groups of women talking and siting in a circle.

Feminist business practices: they can be taught, learned and applied by anyone

Feminist business practices don’t start and end with women-owned/led companies and female entrepreneurs. It’s more about all founders deploying feminist business practices [of equity and fairness] to grow their business – we need to show the world that growing a fair and equitable business is not just feminist business, it’s good business.

Accelerators as a space for reflection

We need to rethink the traditional notion of “accelerator,” and turn them into places that give entrepreneurs time, space and permission to explore their business objectives, decisions, outcomes, practices, etc. in a supportive environment. This is the type of accelerator Fifth Wave Initiative is building.

What’s the best type of legal and/or governance structure for social ventures?

It depends. Businesses that want to drive a certain set of values [fairness, equity] but also be profitable often face a challenge in terms of choosing or defining their legal and/or governance structure. Whether it be not-for-profit, B Corp, social enterprise, or cooperative, for example, founders need to find the best path for their business and carefully consider what is the underlying nature/intent of their profit-making activities.

It’s okay to want to make a profit (while still wanting to do good and be good)

You can be an entrepreneur committed to fairness and equity while running a
successful for-profit business. Building a successful business doesn’t require you to oppress people (or clients, customers, community, the environment) in the process. “We [Fifth Wave Initiative] are pro-money, pro-business and pro-growth,” emphasized Nataly De Monte, Associate Director, CFC Media Lab. “We also happen to be pro-people, pro-community and pro-environment, too.”

If (when) women get to the top and we behave just as badly as the current heads of businesses, then we’re no better

We have to implement a new way of treating everybody better. Implementing feminist business practices is the way forward.

A woman talking into a microphone and standing next to a television screen.

Following this conversation, attendees heard from PK Mutch about her experience building feminist businesses, and what feminist businesses look like. Mutch provided insights into five things that distinguish a feminist business.

Five things that distinguish a feminist business:
  1. Social Justice: challenging norms and oppressive systems, emphasizing gender equality and equity as well as social and economic inclusion
  2. Generativity: creating opportunities for others
  3. Whole Humanness: bringing your whole self to your business
  4. Governance: implementing values-aligned practices, ensuring accountability
  5. Ecosystem: applying network-centred strategies for growth and resilience

Ultimately, building feminist businesses is about,” finding
better ways to do business that are often dismissed, undervalued and are not well-supported,” shared Mutch. She’s hopeful that the types of women who were in the room can band together to do just that.

Last Wednesday’s event was the first step towards building a community of like-minded female entrepreneurs committed to feminist ideals in business. The next step is for these types of women-owned/led companies to apply to join
Fifth Wave Connect to become part of the community. APPLY HERE. Learn more about Fifth Wave Initiative, including eligibility and application guidelines, HERE.

Have questions about Fifth Wave Initiative? Get in touch at

Two women talking to each other.

Photos by Lindsay Duncan

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