Fiona Gilligan on the Importance of Female Entrepreneurship
So who’s Fiona Gilligan and why should you care about reading this? Well, to put it simply: she’s phenomenal. 18 years ago, after life threw her a couple curve-balls, Fiona took her passion for helping people and created (from nothing!) what would become the #1 company in Canada for her industry. Using a simple nuts and bolts business strategy to compensate for her absence of a business background, Fiona not only became a successful entrepreneur but was able to maintain her company at the top for years before selling it. And that was that: she was hooked. After selling her company in 2007, Fiona went on to become a serial entrepreneur and Angel, dedicated not only to helping people while staying profitable, but also to inspiring entrepreneurship in women. Read the following interview to see what Fiona has to say about her success story and the importance of female entrepreneurship!
Be sure to catch Fiona at the Women in Tech and Office Hours tents at the Startup Festival.
Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
I am a serial entrepreneur, investor, avid outdoors enthusiast and single Mummy of two great girls.
18 years ago you started what would become the #1 trauma company in Canada and today you remain a successful entrepreneur and investor, what has this journey been like for you?
Building a company as a young female entrepreneur was tough; I was building a private sector health company in a government town so you can imagine some of the challenges I faced. There was no ecosystem for me to turn to for financing or mentoring, but these challenges made me more determined to succeed as I bootstrapped and followed my instinct! As Entrepreneurs, we are the architects of our own life…and this is what I have appreciated the most.
What has your experience as a woman entrepreneur been like? Do you feel women entrepreneurs are at an advantage or disadvantage?
I have always felt a bit rogue, almost like I have been cutting a path as a female entrepreneur (and now angel) and this has been a very powerful experience. Women can sometimes be more risk-adverse and this serves as an advantage/ disadvantage. To me, it is this very quality that can make a woman an incredible entrepreneur especially in scalability: Women tend to scale with metric decisiveness versus going the next step just because it is time, ego or whatever. We don’t need a parachute but we have our eyes wide open on all aspects of what it takes to build something into number 1.
What do you think are some factors keeping women from taking the “entrepreneurial leap” and what do you think can be done to reduce these factors and encourage women to do so?
Many young women don’t consider entrepreneurship as a viable career choice. Just like 50years ago, many women didn’t think that they could become doctors. We need to educate young women by giving them female entrepreneur role models that they can relate to and be inspired by. Innovation has no gender line, yet women entrepreneurs often have to work harder and smarter to be recognized in an arena that is still mostly male. If a woman has the personality, drive and street smarts, she can become as successful as her male counterparts. Being female is not a reason to avoid becoming an entrepreneur. Like anything if you want it badly enough, you will figure out how to make it happen.
What would you say was the biggest challenge during your entrepreneurial journey?
I would have to say balancing single parenting with being an entrepreneur – investor. I am constantly trying to find balance and it is tough. I often feel like I am being pulled in different directions but I am a master of scheduling, multitasking and recharging in my down time. I also have an incredible team of people around me that make my life manageable. And my kids are great in that I have raised them to be independent and to realize that what I do is really fun and rewarding for all of us.
Once you sold www.trauma.ca, why did you go on to become a serial entrepreneur?
I love business and innovation. It is in my DNA, in my blood…I love the acquisition and then mentoring/coaching entrepreneurs on how to build a successful company. I love the due diligence, kicking the bumper, doing the math, the risk for reward proposition that lies ahead. I just love the deal making. It is a powerful emotional state to be in because risk is the ugly twin of reward. But it feels great to turn over a business and have a good exit. And I like philanthropy – being a serial entrepreneur gives me more opportunity to give back.
Why are you such an advocate for start-ups, especially those driven by women?
Innovation is at the base of a strong economy and I also know that if we harness the intelligence that exists within the entrepreneur community, we can resolve many of the challenges that face humanity and the planet. Women are 50% of the population and it just makes smart business sense to include us in all aspect of innovation. I won’t invest or align with a start-up that does not have at least 1 founding female member or 20% of its senior leaders or board of director’s women. And this is not tokenism…there are many incredible women out there ready to become entrepreneurs but they need to have more doors opened to them. Few things make me happier than when start-ups, especially women, come up to me and tell me that I am their inspiration.
What projects are you working on today?
I am currently working on a trauma app mobile with a tech team and I am in due diligence with a few tech start-ups out of Ottawa/Montreal. I also love buying real estate. My criteria for projects is that I have to fully believe in the team, the project must be fun and meaningful (social entrepreneurship is really my thing) and it must be profitable. When I have those 3 things in place, then I invest.
What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs (or women who may be in the same position that you were in 18 years ago) who want to start a business?
Just do it. And hold off on babies until your start-up is well established. If you let being a girl become an obstacle, then you won’t be successful as an entrepreneur. The key trait of an entrepreneur (male or female) is creatively overcoming challenges and knowing that failure is never an option. The key is how hard are you going to work, how adaptive is your business model and do you really want it bad enough. If you do, you will make it happen even if you crash and burn a startup (or two) until you hit the right trajectory for a winner!