How urban spas and storytelling software become reality? With funding and support from women

Marci Hotsenpiller, founder of Ritual Nordic Spa in Victoria, says the advice and support from women has helped her secure funding for her business.CHAD HIPOLITO

Grandma knew best when it came to Marci Hotsenpiller’s first foray into entrepreneurship.

The founder of Nordic Spa Ritual has fond memories of spending time with family and friends at her grandmother’s sauna near Bala on Lake Muskoka, Ontario. These special moments were the spark that spurred Mrs. Hotsenpiller to launch her urban spa in downtown Victoria.

“I started to notice the appearance of urban saunas in several American cities – Portland, San Francisco, Brooklyn; I found five in Seattle,” says Hotsenpiller.

A visit to Spa Le Scandinave in downtown Montreal convinced her that her vision of a spa, which combines indoor and outdoor spaces, could flourish in an urban environment. Channeling her Finnish heritage into the process, she aimed to combine functional and stylish Scandinavian design with accessible wellness experiences.

With her concept fleshed out, Ms. Hotsenpiller began the process of building her business. As an internationally renowned former skier with a decades-long career as a communications manager and consultant for public infrastructure projects in Western Canada, Ms. Hotsenpiller felt she had many of the prerequisite skills to get started. his company. But his biggest obstacle? Funding.

“I approached three major banks – and met men. All said no,” says Ms. Hotsenpiller, who was told her business plan was not up to par with decision makers at banks across the country. “Apparently [lenders in] Toronto thought my business was too risky.

Advice, connections and start-up funding

Ms. Hotsenpiller decided she needed more information about why her business pitch was not an attractive investment. She approached a colleague she had known from the Women’s Equity Laboratory (WEL).

Launched in 2017 in Victoria, WEL was founded by 23 partners (including Ms Hotsenpiller, one of the original members) and committed to investing in women-led businesses. With four chapters across Canada (and more to come), WEL members not only provide capital to the companies they invest in, but also act as “advisors, connectors and champions” to the entrepreneurs they invest in. support.

Ms Hotsenpiller says the idea behind WEL was to “change the conversation and change the statistics about women investing in business”. (A report 2019 of the Highline Beta Female Funders initiative revealed that only 15% of partners in Canadian venture capital firms are women.)

“Education was a big part of the first year, in changing the investing landscape,” she adds.

Connections are also an integral part of the WEL philosophy. This informal conversation that Ms. Hotsenpiller had with her colleague from WEL led her to more opportunities to secure funding for her own business. She had three meetings with three new financial institutions – meeting all female executives this time – which resulted in three financing offers.

It was a welcome development, but the deals also came with challenges related to Ms. Hotsenpiller’s own risk tolerance.

“I had to explore and expand my comfort level about borrowing and debt,” said Ms Hotsenpiller, who realized in the process how family attitudes towards loans and debt can have a major impact. on contractors.

It recalls a WEL presentation, and a statistic (on American companies) that stuck in his mind: Although women start businesses twice as many as men, only 2% of those businesses have exceeded $1 million in profits per year.

“What happened to all those companies?” she says. “It takes so much energy to start a business, why not aim high?”

Ms. Hotsenpiller took the funding and made her business idea a reality.

Build trust

Kristina Stanley is another entrepreneur who has benefited from the WEL philosophy.

She came up with her business concept while writing her first novel. Even after completing his first draft, the review process seemed daunting. In partnership with her husband Mathew Stanley, she created fictionalAI-based software to simplify the editing process.

Ms Stanley met Stephanie Andrew, chief financial officer and partner at Cindicates, a Victoria-based venture capital fund and another of WEL’s founding partners. Ms Stanley says that meeting was invaluable to the launch of Fictionary.

“I knew right away that [WEL] was a good fit to be fictitious investors,” Ms Stanley says. “Stephanie [had great] enthusiasm for the content creator space.

WEL invested in Fictionary’s pre-seed cycle, enabling the start-up to bring Fictionary StoryTeller to market, software designed for fiction writers.

“Working with a group of women has boosted my confidence in running a technology company,” says Ms. Stanley. “WEL gave us early advice on how to gather information from our customers to better understand them.”

As for Ms Hotsenpiller, her business has grown steadily after Ritual opened in February, with some of the proceeds going to local charities to improve the lives of women and children. She says her background in sports has helped her overcome the constraints of entrepreneurship.

“It’s a marathon, which is a good analogy for this long process,” she says.

She welcomed financial backers to the spa, and even former skeptics too.

“All the women who wanted to finance me came here, and one of the men who refused me came to the spa with his wife,” she says. “He loved her.”

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