Why Apply for Startup & Slay

digital graphic for Startup & Slay series by How SHe Hustles, sponsor CIBC and partners Rogers Sports & Media and Shopify
Why apply to Startup & Slay? Read This
By Ishani Nath


How She Hustles founder Emily Mills has a unique appreciation for what it takes to turn a great idea into a thriving business. She just celebrated her company’s ten-year anniversary of producing sold-out events and award-winning digital content that reflects Canadian women from diverse backgrounds. But along the way, Mills has also witnessed the lack of diversity in the entrepreneurial space.

“We have a very limited idea of what a founder looks like and sometimes that definition is limited to specific industries and identities,” says Mills. “Startup & Slay plays a pivotal role in broadening that definition.”

Launched in 2018 as a live event, Startup & Slay aims to raise the profile and visibility of diverse Canadian entrepreneurs. Specifically, this program is designed to highlight business owners who are women of colour or racialized women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous women, those who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community or those who come from an immigrant or refugee background.

“All of those factors, they impact the way we move through the world and the way that we not only live as people, but the way that we do business as founders and entrepreneurs,” says Mills. “I want these entrepreneurs to be able to tell their story and be recognized for the innovators that they are.”

In 2019, Startup & Slay evolved into a national digital video series. Out of more than 100 applicants from five difference provinces and 30 different communities, six Canadian businesses were selected to share their journey on camera. They were also provided opportunities to share their stories with media outlets and at panel and networking events in Toronto during Small Business Week last October. The special project was produced by How She Hustles, with proud sponsor CIBC in partnership with Futurpreneur Canada and Ryerson University, and featured businesses ranging from Luna Float, a therapeutic floating business in Chilliwack, BC to Beam, an Esports events business in Toronto.

“I’ve been a part of several Canadian initiatives for women entrepreneurs,” says Beam’s founder Arwina Mogul. “Startup & Slay was unique because it wasn’t just female entrepreneurs but the underrepresented entrepreneurs that were showcased. It made me feel good about what I do.”

With COVID-19, Startup & Slay is moving this year’s program online, enabling the selected 2020 honourees to share their stories through virtual meetups and engage with an even larger audience. Though a lot has changed since the initial Startup & Slay event, Mills says the goal remains the same: “To change how we perceive entrepreneurs in this country and broaden that definition so more people can see themselves reflected.”

How She Hustles is now taking applications for Startup & Slay 2020, but before you send in your info, here are some tips for how to stand out—plus some reflections from our 2019 honourees about why it’s worth applying.

Tell us about yourself

In 2019, Startup & Slay received more than 100 applicants in only a week—and this year, How She Hustles anticipates an even larger volume of candidates. In order to stand out from the rest, Mills recommends getting a bit personal, sharing the things that make you unique, quirky or different. Did you start your business because you saw a market opportunity, or was there something you personally experienced that demonstrated why this product or service is needed? How has running your business impacted your life? Including personal anecdotes helps us to get to know you as we learn about your business.

“Sometimes when we apply for opportunities, we think we have to speak a certain way or present our story in a certain way,” she says. “At the end of the day, Startup & Slay is about sharing your voice with a larger audience, so I really encourage people to do that. Don’t hold back. Tell people us who you are as a person.”

Go into detail

A pillar of good storytelling is to show, rather than tell so, when describing what it’s like to run your business, think about details that can bring your story to life. What does your space look like? What does it feel like? Who is on your team? Instead of saying, “I run a t-shirt company in a factory” consider including things like the size of the factory, how many employees you have working there and remotely, what type of equipment you’re using or anything else that you’re particularly proud of in that space.

Tell us about your wins

This is not the time to be humble. We want to hear about the successes of your business, whether that’s awards, press coverage, surpassing sales targets or staff accolades. Tell us what helped you get there and, where possible, provide specifics of when this was achieved and what it meant for your business.

You don’t need to be perfect

“Many women often think that everything has to be perfect for us to be considered or recognized,” says Mills. That is not the case here. Even if, for instance, you’re working through some hurdles in your business, like figuring out aspects of your revenue model or recovering from a particularly tough year, we still want to hear from you.

“I’ve been a full-time entrepreneur for two years now. I have a husband, two young kids, aging parents and I left the corporate world to run How She Hustles. Running a business with these realities creates many twists and turns and that’s part of the story we want to uncover with Startup & Slay,” says Mills. “Whatever your start-up story is, take this invaluable opportunity to share it.”

With that in mind, Mills also advises to give us a sense of your vision. “You don’t have to be there yet, but after telling us where you started and how you grew, make sure to tell us where you’re going,” she says.

The benefits of Startup & Slay according to the 2019 honourees

 Safia Haq says after Startup & Slay she had “a renewed sense of enthusiasm and excitement” about her business. Haq is the co-owner of Tart & Soul Café, and after Startup & Slay, Haq and her business partner Lisa Brow took the leap to expand their space and operations. The videos and digital content created for Startup & Slay also became great marketing tools for the Halifax bakery, and lead to additional media coverage including a feature in Bakers Journal.

“We are much more confident and capable in talking about our business than we were before this experience, so we are much more likely to agree to interviews, even on-camera ones (there’s still lots of giggling though),” says Haq.

 Reflecting on last year’s Startup & Slay, honourees say the program helped with everything from business tips to gaining better media exposure. The six entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to sit down with CIBC executives to discuss small business supports, network with high-profile guests and speak at multiple events in Toronto.

Luna Float founder Nina Zetchus says that the Startup & Slay panel and launch events were just what she needed, enabling her to meet bank executives, business women, potential entrepreneurs. “Not only do I want to stay in touch with these fellow speakers but some of the connections I made while in Toronto makes me want to come back for sure!” she says.

Several of the 2019 honourees also received increased media coverage through Startup & Slay.  Many were featured on radio shows, Beam’s Mogul was profiled in FLARE and CBC did a feature on Kaela Kay designer Catherine Addai.

That media coverage led to increased business. Addai says within days of the CBC feature, her Toronto store was full of customers, many of whom said they heard about her through the article. “What I loved about that was the diversity of the customers that it brought into the store,” she says.

Addai adds that as an entrepreneur, she’s so busy running her business that sharing her story isn’t necessarily something she would’ve done on her own. Now, she displays her Startup & Slay video on Kaela Kay’s website and continues to get customers coming in because they heard about her on CBC.

Her biggest advice to the Startup & Slay class of 2020 is to jump on those media opportunities and make the most of the networking events that are filled with A-list attendees, financial experts and fellow entrepreneurs.

The opportunity to connect with fellow Startup & Slay nominees and other diverse business owners was a source of inspiration, and affirmation for Haq.

“For women entrepreneurs, it is important to know that there isn’t just one path to opening your own business, and I think having diverse women and diverse businesses represent that is key,” she says. “The career paths, education, business know-how, and businesses themselves are so different for all of us and there is no cookie cutter entrepreneur. There isn’t just one narrative around entrepreneurship, but many, and Startup & Slay illustrated this beautifully.”