Serial entrepreneur Laurie Clark has started and sold three companies prior to founding three new fintech companies: Canchek, SmartDirect, and Onyen. She shares her perspective on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on entrepreneurs and women in fintech.
How have entrepreneurs had to adapt to the new normal?
Nothing about being an entrepreneur is ever normal, but, with COVID, entrepreneurs now have two or three ‘new’ jobs: damage control for their current business, developing new services and gaining new clients in new ways, and, often, being more engaged with kids studying from home. Entrepreneurs must now also be more empathetic and more supportive to staff because stress levels are sky-high. As business and personal lives merge, we must recognize everyone’s doing their best and cut ourselves some slack.
One pandemic victim is too many women are dropping out of the workforce because of competing priorities. McKinsey’s/Lean In 2020 study reports 25% of working women consider downshifting or leaving the workforce because it’s too difficult to manage it all. This reverses 30 years of women advancing in the workplace. We must #stopthedrop.
What are some of the key challenges your own businesses have faced, and how are you working to overcome them?
Managing three tech companies (Canchek, SmartDirect, and Onyen), we had the infrastructure to work remotely but two challenges.
Cash flow: First, receipts slowed while customers worked to develop their own survival strategies and second, we didn’t qualify for government programs built for a standard salary model. We take dividends and reinvest in our companies.
Technology surge: Then, we also had the enviable issue of running into resource problems. After the “pandemic drop” phase, we entered the “demand surge”, especially with SmartDirect, our compliance/conference solution, as longstanding customers realized they could use the system to solve their COVID-19 created problems. We worked 18-hour days every day for months.
Canchek, Canada’s anti-money-laundering (AML) solution, is doing well as is SmartDirect. But Onyen makes me especially proud. It’s led by women who’ve created the most innovative ESG technology solution to the resource sector in 30 years. Onyen’s success confirms women who focus their energies to solving problems benefits the bottom line.
How can fintech companies help empower women?
We have to mandate the number of women in our boardrooms and at the executive level. There are plenty of talented and competent women — I’m one and know many others. Companies must create support mechanisms to grow talent, and a smoother on-ramp for women who are ready to lean back in after family commitments lessen.
Workplaces have to become more flexible and create a culture that encourages crucial conversations if we want women to stay engaged. Be flexible to reasonable requests. The pandemic has proven that we CAN work effectively from home. And, check your blind spots. Look beyond traditional measures of success when hiring for new roles. Lastly, a most critical point for empowering other women, both personally and professionally? Women must embrace the spirit of co-operation rather than competition with each other.
What advice can you share for the next generation of women entrepreneurs?
+ Conduct your due diligence. Test your business plan. Don’t wing it — you’ll lose money and your reputation.
+ Lead by example. Equality and inclusiveness are key success drivers.
+ Believe you can do this. Once this belief sets in, it’ll spread to everything you do and to everyone around you, so they believe in you.