Tracking-app creator tracks progress for women entrepreneurs

Ivy Châtelain hopes her North Forge award will inspire others. ‘That they can say, ‘Hey, if she can do it, I can do it”

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Ivy Châtelain was born with many labels — autistic, female, Métis.

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Ivy Châtelain was born with many labels — autistic, female, Métis.

The 26-year-old has been adding her own descriptors: actress, entrepreneur, and now, first-ever recipient of a North Forge Technology Exchange award for Indigenous women.

The recognition comes amid a sharp drop in females using North Forge’s business start-up programs.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

‘I grew up being bullied and hated being different,’ says Ivy Châtelain, who identifies as autistic and Métis. ‘Now I’m just like… ‘If I wasn’t different, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.’’

“I hope I can be someone that (people) look up to and that they can say, ‘Hey, if she can do it, I can do it,’” Châtelain said.

Just 15 per cent of the 144 companies using North Forge’s business incubator and accelerator are women-owned. Six per cent are Indigenous-led (encompassing all genders).

Pre-pandemic, women accounted for 36 per cent of groups using North Forge’s incubator and accelerator, according to Joelle Foster, North Forge’s CEO.

“We need role models,” Foster said.

The organization is creating extra services targeted at women and Indigenous people in innovation, she said.

North Forge presented its new Indigenous Woman Founder Business Award to Châtelain Monday. The honour comes with $5,000 to use towards North Forge’s services, including its fabrication lab.

“I grew up being bullied and hated being different,” Châtelain said. “Now I’m just like… ‘If I wasn’t different, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.’”

She’s preparing for the launch of her app, Foundit.

The application will track Bluetooth-enabled devices — like hearing aids and key fobs — and warn users when their item is out of a range the user sets.

“During COVID, a lot of people had to step up and take care of their grandparents,” Châtelain said.

A friend’s experience temporarily losing his grandmother in 2020 — she had dementia and left while he was in the washroom — led Châtelain to invent Foundit.

“I realized, if they had my app, they could’ve tracked her hearing aids and found her quickly,” she said. “I just thought about, ‘What if this was… the coldest day of winter?’ She didn’t have a coat, she didn’t have anything. She could’ve died.”

Châtelain started working with Equal Opportunities West and the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program, gaining a mentor.

“(It’s) really important for me to make the disability market mainstream rather than an afterthought,” Châtelain said.

She incorporated FoundIt in December of 2020, she said. Later, she began using programs assisting startups at North Forge.

Imaginet, a company dealing with Microsoft, has been researching and fine-tuning the app’s technology.

“Trying to make all the pieces fit seems to be a little bit of a trick,” said Rod Giesbrecht, Imaginet’s co-founder.

Before Foundit users’ objects leave the pre-set range, the app user will receive phone alerts via push notifications and sounds.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ivy Châtelain, CEO of Foundit, is emotional as she receives award from Joelle Foster, CEO of North Forge. Her app tracks Bluetooth devices.

“That’s going to be our best chance of going back and finding (an item),” Giesbrecht said.

Development is still in the works, and a soft launch for Apple and Android users won’t be ready until next month at the earliest, he noted.

Keeping hackers away has been top of mind, Chátelain said.

“I feel like a proud dad,” Robert Fabro, the director of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program and one of Châtelain’s mentors, said Monday before Châtelain received her award.

“Her learning capabilities are very hard for her… It’s nice to see the drive and the dedication,” Fabro said.

Indigenous women are leading the charge on business creation when compared to their male counterparts and non-Indigenous women, according to Noah Wilson, a Futurpreneur Canada staff who supports Indigenous entrepreneurs in Manitoba.

“Women are seen as one of the core pillars of our communities,” Wilson said. “I think that’s just generally translating to the entrepreneurship realm.”

Still, there’s work to do, Foster noted.

“When it comes to venture capital and angel investing, I mean, those… are massive barriers,” she said.

Across Canada, less than three per cent of investment dollars go to women-led businesses, according to findings cited by the Women’s Equity Lab. Such businesses make up 40 per cent of the country’s total.

“There seems to be more women getting involved in technology, but in Manitoba, we are lagging behind,” Foster said, adding North Forge is implementing “as many programs as we can” to draw women to innovation.

North Forge has made a fabrication lab in Thompson to encourage Indigenous participation.

Community Futures Manitoba and Prairies Economic Development Canada helped fund North Forge’s new award.

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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Updated on Tuesday, August 9, 2022 9:19 AM CDT: Fixes typo in deck

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