Last month we announced our new partnership with The51, designed to help promote democratized access to capital for women-led businesses across Canada. As part of the launch we also announced the first three companies to be featured on both our platforms: Geenees, joni and Paws en route.

In order to get to know these three exciting companies a bit better, we recently invited them to join us for a Virtual Showcase to learn more about their mission, their motivation, and what they’ll do with the money from their raises.

We were joined by Libi Berenson (CEO at Geenees), Linda Biggs (Co-CEO at joni) and Dacia Rohlehr (CEO at Paws en route), along with our guest moderator for the day, The51’s Co-CEO Shelley Kuipers!

What we covered

Each of the companies gave us a five minute presentation of their business, followed by ten minutes of Q&A with Shelley and the audience. You can re-watch the whole session in the recording below, and we’ve also included a transcription of the Q&A from each company (which we’ve edited down from the original recording to help with readability).



Geenees Q&A

[Shelley] When and why did you start Geenees?

[Libi] So we actually started Geenees around three and a half years ago where after my youngest son was born, we had received the same gift four times and that gift was like footprints and baby prints that we can read, which was a lovely gift!

But I felt really, really bad for people that have spent time and money on buying something where we actually needed other baby products. And that's how the idea sparked in our minds, we wanted to create a platform that you don't need to share that ‘hey, please purchase this for me’, but what you actually need, you have a voice to say, I need these products.

And so anonymously, if you can receive them and basically keep the element of a secret and a surprise for you. So that's how it started on October 19. We're really realizing the gap that nonprofit organizations have around this process and how we can create value and really track new types of donors and facilitate donations and a contact list in a really easy way for all the parties.

[Shelley] Who are some of the retailers you’ve partnered with?

[Libi] So this year, specifically, a big important focus for us is to integrate local women owned businesses that are also eco-friendly.

And we have more coming, so stay tuned. But we have actually partnered with Linda Biggs from joni and CoCoDot Affection, which is soaps and hygiene products and Apple Cheeks, which is cloth diapers for babies and moms - our focus this quarter was women and children's health.

We also partnered with two dental service providers. Services are a big opportunity for Geenees, which means that everyone in the public can donate a specific amount. Let’s say you're donating $50, it goes directly to the service provider, so the family chooses and it sits there like an online donation box for the specific family. And so when the family comes in, they receive a dental treatment, the money is transferred to the dental service provider, which happens to be a local women owned business as well. And they receive treatment. So basically paying for the treatment and not giving just cash for a reason!

joni Q&A

[Shelley] It’s shocking that one in three young Canadians are not able to afford period care. What are the biggest factors leading to this?

[Linda] Yeah, it's a big question. I mean, I think to start, it'd be good to define what period poverty is, because there's a lot of people who are not aware of what that means. Period poverty is really when someone who menstruates doesn't have access to safe period care or safe facilities, or they lack the education and the knowledge to care for themselves. So it's not just about not having a pad for your period. It's really more of a systemic issue. And there's two key reasons that we see that really lead to that.

One is the stigma and the shame associated with periods. It's been a very hush hush topic. We don't often talk about it with people outside of our close circle and the shame and stigma really impacts policies around it and the education around it. And so that impacts the innovation, the support, the research that goes into period health, those are not made a priority.

An example of that is endometriosis. We know that 10 to 20% of people who menstruate experience endometriosis. That's a very high percentage, but yet it still takes six to 10 years to be diagnosed. And period health just needs to have more funding and there needs to be more research in that area.

And the second point really is just accessibility - not everyone has access to this basic human need. We don't walk into a bathroom and expect to have to take our own toilet paper. And with us you know, periods are a bodily function. The same rights should be given to those who menstruate. So those are the sort of the key issues with period poverty that we're seeing.

[Shelley] You launched joni as a social enterprise, what does that mean and how is that different from a regular business?

[Linda] So Jayesh, my Co-Founder and I, we really wanted to create a social value as much as we want it to create economic value. And so the balance between profit and purpose was something that we knew that we needed to bake into our business model in order to change this industry, because it hasn't been done to date, and going back to our value of different on purpose, we really wanted to live that value.

And so our one for one is a perfect example of that. So as a social enterprise, we're very much community driven with our one for one, when someone buys a product on we donate a product. And last year we donated 45,000 pads because of that. So when we grow, our donations grow and our ability to work with more non-profits who are really on the front lines of period poverty and helping those who need just that impact is just so much greater.

So as a social enterprise, we use different metrics to measure our success. It's not just about the economic value, but it's also about how we are benefiting our community, which is why we're applying for a B Corp application this year as well.

[Shelley] Do you have any planned partnerships coming up?

[Linda] We do have a big partnership that I unfortunately can't announce yet, but it really aligns with our value of giving back to our community. It's an initiative that we're really excited to see move forward. And so I would just encourage folks who are interested in that, or what we're up to, to sign up for our newsletter. That's where we really like to make all our bigger announcements, that, and just social media as well.

Paws en route Q&A

[Shelley] What compelled you to start Paws en route?

[Dacia] I created a Paws en route because of a personal experience. In 2016, I had a very, very sick dog. And he needed to get to an emergency clinic. And I was looking for pet transportation, and I couldn't find any service that was available to help me get him to what he needed, which was care. I had to rely on family.

And right after that experience, I thought to myself, I don't want any other pet parent to ever have to worry about pet transportation again. And that's why I started Paws en route, because I had that horrible experience.

[Shelley] How has Covid impacted your business?

[Dacia] I should start off by saying that in the US there were 11 million pets that were adopted during Covid, in Canada that number is around one million. And during that time, so when we look at our fiscal year, which ended just recently at the end of January, and we looked at the start of that, which was February of last year, and that's over the time of the pandemic, our sales have tripled.

So what that says is that for pet owners, like myself and like you Shelley, it doesn't matter what the economic situation is. We will always spend on our pets.

[Shelley] Who are Paws’ competitors and what is your competitive advantage?

[Dacia] So I'll start off by talking a bit about who the competitors are. So believe it or not, Uber is a competitor in this space. They started a service and I think it was because of all the bad, bad publicity, but any case aside from that they're in the space and they're providing that service. But it's limited to the US.

There's also a company by the name of Spot-On, which is out of New York and they are similar to Paws en route. And there's also Lyft, but Lyft provides that service for service dogs. We also have independent operators who add pet transportation as an add on service to what they provide.

What separates Paws en route from our competitors? Well, it goes back to REST - reliability, experience, safety and trust. From an experience perspective, all of our drivers have pet experience, they are pet loving, pet friendly, like pet owners they treat pets as part of the family. They go through a very stringent process with us in terms of vetting. We look for a good driving record - spotless - and no criminal background check, but most important you have to have experience with pets!

So that's one difference. The other major difference is around safety - all of our vehicles have safety harnesses. These safety harnesses have been tested by the Center for Pet Safety. And so every pet that comes into a Paws en route vehicle has to be safe and safety is not just from the pet’s perspective, but also the driver’s perspective.

Also, when you look at Paws en route, we are the full service press pet transportation company. What does that mean? We provide long hauls, short hauls and air travel. When you look at our competitors, they may provide one service, two services, but you don't have all of these services provided.