Small business and entrepreneurial ventures are becoming an increasingly integral driver of economic growth and development in communities across Canada. A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office to mark Global Entrepreneurship Week 2018 attributes entrepreneurs as the players that “make Canada one of the most innovative and prosperous places in the world”.
This year, Global Entrepreneurship Week brings women and young entrepreneurs to the fore. The added focus and commitment to supporting entrepreneurs within these areas, such as the announcement of Canada’s first Women Entrepreneurship Strategy as part of Budget 2018, aims to provide the platform for innovators like Ann Poochareon to continue blazing trails in the business world.
Ann Poochareon and her husband Mark Argo participated in our 2018 Fall Growth Accelerator with their business Little Robot Friends. Their business venture combines education with technology through toys, apps and teaching materials that encourage creative exploration and teach STEAM skills in a fun and engaging way. As a business, Little Robot Friends is paving the way for technology in education across Canada. As a business owner, Ann has had her own path to pave – that of a woman in business.
Ahead of our Trailblazers 2018 #GEWCanada event in Vancouver on November 15, we asked Ann to share the challenges and hurdles she has had to overcome as a woman entrepreneur. Read more about Ann’s trailblazing journey below.
Moving to North America from Thailand at the age of 15, Ann recalls years of being an “outlier”. She does, however, credit the experience for her thick skin.
“I lived in a 99% white community and it took four months before I could speak English to anyone,” says Ann.
“I’ve been an outlier since high school, and I’m kind of used to being a minority in most situations. Not just a woman, but a woman of colour, and not just that but also one in a technical field, and if we want to get more nuanced, my “technical field” is also quite niche. After years of social navigation, I think feeling like I don’t belong anywhere has actually made me more resilient than I would have been otherwise.”
From studies in computer science to working in tech support, Ann had grown accustomed to working in a male-dominated industry. That’s not to say that she grew complacent, as she continued to forge her way through as a leader.
“There are a lot of hurdles for a woman in a patriarchal society. And we’re having a watershed moment about this, such that there are several thought leaders on gender equity issues. I am not one of them [but] what I do know is that the gender gap – in business, in tech, or otherwise – is a construct. There is no biological reason to say girls can’t be good at tech, or that a woman can’t lead a country.”
When Ann stepped into the world of entrepreneurship, she found herself facing lessons and challenges rooted in gender norms.
“The biggest challenge for me was overcoming my own insecurities. Self-confidence is something I gained over time, and a lot of it is about letting go of negative self-image. I think, I’m not sure, but I think women do this more than men. We [women] are raised to groom ourselves, to put on make-up, to care about how we look constantly, and so this mentality carries into work and business where we make decisions based on how we will look to other people, rather than what we actually want, or what we need to get done,” says Ann.
“As an entrepreneur, I also had to learn to do things without asking for permission. Because who is there for me to ask? But this also did not come naturally. As a kid, we look to our parents for permission. And similarly as a student to teacher, and worker to boss. Asking for permission to do things is ingrained into us, as much as worrying about other’s perception.”
There is still a long road ahead, Ann recognizes, both for Little Robot Friends and the place of women in business. But the shift has started, and she urges women entrepreneurs heed this one vital reminder: take credit.
“Women are always doing background work, getting things done, holding the family together, and it’s almost hard to step up, own it, and say, ‘Yes, I did that, that was my work’,” says Ann.
Find out more about Global Entrepreneurship Week and Trailblazers 2018 here.
To cast your vote for the 2018 Futurpreneur Canada Awards click here.