The gender gap in entrepreneurship in Canada has been closing in recent years, albeit at a slower pace than hoped, according to a 2020 report on the State of Womens Entrepreneurship in Canada. The report notes that challenges, including lack of business training and in the ability to raise capital, remain for women entrepreneurs. Nowhere is that more evident than in the male-dominated field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Dr. Ashwaq Al-Hashedi, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Montreal-based biotechnology company INViCARE, knows all too well the challenges women face in building STEM startups. Since incorporating INViCARE in 2017, 42-year-old Dr. Al-Hashedi says she has been told at least twice by investors that if she hopes to raise capital, she needs a man running the company. 

“If you always see the doors shut in front of you because you are a woman, you really start to doubt yourself,” says Dr. Al-Hashedi [pictured above], who is no stranger to challenges. Married at the age of 16, she spent the years from 2000 to 2016 travelling between Yemen, Jordon, Malaysia and Canada acquiring four degrees — dental surgeon, and a master and two PhDs in the field — and raising her son as a single mom. 

RAISE & RISE — a virtual pitch competition and conference launched in Montreal in December — aims to help women build businesses and confidence. Led by The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ and Disruption Ventures, a female-founded venture capital fund that invests in Canadian businesses founded or managed by women, the event brings together top industry leaders and entrepreneurs for a discussion on how to “raise” capital and “rise” as successful entrepreneurs. 


If you always see the doors shut in front of you because you are a woman, you really start to doubt yourself

— Dr. Ashwaq Al-Hashedi, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Montreal-based INViCARE

The event also brought together a panel of judges to choose a winning pitch. After narrowing the field down to six finalists, the judges chose Dr. Al-Hashedi as the grand prize winner. Her company is eligible to receive $25,000 or more in funding from Disruption Ventures, as well as a mentorship session with Scotiabank and Roynat Capital executives and other prizes. 

The five other finalists also left with prizes that will help them grow their businesses. They are Jennifer Ivens, Founder of high-tech shipping company Canscan Inc.; Jade Doucet-Martineau, Co-founder of health care solutions company Puzzle Medical Devices Inc; Aliyeh Rasooli Zadeh, Founder of agri-tech startup Triple F Group; Clara Duvernay, Co-founder of AWL-Electricity, a wireless solution for providing electricity; and Marisol Labrecque, Founder of Technologies Ecofixe Inc., a business that designs biological wastewater treatment systems. The prizes from Scotiabank and event partners Roynat Capital, JANT Ventures, Hive MTL, MNP and Fasken are valued at more than $80 000. The next event will be held this spring in British Columbia.

Dr. Al-Hashedi’s company, INViCARE holds a patent on Nanocrystalline technology, a hydrogel made from sodium, magnesium and phosphate that has a range of commercial applications, including cleaning dental implants, implant coating, bone regeneration and healing, and gel-based drug delivery. The INViCARE team is ready to go-to-market with NeoPhylaxis, a product line of dental implant cleaning gels that allow dentists to safely and effectively clean dental implants and maintain their health.

While working on her second PhD at Montreal’s McGill University Dr. Al-Hashedi — under the supervision of Dr. Faleh Tamimi, a clinical professor in the faculty of dentistry and co-founder of INViCARE — helped develop INViCARE’s Nanocrystalline technology. McGill’s patent agent then encouraged her to take the product to market.

Photo: NeoPhylaxis, a product line of dental implant cleaning gels by INViCARE that allow dentists to safely and effectively clean dental implants and maintain their health.

While Dr. Al-Hashedi strengthened her business acumen through courses at the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, including learning how to effectively sell her company’s vision to investors, and has taken part in several pitch contests, she says the feedback she got from the RAISE & RISE judges in the first round of pitches helped her clinch the win. “They sent me back to work on my pitch to tailor it more for investors than for competitions. They pointed out where I should put my focus and what to highlight,” she says.

Winning RAISE & RISE could help unlock funding from other investors and facilitate the launch of NeoPhylaxis in January 2022 as planned, Dr. Al-Hashedi says. But aside from raising capital, she says, the introductions that The Scotiabank Women Initiative can make for her to people who can help move INViCARE to the launch phase are invaluable. 

“We are looking for people to help with business strategy, development, marketing, and sales, as well as finding investors. We’ve been working a lot on the development of the product and clinical trials, but we are now in the next phase of our journey.”

“The jury was extremely impressed with the quality of applicants and the level of the pitches in the finals” Maria Mangiocavallo, Vice-President Commercial for Quebec at Scotiabank and Advisory Board member for The Scotiabank Women Initiative says. “We are proud to create this unique opportunity for women entrepreneurs alongside our trusted partners and could not be more delighted for Dr. Al-Hashedi, our grand winner, as she is such a relevant example of determination and drive. Highlighting her journey and diverse background will inspire others to follow their entrepreneurial path, their dreams” she adds. 

The Scotiabank Women Initiative recently reported some surprising findings from a poll about women entrepreneurs’ challenges around funding. To read the report click here.