With a Harvard MBA and extensive experience in both investment banking and private equity under her belt, Robin Kovitz’ request for additional credit to help grow her gift basket business should have been a breeze.
On top of her business credentials, Baskits had been profitable every year since its founding in 1985, long before Kovitz bought it in 2014 and became CEO. In the two years after she bought it, she sought credit to help it grow, but after a series of additional questions and delays, her credit request was turned down.
“I really noticed then that there’s an incredible amount of gender bias in the credit adjudication process,” she said. “It shocked me and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, if I can't get a basic loan as a Harvard MBA grad that owns this incredible business which has always made money and is rapidly growing, how do any other women do it?’”
Kovitz was eventually able to secure the funding needed to take Baskits to the next level when she switched to Scotiabank in September 2020.
How women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses can successfully fund their ventures is one of the key issues that will be discussed during StrikeUP 2022, a free conference featuring keynotes, panels and workshops aimed at helping to support and empower women entrepreneurs. Kovitz will be participating in a StrikeUP panel focused on funding during the all-day virtual event on March 3 to launch International Women’s Month.
The theme of this year’s conference, hosted by Northumberland CFDC in partnership with The Scotiabank Women Initiative® (SWI) and Export Development Canada, is “Decision Points”, supporting women entrepreneurs in their journey. Other speakers include Joanna Griffiths, Founder and CEO of Knixwear, and Jennifer Harper, Founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty.
The Scotiabank Women Initiative aims to help women entrepreneurs pursue their best professional and financial futures by providing unbiased access to capital and tailored solutions, specialized education, as well as holistic advisory services and mentorship. SWI has deployed more than $3 billion in capital to women-owned and women-led businesses in Canada since its launch in December 2018.
In SWI's second year, it expanded to serve emerging women leaders and executives among the Bank’s Global Banking and Markets clients, offering bespoke programs such as board preparation courses. It also launched in the Bank's Global Wealth Management division, aiming to help women investors with education and other tools.
“Our aim is to support women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses throughout their journey and empower them,” said Sloane Muldoon, Senior Vice President, Retail Performance, Scotiabank and Co-chair of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. “A critical part of helping businesses to thrive is funding, and it is important that these enterprises are able to access capital and reach their full potential.”
Kovitz has made some big changes to the business over the years, including upgrading the product line, implementing a sophisticated tracking system to monitor inventory among other things, acquiring several competitors and re-positioning it as an e-commerce brand. In recent years, with the help of The Scotiabank Women Initiative on both funding and guidance, Kovitz purchased a new building as well.
The gift basket business has grown almost seven-fold since she bought it. Baskits was also named among Canada’s Top Growing Companies list, compiled by The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, in both 2020 and 2021.
“Obviously, capital is a huge input to success and if capital is not available to women entrepreneurs in Canada, that's a very bad thing for our economy,” Kovitz said.
The Baskits CEO has strived to ensure her business and its culture are supportive of women and mothers, the kind of place she would have liked to work at when she started her own family.
Kovitz became pregnant with her first child in 2010 while she was working in private equity, and she often was one of the few women or the only woman in the room. She recalls how many friends and advisors at the time urged her to hide her pregnancy.
“That was a real reflection point for me,” Kovitz said. “I have to hide the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me from the people I spend the most time with because it could jeopardize my career? That just doesn’t make sense to me.”
This pushed her to make the jump to entrepreneurship through acquisition in order to have a career and be her own boss, while also being the kind of mother she wanted to be, she said.
The mother of two encourages her employees to feel comfortable talking about their pregnancies and maternity leave, or taking part-time work or time off if needed, she said.
“Our team members know that it's not career limiting,” she said. “You're absolutely welcome to have babies and still have a bright future at Baskits. I'm hiring for the long term. I'm building a business for the long term.”
She also hopes that, with a growing pipeline of women business leaders and entrepreneurs and more open attitudes towards flexible work schedules due to the pandemic, things will improve.
“I left Bay Street, a very stable successful career, which was very scary to do, because I wanted to work from home,” she said.
“It's so exciting for me now that it's becoming culturally acceptable, and to see what the next generation of women will be able to do. If we navigate it well, it could be a huge advantage, helping women navigate the childbearing years and their professions without seeing it as being mutually exclusive.”