Entrepreneur builds bridge for women in a heavily male industry
How Mallorie Brodie co-founded a booming software company in the male-dominated building industry
This story is part of our Breaking Barriers series, which profiles prominent Canadian women in male-dominated industries. The series is brought to you by American Express Canada, which is proud to have a senior leadership team that is 56 per cent female.
When Mallorie Brodie was six years old, her father brought her along on a road trip from Ottawa to Kingston while he did some consulting on a commercial property. If the deal went through, her father, a commercial real estate broker, would pay the first-grader a percentage of his commission in exchange for her “valuable time.”
“My dad involved me in business conversations,” says Brodie. “He never underestimated that, despite my age, my questions might lead him to an idea.”
Entrepreneurship is second nature for Brodie, who, at 28, is CEO and co-founder of Kitchener, Ont.-based Bridgit. The company, founded in 2014, makes software solutions for the construction industry, aimed at making construction simpler.
The workspace for Bridgit’s 50 employees is a glorious mix of glass and wood, with comfortable leather sofas and art in the kitchen, handpicked by Brodie. With more than 30,000 subcontractors using its platform, Bridgit has been used on more than 5,000 projects since its inception.
Brodie was born in Ottawa to a family with roots in the construction and development industries. Her great-grandfather had a steel mill and her grandfather founded the family’s demolition company. She credits her grandfather and her dad, Joel Brodie, for making her believe anything is possible, even in male-dominated industries such as construction and technology.
“When I went to start a business, I never thought I wasn’t good enough or that I didn’t know enough,” says Brodie, who was recently named to the 2019 Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30. “I just thought we’d figure it out as we came across different obstacles.”
Before Bridgit, Brodie was an entrepreneur at 19. She sold art online while still a student at Western University in London, Ont., where she studied comparative literature, followed by business administration at the Ivey School of Business.
Brodie pitched the gallery idea unsuccessfully to Dragons’ Den. However, the experience encouraged her to apply for Next 36, an accelerator program for young entrepreneurs that provides mentoring and a chance for funding.
That led directly to meeting civil engineer Lauren Lake, who quickly became co-founder in Bridgit. The name resonated with both of them as something fun and friendly with a more human approach than other software products in the construction space.
With $5,000 from Next 36 to get Bridgit off the ground, the pair hit all their milestones – launching a viable product with customers signed up in the first nine months – to get the maximum funding of $90,000. They also met some major angel investors in Toronto and leveraged those connections.
For a woman in a male-dominated business, not backing down matters. On the construction side, Brodie doesn’t feel that being a female-led company had an impact on product development or launching the business. If anything, it allowed Bridgit to stand out as memorable, she believes.
The tech side was more challenging, however, particularly for financing. Recent studies suggest it’s harder for female-led companies to get early-stage funding than those led by men.
According to U.S.-based PitchBook Data Inc., all-male teams received nearly 98 per cent of the US$85-billion invested by venture capitalists in the U.S. in 2017.
In Canada, women are vastly underrepresented in the top ranks of private equity and venture capital firms, according to a 2019 survey commissioned by the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association and BDC Capital. Only 11 per cent of partners were female at the 36 venture capital firms, and only 12 per cent were female at the 23 private equity firms that participated in the survey.
“When Lauren and I show up looking to tackle the construction industry, pitching to male investors, they probably don’t see a lot in common with us, so it’s difficult initially for them to make that leap of faith,” Brodie says. “We always felt happy with what we could get. But then you see other companies with less revenue going after a smaller market, yet managing to get even more capital, faster. You start to wonder that if we were two men walking in, would we have twice as much?”
Her advice to women starting out is to identify a few well-intentioned people in your industry who could become mentors. And to get used to hearing no a lot.
“Basically, my first job out of school was running a company,” Brodie says. “There was just never another option but to succeed.”
Photo credit: Ian Stewart