6 mins | 1173 words
Just over a decade ago, senior-level lawyer Julie MacDonell ran her own boutique firm. Her long list of clients included small businesses she serviced in her specialty: Trademark and Intellectual Property (IP) Law. It was this work that inspired Julie to leave her boutique behind.
Every day small businesses are dealing with cease-and-desist orders or infringement issues. Unaware of the importance of registering a trademark or unable to afford the services required to do so, their brands and businesses are left vulnerable. Julie knows just how devastating this can be.
“It’s incredibly difficult to have a small business owner literally crying tears on the phone with you because they just lost their brand or their business overnight,” said Julie during a recent interview with Techcrunch’s Darrell Etherington, “there’s an enormous, insurmountable barrier when it comes to brand protection for those owners.” She explained that she saw countless clients come to her over the years after neglecting to register their trademarks. Therefore, they didn’t own them (did you know that you don’t legally own your domain until you’ve registered the corresponding trademark?). That meant the law just wasn’t on their side.
Now, Julie is on a mission to make trademarking accessible so that no other business owner finds themselves in this situation.
Lawyer Turned Tech Entrepreneur
In October 2019, Julie, along with her co-founders Sarah Ruest and Dave MacDonell, started Heirlume, a company that combines the latest technology with extensive legal knowledge to offer an exceptional trademark service clients can rely on. Providing easy access to brand protection, Heirlume is simultaneously disrupting both the trademark and legal industry.
This Canadian startup is growing and fast, with part of the reason being access to communities and resources.
Heirlume has been a part of North America’s most impact-focused programs committed to supporting women-led technology companies, including the Google for Startups Accelerator: Women Founders and SheBoot. On an episode of the App Show with Mike Agerbo, Julie spoke to the role of programs like this and how important they are. Her reasoning was twofold: women need access to other women in tech and entrepreneurship as experts and mentors, and women need access to money.
Julie often jokes that Heirlume is a unicorn tech business. She doesn’t mean this in the traditional sense – that the startup has had explosive revenue growth – but in the sense that the company’s CEO and CTO (and co-founders) are both women. This makes Heirlume a unicorn because it’s so rare.
This unicorn has been gaining traction. Recent news about the startup has garnered a lot of attention.
A Gut Instinct
In December 2020, Heirlume had an opportunity to move forward with a traditional VC fund, but a collective gut instinct told the leadership team to hold off.
They did – because they could.
This offer came to them just months after the startup completed the SheBoot program (a six-week investment-ready bootcamp) and won the top price of $150,000 investment.
Julie emphasized that without this $100,000 investment from the ten women angel investors through the Capital Angel Network and the $50,000 in non-diluted funding from the Canadian Government through FedDev Ontario, holding off on accepting an offer would never have been possible.
“The SheBoot investment and FedDev funding we received through the program put us in a position where we could spend extra time choosing our investment partners.” She went on to say, “If we hadn’t had that influx of money, we would have been in a situation with no choice but to take the first investor in. It allowed us the time and space to be selective with who and how we partnered.”
And selective they were.
On April 28, 2021, Heirlume announced the close of its $1.7 million seed round. What’s most compelling about this announcement is the participants’ list, including Backbone Angels, Future Capital, Angels of Many, MaRS IAF, and other angel investors. This list is impressive for more reasons than one: 65% of the investors on Heirlume’s cap table identify as women or underrepresented investors. In a society where only 2.3 percent of investment dollars went to female-only founders in 2020, and only 15.2 percent of partners at Canadian venture firms were women in 2018, this seems impossible. But Heirlume built their business with intention; raising capital was no different.
The timing helped too.
The Backbone Angels launched earlier this year with a clear mission: to elevate the economic position of women and non-binary founders. The new collective of 10 women angel investors looks for scalable companies poised for high growth.
Erin Zipes, Vice President, Assistant General Counsel at Shopify and Founding Partner of Backbone Angels, is also a SheBoot investor and mentor. Through the program, she met the exciting startup’s co-founders.
While Erin approached Julie about the possibility of Heirlume joining the Backbone Angels’ portfolio, Future Capital, an organization “reimagining the way startups are funded by developing a new, more diverse cohort of investors,” was looking for their initial investment as well. For both firms, Heirlume was it.
When these initial investors came forward, for Julie and her team, the vision for this round became clear: to empower diverse investors.
A Call for All
“Truthfully, the whole round ties back to SheBoot.” – Julie MacDonell
Julie stated that Heirlume’s entire seed round tied back to SheBoot and emphasized how vital it is to have programs like it available for women founders.
When asked what she would say to women considering “diving both feet first” into entrepreneurship, Julie quickly recognized that most women aren’t afforded the opportunity or circumstance to build a business.
“It’s tricky for me when I answer questions around encouraging women to get into this because I think women generally have extraordinarily complex situations. Startup life and life in the tech ecosystem is very, very tough. We were lucky to get a seed round, and it’s rare for women still. It was a privilege that I was able to do it.”
Julie’s perspective is that more infrastructure design to propel women in business and entrepreneurship needs to exist.
She went on to share, “I have tremendous support from my partner, and Sarah is a tremendous co-founder as well. My kids were older [when I launched Heirlume]. Financially, I had a backend support system, and I am a lawyer coming from a professional background. I had, and have, a lot of privilege.”
How, in her role as CEO at Heirlume, Julie’s looking for ways to have a greater impact through their startup.
“I’m starting to connect with Six Nations in my community. We’re seeing how we might be able to lend our privilege to support other women entrepreneurs. Indigenous women, in particular, can’t access capital.”
A long-time advocate/activist in civil liberties, human rights, children’s rights, and Indigenous rights, Julie calls all who can to talk about what needs to change and do something about it.
To learn more about Heirlume, visit Heirlume – Online Trademark Registration (heirlumeco.com)
On June 10, 2021, the Capital Angel Network and Invest Ottawa, in a press release, announced SheBoot Investment for Women Founders Jumps to $300,000 in the Face of Pandemic! To learn more about the program, visit SheBoot | Bootcamp for Women-led Businesses.