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Laurel Anne Stark of resurgo.co: “Female founders need state-sponsored childcare”

There are mounds of research to show that diverse teams and female led firms perform better across a number of metrics: return on investment and employee engagement to name a few. In terms of economic recovery, if female founders were supported in the ways that actually help, we could contribute a staggering 12 Trillion dollars […]

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There are mounds of research to show that diverse teams and female led firms perform better across a number of metrics: return on investment and employee engagement to name a few. In terms of economic recovery, if female founders were supported in the ways that actually help, we could contribute a staggering 12 Trillion dollars to the global economy. In addition, by founding our own firms we have a shot at shaping the world to our vision of the future. We can have better control over our schedules, who we work with and even the ambiance at the office. We can choose to run businesses that are reflective of our values whatever they may be. Finally, we can create financial independence for ourselves and free ourselves from a dependence on male partners or the government — both of which haven’t done the best job at keeping us safe from violence and poverty.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurel Anne Stark, CEO & founder of resurgo.co, the only web-app designed to support female entrepreneurs to succeed.

Laurel is the CEO & founder resurgo.co, the only web-app designed to support female entrepreneurs to succeed. Laurel is an acclaimed business and marketing consultant and mental health advocate, dedicated to empowering self-employed women to do well. Laurel is also a three-time nominee of the Canadian Women Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards presented by Women of Influence and Royal Bank of Canada, the founder of The New Media Group, a digital communications agency and lead author of The State of Female Entrepreneur Mental Health, the first ever research report of its kind. Laurel has been supporting female entrepreneurs since 2003.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

The research report that came out of Berkeley University in 2015 called, “Are Entrepreneurs Touched With Fire?,” changed everything for me. It’s findings included the groundbreaking data that entrepreneurs are directly affected by mental illness at a rate just under three times the global average.

I’ve been self-employed since 2003 as a business and communications consultant and over that time, I’ve had my own significant battles with mental illness including burnout and bankruptcy. I am also a survivor of abuse so I manage complex PTSD as well.

The findings in that report slid everything into perspective for me. Suddenly, so much of my behavior made complete sense.

At the time, I was running a marketing agency, managing 15 contractors and I was married with three step kids and a dog. I was trying so hard to do it all and be it all, but ultimately I was struggling. I felt like I wasn’t enough. I was experiencing regular panic attacks, disruptive negative thoughts and sleepless nights. I would be up some nights at 2 am, excitedly writing my ideas down on my whiteboard. Later, I learned that was called hypomania and was completely normal behavior for entrepreneurs like myself.

And I wasn’t alone. I was witnessing the same kinds of issues with my clients, the women I mentored and my friends who were self employed. Managing anxiety, depression, overwhelm, substance misuse and more was practically a part time job. These obstacles were impacting our performance and ability to grow our businesses.

When I read that report, I felt like a lightbulb went on. If we could access mental health support specifically for entrepreneurs, then we could mitigate a significant obstacle to our success. So, I began to search for mental health support specifically for entrepreneurs. Incredibly, I found nothing. I asked my assistant to keep looking and gave her a budget of 20 hours. She found the same — there weren’t any mental health resources dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs. I couldn’t believe it. Why didn’t these resources exist? Entrepreneurs, after all, are responsible for non-trivial contributions to the economy. We create jobs and innovative solutions to every-day problems. Why wasn’t there adequate support for the mental health and wellbeing of such a valuable and vulnerable part of the population?

That led me to continue my research into the specific obstacles female founders face, and found statistics that still shock me. Domestic violence rates are increasing, the wage gap hasn’t been bridged and women hold a meagre 29% of leadership positions worldwide. I was stunned. I had been operating under the assumption I lived in an equal meritocracy, but I was wrong.

My four years of research on this topic has found that female founders are not only at a greater risk of being affected by mental illness — as per the Berkeley study — but also must overcome substantial gender-based obstacles. The bottom line is, women still have less access to wealth and safety, both in the workplace and at home. My research shows female founders are very likely to have twelve significant biological, systemic and workload related barriers to their health and success, simply because they are female. That’s why I created resurgo.co to provide a solution to this vulnerable community.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In January 2020, resurgo.co was just a few months old and before the pandemic, I applied to Pitch at the Beach (PIB). PIB is an annual event for investors and start-up founders to connect, and in 2020 it took place in Tulum, Mexico. I honestly didn’t think I would get in as competition was stiff. There were over 270 startups that applied to pitch. Only 24 would be accepted. Incredibly, my application was one of them.. So, there I was, standing barefoot in the sand pitching resurgo.co to a crowd of investors and world-renowned business people. It was like a dream. I still can’t believe it happened. I met some incredible people that I’m still in touch with, I received honest advice and made valuable connections — all barefoot, which is very unique for this type of event.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was offered a partnership at the digital marketing agency I worked for at 23, I leapt at the opportunity. I signed the paperwork without a lawyer to review it and subsequently acquired, jointly and severally, 80,000 dollars worth of debt. It’s not the funniest mistake, but it’s probably my biggest and one I won’t forget. I learned from then on, to always do my due diligence, and if anyone resists me doing so, it’s a red flag.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am lucky enough to have had many mentors along the way. One in particular messaged me out of the blue and pointed me to a funding source I wasn’t aware of. As a result of her generosity of time and spirit, we’re now applying for a six-figure innovation grant to help get resurgo.co out into the world.

In my experience, women really do show up for each other. Despite being under resourced and overworked, our crowdfunding campaign was overwhelmingly supported by self employed women. I’m also very grateful to my first formal mentor Brenda Mahoney. Among other things, she helped me solve problems I didn’t know I had. She’s led by example and has consistently shown me that it’s not only possible to do business with a big heart, but it’s actually an advantage. Brenda has shown me what vulnerable leadership looks like, and has always believed in me. She’s been honest about her struggles and it’s given me permission to look at my own. Without her, I certainly would not be where I am today. Out of all the things she taught me, perhaps the most important is the value of receiving support from a peer and the value of building authentic community with other self-employed women. That’s why part of my mission with resurgo.co is to give female entrepreneurs a place to access antidotes to isolation and overwhelm. We want to provide a tool that facilitates women to support and learn from each other through the common challenges we face.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A Woman’s Book of Life by Joan Borysenko really resonated with me because it illuminated the huge gaps in our knowledge as a society about the physiology of women. These gaps stem from a belief system that women are lesser men, and have been treated as such by medical science. The result of this legacy, are that women still are socialized to be ashamed of things like our menstrual cycle and that we often don’t get taken seriously by the medical system. I learned a lot about gender bias in the medical system and how pharmaceuticals that are prescribed for women aren’t always clinically tested on women, which can be incredibly dangerous.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Yes, I have Momento Mori tattooed on my right wrist. It means, remember you will die. This reminds me to focus my perspective on what I need to do here before I die, in order to avoid regret on my deathbed. This quote helps provide the context I need to take big risks and follow my heart. I know I won’t regret it if I fail, but I certainly will if I don’t even try. This quote has helped me to have the courage to share my own mental health journey, speak out against systemic gender bias and finally, to launch resurgo.co.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

In my statement of accountability, I share my commitments to inclusive and intersectional support for underrepresented and under supported segments of society including an Indigeneous legal fund and the education of a young woman of colour. In addition I make regular contributions to environmental and civil rights lobbyists and volunteer a significant amount of time to organizations that support women professionally.

I believe in accessibility for all, regardless of their finances and this is why I provide hundreds of free resources on my YouTube channel and website, including copies of my book and other educational materials as it relates to entrepreneurship and mental health.

I also run a remote, paper-free, business since 2006, meaning I’ve eliminated the need to commute or print paper.

At resurgo.co, we published the first research paper of it’s kind on female entrepreneurs and mental health. This report analyzed over 200 studies and included our own research to put forward comprehensive data on the barriers female founders face. This report helps self-employed women understand that they are not alone. It really is this hard, and it’s not their fault. We face unbelievable gender barriers not just to our success but our wellbeing as well.

Lastly, we are working to bring resurgo.co to the world. It’s the first tool of it’s kind developed specifically to bridge the silos between personal wellbeing and professional success for female founders. Our research shows that for us, business is deeply personal and when we don’t feel well it’s much harder to do well. This innovative approach will help female founders overcome three of the four biggest barriers to their success in business; isolation, overwhelm and the impact of gender obstacles.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Primarily, what is holding women back from founding companies are the multiple overlapping systemic barriers. Women get paid less than men, so they have less savings to draw from when they go out on their own. Women still perform the majority of domestic labour — about 2.5 hours a day — which makes it difficult to allocate focused time to their enterprise. Another factor is that entrepreneurship is represented as a male occupation. It’s difficult to become something we don’t see modelled for us. The media shows entrepreneurs as primarily male, white and young, in the tech sector. Female run businesses are often smaller and created to balance home and work responsibilities. Finally, women have less access to the same opportunities as men for funding — in spite of the fact that our businesses outperform our male counterparts. Less than 5% of Venture Capital funding is awarded to women, and it’s harder for us to get bank loans.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

Sure, as I mentioned, we published the State of Female Entrepreneur Mental Health, the most comprehensive report of its kind. In addition, we are working on getting resurgo.co into the world. It’s a web-app with eight distinct features, all built using the feminist therapy model. That is to say, it’s built by female founders, for female founders and it’s designed to support us to do well in life and business.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

There are mounds of research to show that diverse teams and female led firms perform better across a number of metrics: return on investment and employee engagement to name a few. In terms of economic recovery, if female founders were supported in the ways that actually help, we could contribute a staggering 12 Trillion dollars to the global economy. In addition, by founding our own firms we have a shot at shaping the world to our vision of the future. We can have better control over our schedules, who we work with and even the ambiance at the office. We can choose to run businesses that are reflective of our values whatever they may be. Finally, we can create financial independence for ourselves and free ourselves from a dependence on male partners or the government — both of which haven’t done the best job at keeping us safe from violence and poverty.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

  1. The first thing we need to do is legalize equality. Once we make bias and discrimination in the workplace illegal, we’ll solve a lot of the issues women face in the workplace. Currently, women get passed up for the first promotion at work more often, regardless of experience or qualifications. Women only hold 29% of leadership seats worldwide and get paid 72 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same work. When it comes to founders, we only receive less than 5% of venture capital investment. By mandating equal pay, representation in leadership and investment dollars, women will be able to access the resources and security they need to fully participate in the economy.
  2. Female founders need state-sponsored childcare. The costs in many modern countries need to be offset for women to escape the second shift, or the 2.5 hours of free labour they perform each day on caring for homes, children and elders. After all, the state profits from each citizen through all manner of taxes. Why does the cost of caring for these profit generating children fall on women? Once women have 2.5 hours a day back, we could then focus those efforts on our businesses, which ultimately benefits the economy.
  3. Female founders need men to stop abusing, assaulting and harassing them. It’s extremely common (estimated 70% of women have experienced assault) and has significant side effects that inhibit performance. By mandating gender equality training programs for men in the workplace and in schools as well as increasing the penalties for harassment and violence of women, female founders can get to work in peace. As Canadian Premier, François Legault so eloquently said in response to the spike in domestic violence ending in his province: “It makes no sense that in 2021, we are living like barbarians. There is nothing masculine… about violence towards women. It’s time that men get together and say ‘We’re going to speak to our boys, we’re going to speak to our friends.’”
  4. Female founders need better support for their businesses. Because our businesses often look different than those founded by men, the programs that are supposed to support us, actually don’t. We need leadership to proactively contact, interview and connect self-employed women with whatever programs are available. Case worker style support would make it significantly easier to navigate the bureaucracy that prevents women from accessing the support they need. Use the data collected in these interviews to build programs that support female run businesses specifically.
  5. Lastly, entrepreneurial women need mental health-specific support in existing business support programs for female founders, given that mental health challenges reportedly impede their success. We need to feel well in order to do well.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We have great momentum happening with resurgo.co which is dedicated to empowering and supporting female founders in the ways that matter to them. We’ve identified the barriers to their success and we’re working on ways to help female entrepreneurs overcome them. By investing in supporting female founders, we benefit the whole world. Female founders tend to reinvest in their communities, they have more engaged teams and tend to operate holistically. In addition, their full participation in the economy would contribute 12 Trillion dollars. I’d like to think that if more female founders were doing well, we would see a reduction in the social and environmental issues we’re facing as people around the globe right now.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Sheryl Sandberg and Melinda Gates are both very active and vocal in the fight against gender inequality. I’d love to speak with either of them.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

www.resurgo.co

https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurelannestark/

www.twitter.com/resurgoCo

www.instagram.com/resurgo.co

www.facebook.com/resurgo.co

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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