Co-Founder, Venture Out
Jeanette is the co-founder of Venture Out. Venture Out is a network of individuals, companies and community organizations. Together, we are building an LGBTQA+ tech and entrepreneurship community, with the goal of creating a more diverse & inclusive future.
We highlight LGBTQA+ tech leaders and groundbreaking projects and companies and we produce events and conferences, which bring together ideas, and connect early-career professionals to new opportunities and to each other.
Venture Out is part of Start Proud, an organization working to empower members of the LGBTQA+ community to be Canada’s leaders of tomorrow; where all institutions embrace inclusiveness within the workplace and diversity within the workforce.
Jeanette Stock is Platform Director at Highline BETA, a company that invests in and builds early-stage tech ventures. She is also the co-founder of Venture Out, a community for LGBTQIA+ folks in technology.
How did you get started?
In 2016, I had just left the non-profit world to join a start-up. As I dove into Toronto’s start-up world and LGBTQ+ community, I soon noticed that these two aspects of my life rarely, if ever, overlapped. At LGBTQA+ events I connected with bankers, lawyers, accountants, but never others working in tech. At start-up events, I felt like I was the only queer person in the room, even though that was statistically impossible. With 4,000+ startups across Toronto, there had to be hundreds of LGBTQ+ folks in tech. We just hadn’t been connected yet.
When my co-founders, Albert Lam and Stefan Palios, approached me with the idea to launch Canada’s first-ever conference and community for LGBTQ+ people in tech, I jumped at the opportunity for us to create those connections.
We approached a handful of companies (thank you Ben Zifkin at Hubba, Fundserv, and a few other companies who took a bet on us early on) and generated enough interest from both partner startups and from potential attendees that we decided to launch the first conference.
What's the most exciting thing that’s happened since launching your company?
At our last conference, came to find me and share with me their story of finally landing their dream job. They have been attending our events since our very first one. While finding community and peers has been powerful for them, within weeks of attending the first ever career fair, they had an offer at the kind of role and company they had been dreaming of since that first event. There are countless stories of people like that – who found exactly what they needed, when they needed it, because of a new idea or a change to our approach that the team has made in response to what the community has asked us for. That to me is the most rewarding thing – learning from the venture out team how to be better at the work we do.
What's the biggest roadblock you’ve faced running your company?
Getting it off the ground. Once it’s real – once you’ve had your first big win, or hosted your first event, or whatever that looks like – it’s easier to get people on board. It’s a momentum thing.
I remember our first year, stressing over our budget – shaving dollars off whenever possible – and watching ticket sales and sponsorships close impossibly slowly. Getting the momentum we needed to get this off the ground seemed impossible.
What do you wish you knew a the beginning?
I am not the customer. Venture Out started because of a pain that me + my co-founders felt: going to tech events and feeling like the only queer people in the room. This made it easy to assume I was the user – and easy to ignore real signals from our users/community about what they needed from a space like Venture Out.
If we had built only for me, the career fair would never have existed (job hunting wasn’t at the top of my list). But that ignores both what real users told us (Simon Mills can tell you amazing stories about that) and what the data tells us – that many folks across our community face barriers to finding and retaining work.