Google accelerator the latest chapter in Ingrid T. Polini’s intercontinental journey
After growing up and growing a company in Brazil’s most populous city, Ingrid T. Polini has found a new home—both personally and professionally—in BC.
Déjà vu—if the accent doesn't give it away—is a French term that translates to "already seen." It refers to an all-encompassing feeling that a new situation is occurring for a second time, even though no previous experience exists. I had this feeling recently. Luckily, I was able to track down that previous memory almost as quickly as it came on. True déjà vu would have to wait, I guess.
Ingrid T. Polini, a Victoria-based entrepreneur and the sole BC-based founder selected for the Google for Startups Accelerator: Women Founders program, is on the other end of my Zoom. I was curious about what her Google Calendar was going to look like when the 10-week program kicks off later this month.
“I balance a lot of things at the same time. I still take care of our operations back in Brazil, I take care of the operation here. I'm also finishing my master's. So it's just one more thing on our plate. We'll figure it out. I have a very good team of people working with me, which allows me to sometimes say, ‘Look, I'm not going to be available for this right now. Let's focus on these other things.’ My team is really what makes it possible. Because if it was only me, for sure, I wouldn't be able to do it,” she told me.
It felt eerily reminiscent of Alisha McFetridge, another founder who chased a shot of news with an academic anecdote on a recent call. McFetridge, the co-founder of smart shower system RainStick, had just announced $1 million in funding. It was the day after McFetridge completed her master’s degree. Inspiration, perhaps, for Polini. I’m constantly impressed by the lengthy to-do lists that female founders can keep.
Google placed female founders at the forefront last month, announcing a cohort of entrepreneurs enrolled in the second iteration of the accelerator program run by the search engine juggernaut. Despite their propensity to multitask, female founders have been left behind the funding eight ball by investors.
“Research has proven women-led startups consistently lack access to venture capitalist funding and accelerator programs. This puts women founders at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to raising funds and gaining the skills they need to grow their businesses. Google for Startups is well-positioned to address these gaps through our programmatic efforts, partnerships, brand and marketing resources,” Ashley Francisco, Google’s Head of Startup Developer Ecosystem, Canada told Vancouver Tech Journal in an email.
This is why the opportunity exists for Polini and her startup, SafetyDocs Global. Based in Vancouver, SafetyDocs is a SaaS company focused on easing document management for business, particularly real estate corporations. Cloud-based technology stores and manages critical documents in a one-stop shop. “We do the boring part that no one else wants to do.” Polini quipped before sharing a more concrete example.
“If you’re a property management company that has 1,300 business units, each of those units will have around 40 permits to manage. That's more than 53,000 documents that they have to manage. It's a lot, it's a huge problem. I've had clients that before working with us, they would control that on Excel spreadsheets. It would take them around 15 minutes just to open that Excel spreadsheet.”
The “Global” in her company’s name reflects Polini’s intercontinental journey. Born in the bustling, Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo, she first figured that major international corporations were what called out to her professionally.
“I did business as my degree. Then, I started looking at the big corporations, right? My whole point was always working in big companies. I went to GE, SAP, Luxottica, you name it. When I was in the last year of my degree, my co-founder came to me with this idea. She's like, ‘Look, I have no background in tech, but we need to create this product.’ She has, like, 25 years in property management. She’s a big name. So, I said, ‘Okay, that sounds interesting,’” she reflected.
I asked Polini how she came into contact with her co-founder, envisioning a lightbulb moment at a networking event, a message in an inbox too perfect to ignore or classmates ready to take their course material to the professional realm. Instead, Polini has known her co-founder much longer than that. Her entire life, in fact: “My co-founder is actually my mom,” Polini revealed.
For the Polini family, entrepreneurship is in their blood. “I come from a big line of female entrepreneurs. I have a young sister that is also going down the entrepreneurship road. It’s a part of our family. There was some adjustment in the start, but then it just works normally. And it's the kind of relationship that’s solid. People still find it strange, but we work as co-founders quite nicely,” Ingrid shared.
This relationship, entrepreneurial drive and industry expertise worked immediate wonders. “We started developing the product. Because [my co-founder] knew the context, we developed it as we first started scaling. We've been profitable since the first year, which was great, but also very scary. I was trying to finish my [first] degree while still going with this company. Then we started to get big: more clients, more employees, more tickets,” she explained.
This momentum that started with SafetyDocs Brazil in 2016 caught up to Polini’s International ambition. When she was accepted into Vancouver Island-based Royal Roads University for her master’s degree, SatetyDocs Global came into view. After swapping São Paulo for Langford, BC, Polini liked what she saw across Burrard Inlet.
“I came here to study and we started looking at the market very slowly. I've been [in BC] for almost four years. We are based in Vancouver as a company because of the tech background and to attract more people to work with us. It's a strategic location,” she said. Polini’s Vancouver-based outfit launched in September 2020. Now, one year later, it came across Google’s radar.
“SafetyDocs Global was a great example of a Canadian-based startup that we felt we could support through our accelerator programming. They are early on in their journey with machine learning projects, and we believe Google mentorship can add meaningful value to their business. We also love that their products support small to medium size businesses and other startups in the ecosystem,” Fransisco said.
“We’ll work with Ingrid and eleven other women-led founders to outline the top challenges facing their startups. We’ll then pair them with relevant experts from Google and the industry to help solve those challenges. Startups receive deep mentorship on technical challenges and machine learning, as well as connections to relevant teams from across Google. They’ll also receive deep dives and workshops focused on product design, customer acquisition, and leadership development,” she continued.
Polini is already stewing on these areas within SafetyDocs. “One challenge within our commercialization and sales teams is that these documents are usually passed from hand-to-hand. So, you're not quite sure which department takes care of them. You have to do a deep dive in a company to find who takes care of them,” she said.
This process has been exacerbated by COVID-19. “With starting the process in the pandemic, there's a little bit of conservatism regarding new software. People are still trying to put out the fires caused by the pandemic, right? So, there’s companies that understand the need for software that doesn’t rely on other platforms. There are other companies that are like, ‘Hey, yes, I love this. But let's wait for next year's budget to close this deal.’”
While Google will help handle Polini’s entrepreneurial challenges, I was curious how she was handling the move to BC. São Paulo, the world’s 4th most populous city, seemed a far cry from her new location in the Victoria suburb. Despite my bias, the move actually represented a boon for Polini’s go-to after work activity.
“I was quite tired of the big city, to be honest. I do ultra marathoning so I like being able to do long distance running. I wanted to be in a place that I could train for that. Being in a big city, it would be a two hour of drive away. Now, it's basically one kilometer any side of the woods to start my training. So it was basically a lifestyle choice in that sense,” Polini said.
I don’t think there’s ever been a more perfect opportunity to utilize the cliche that states life is a marathon, not a sprint. For Polini, the room to run exists both in a physical sense and the ambition of her company. The Google accelerator seems like the tip of the iceberg for her now global—both in name and practice—company.
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