International Women's Day 2021: Heirlume

Heirlume CEO, Julie MacDonnell, transforms trademark registration through AI and champions diversity with a commitment to a majority female-led technical and leadership team.

March 8, 2021

AC JumpStart graduate, Heirlume, is using artificial intelligence to offer small businesses the highest quality trademark registration – and they’re doing so while also making a commitment to diverse hiring practices. 

Julie MacDonnell, CEO of Heirlume, got her start as a trademark lawyer working in a traditional law firm. Her legal background was in human rights law, Indigenous rights law and media law. As she worked more in media law, MacDonnell began learning about trademarking, as the two often intersected. 

“What I saw over and over was small businesses, especially, coming to us after they received a cease and desist letter because they were infringing on somebody else's trademark. What this meant for those small business owners, over half of them typically, would lose their brand overnight and that meant losing their business overnight,” MacDonnell explained. 

She said this work was heartbreaking and ultimately sparked her to do something to improve access to trademark registration. 

“Trademark registration is pretty complicated and error prone and you need an expert to get it right, but experts cost a lot of money … small businesses just couldn't afford it.”

With her husband who is also a trademark expert, MacDonnell started to research potential solutions and ways to offer trademark services using technology. In 2019, they started working with an AI engineer to figure out how machine learning could be utilized to improve access for trademark registration – and later on that year, MacDonnell founded Heirlume.

As she navigates this new space in tech, law and IP, MacDonnell saw a gap in terms of gender parity in tech. In law, she barely noticed a gender gap, but the tech sphere was a different story. This was another problem MacDonnell aimed to address. 

“One of our missions at Heirlume is to be the largest Canadian technology start up with a majority female tech team. So we have a female identifying CTO, we have a female identifying head of AI, senior level engineer post doc. We just hired another female full stack developer who’s a very strong champion for women in technology – so that's where we feel strongly in terms of moving the dial,” MacDonnell said. 

MacDonnell explained that their hiring practices are deliberate in terms of putting the absolute best person in the role, while also celebrating and supporting women in tech.

“I think there's a desperate need for change from a technology start up standpoint in terms of the status of women actually in tech. CEO is one thing, CTO is a whole different thing,” she said.

Heirlume graduated from the AC’s JumpStart program just this past January, and MacDonnell explained that the support she received was unmatched. 

“I describe the AC JumpStart program as our launchpad. We had tremendous support … I would describe each and every mentor that we encountered as just total champions and so when you're riding on that energy, you can only go up,” she said. “I had a lot of [experience as a] mature person with a law degree, but running a startup and getting off the ground is a totally different beast. We just felt that we had the exact amount of support. We had experts in every area that we needed in a really customizable format. I think that's one of the best things about the AC: structure … it molds to what you need.”

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