You may remember that last year I hit the boards and participated in Communitech’s Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp.
While The Bloom, my online local fashion resource company is in pre-launch (watch for something exciting soon), I’m pumped to see that the bootcamp is returning for a six-day program culminating in a pitch competition for $100,000 in seed funding on Oct. 1 at the Communitech Hub.
The 2014 bootcamp saw a diverse range of female-led companies participate in the pitch competition and take home a combined $25,000 in prizes and money. These included: Suncayr, a marker that lets you know when you need to re-apply sunscreen; DraftingSpace, an online tool that helps you plan home renovations; and Binary Tattoo, a platform that helps you track your online identity.
This year, two key changes have been made: more prize money, and the growth stage at which companies are eligible to participate.
Alayne Hynes, Communitech’s Talent Program Manager, sat down with me to talk about the changes her team has made to the 2015 Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp.
Q – What’s the process? How’s the bootcamp going to run this time?
A – So right now we’re in the planning stages for the bootcamp. We took all the information we gathered last year and very early on looked at the impact we had with last year’s cohort, and where we needed to make changes. So what we’re doing right now is trying to incorporate that feedback.
We learned from the participants last year that when we got to people very early on, at the idea stage, if they were still in that stage that it had a huge impact.
So we’re looking this year to incorporate some new criteria into our application process.
[What] we’ve said is that you need to have obviously a great idea, but that you need to be pre-MVP (minimal viable product). We’re not looking for people who have product developed. We really want to get to people with a great idea — tech or tech-based ideas. We’ve built that into our criteria, as I said. So that’s one major change.
Another really exciting change for us this year is the fact that the prize money has quadrupled. We went from offering $25K in to offering $100K in prize money. So that will be a huge change.
The idea here is for somebody with a great idea, to really kick-start that idea. So we want to work with people at a very early stage, help them with the idea formation, and really make sure they can take that idea and run with it. Hence, much more prize money.
A lot of the other things have stayed the same. People really enjoyed the format, that it was two three-day segments. And that was done very deliberately. It will be again this year.
The first three days really focus on ideation. We’re going to have a more informative session on how to build your lean, or business, canvas, and we’re also going to have a session on how to build a customer survey.
And all those things, including pitching. We’ll get Frank Erschen back to talk about pitching.
But all those things will be part of the homework. It’s absolutely mandatory. We want to make sure people have a good foundation. How do I construct my lean canvas and put that information together? How do I build a pitch deck? How do I develop a really great customer survey? So that’s the homework. We’re going to help you with that; give you a really great start.
And then the homework this year is also going to be part of the basis for how people get into the final pitch competition.
It was another huge learning from last year’s pilot project. We will have very specific criteria about what you need to achieve to make it to the pitch final. It’s based on homework, based on your performance in the pitch practice sessions, and then one category about your attitude. It’s much clearer on how you’re going to get into the pitch final.
Q – How many women are you looking for to participate?
A – We are trying to pull from across Canada, and potentially globally. We did have a participant from the UK last year, which was awesome. And we’re looking for about the same numbers. So last year, we had 96 applicants for 25 spots. We’re really looking for the same. I think in offering the much-higher prize money we can generate that interest. We’re excited to see who applies.
Q – Applications are open now?
A – Applications just opened. And they’re going to stay open for roughly a month. People have until mid June to apply. All the information is on the website and we’re really excited to see what applications we get this year.
Q – Let’s talk about who’s sponsoring the bootcamp this year.
A – We have a new sponsor this year. So far, we have Deloitte as our innovative sponsor. A lot of people understand that Deloitte is this huge company that does taxes, audits and accounting; but they don’t realize that Deloitte is one of the biggest consulting firms in the world, and they do innovate in a lot of really cool areas. They are very interested in fostering innovative culture. They have got behind the bootcamp and we are really pleased with that.
We are still looking for some additional sponsors.
We’re using Blitzen again for the application process, which is great help from our local tech ecosystem.
Q – You and I have talked a lot about why we need to get women into these kinds of roles, and support them throughout the whole process of building a company. Kevin O’Leary has said that he has 27 companies, and 55% have women CEOs — and that they are the companies showing returns on his investment. He says a sign of success for him is having a woman on board.
A – That is very interesting. I think that goes against what women sometimes experience when they are trying to get their companies funding. We absolutely need to get more of that information out in the media so people understand that there are huge advantages of gender diversity on your team.
Women bring significantly different attitudes and approaches to business problems. And it obviously pays off. People need to get the message that if you want to be successful, you want bigger returns, you need to have women on your team.
Summer BBQs and events may be dominating your calendar right now, but there are still a ton of fun places to go and people to see this weekend. I see and hear that . . .Tonight, Wednesday (May 20) is the Kitchener Waterloo Product Hunt meetup. Starting at 7 p.m. at The Bomber, 200 University Ave. W., Waterloo (on the Ring Road through the University of Waterloo), you can join a group of fellow makers to show off new products you’ve been working on. Videostream is sponsoring the free event and supplying some food… This Thursday, (May 21) some members of the Waterloo Region tech community, including staff from D2L, Axonify and Plasticity Labs, are hosting a soirée to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters Waterloo Region. The evening begins at 7 p.m. at 1322 Sawmill Road, Bloomingdale. The $70 ticket includes an open bar provided by Block 3 Brewing, plus food and a cooking demo by The Boathouse. There will also be live music, a silent auction and great company (including me!) . . . And finally, if you are looking for a reason to get outside and enjoy Waterloo Region, but can’t help but wish you were also eating bacon, why don’t you head down to Boats and Baconfest. Sponsored by Canoeing the Grand and Stemmler’s Meat and Cheese, the festival celebrates the Grand River, as well as local companies. The festival runs Saturday and Sunday (May 23-24) at 3734 King St. E. in Kitchener, at the Grand River by the Freeport Bridge. Baconfest opens at 11 a.m. each day. General admission is free. An $8 ticket gets you access to the sampling area, and $95 let’s you canoe the Grand at 9 a.m., and enjoy a post-paddle bacon breakfast. The festival will feature live music, bouncy games and mallard duck races.
Photo: Beth Nenninger, CEO of DraftingSpace pitches at last year’s bootcamp final.