Photo: Some of the bootcamp participants. To see more photos from Session 1 check out our Facebook album. Last week I plunged into the deep end. I spent an intensive three days with 24 other women in the Communitech Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp – not as a staff member supporting the event, as I normally would, but as a participant. When you work at Communitech, it’s sort of inevitable to be seduced by the siren song of the pursuit of a great idea. I’d had an idea rattling around in my head for the last year, and was intrigued by one of our program offerings this summer: six days of intensive lectures, workshops and networking culminating in a pitch competition. Oh yeah, and the program, supported by Google for Entrepreneurs, was for women only. I applied, but told no one. There were 96 applicants for 25 spots, and the applications came from all over the world. I was pumped and terrified when I found out my idea had been accepted – pumped because I wanted to validate my idea and begin working through the early stages of starting a business, and terrified because, while reading the profiles of other applicants, I knew I was in way over my head. Some of these companies had products. And websites. And fully developed teams. And they were coming from all over Ontario and as far away as Halifax, N.S. and London, U.K. I had an idea, a co-founder, and no real idea what I was doing. So, I dived in, underprepared and ready to be overwhelmed. And I had a blast. I just finished Session 1. Focused on the ideation stage, the three-day session saw the 25 women map their ideas through the Lean Canvas model, and discuss design thinking, networking, pitching and sales. This session culminated with a practice pitch session in front of friendly judges. I spent the week with smart women looking to innovate on everything from HR process to cancer treatment side effects and everything in between. There was no so-called “pinkwashing” at the bootcamp, and no female-focused cheering. Rather, we were treated like smart, adult entrepreneurs looking to launch businesses. Feedback was blunt and swift. The days were packed, and you were expected to keep up or get out. Sally Ng, executive director at Planet Hatch in New Brunswick, facilitated the first session. She’d spent time in Waterloo Region facilitating its first Startup Weekend. She’s passionate about building these kinds of events because she believes they set the framework for female entrepreneurs to believe they can be successful. “We are getting to create a better workshop for women entrepreneurs to succeed,” Ng said. “It’s important for entrepreneurs to be part of an environment that is so supportive.” The main focus of this session was to validate the attendees’ business ideas and prepare for next steps. Ng also encouraged us to make connections with the high-level mentors and leaders at the session, as well as with each other. Women, Ng has noticed through her experience at Planet Hatch and during startup weekends, tend not to be as forward as men in connecting with resources. So what did I get out of the first session? Well, in my two-plus years at Communitech, I’ve watched a lot of entrepreneurs go from idea to company. I’ve seen a lot pitches, and can generally tell a good one from a bad one. Moving from observer to participant was a humbling, terrifying, energizing and addictive experience. I have a lot to learn, but I felt I was in such a safe environment that I could ask stupid questions without judgment. Everyone offered help, from entrepreneurs and guest speakers like Jane Klugman and P.J. Lowe-Silivestru to Melissa Durrell and Shyam Sheth. It was a huge confidence booster to have the chance, in a closed room, to be vulnerable, ask questions and put myself out there for feedback and constructive criticism. Both were offered respectfully and freely. “Fail fast and move on to something new” became the repeated motto. Our Plum.io profiles were an interesting addition to this first session. Plum, a female-founded Communitech Hub-based company, makes software that assesses job candidates and helps hiring managers choose the best ones. The awesome Plum team walked us through our personalities and offered perspectives on our strengths and weaknesses as leaders, entrepreneurs and partners. As a side note, I learned I can sometimes be too enthusiastic and don’t always listen. I walked away from the first three days with a huge to-do list, including a ton of work on refining and building my first pitch deck. Now it’s time to conduct about 40 informational interviews, and prepare for the second session Sept. 23-25. The group will focus on how to build a business with sections on accounting, marketing and sales, HR and compliance, legal and insurance. To keep the stakes high, we’ll end the bootcamp with a pitch competition. And trust me, one of my biggest takeaways from this first round is how hard it is to get a five-minute pitch to sound interesting, passionate and investment-worthy. I also learned that computers malfunction at the most inopportune times. So, if I approach you over the next couple of weeks to ask for five minutes of your time, it will most likely be for me to pitch my idea to you and ask for feedback. Be tough – I can take it.