Photo courtesy of BlackboxDraftingSPACE hones vision at Blackbox Trish Crompton March 11, 2015 Communitech, Ecosystem, Featured, Startups For the shortest month of the year, February can feel like the longest. The two-woman team at DraftingSPACE, a company specializing in renovation design software out of the University of Waterloo Velocity Garage, escaped to warmer weather to take part in the Blackbox Connect program. They spent two weeks early in the month at the historic Cowper Inn in Palo Alto, Calif., with fellow Communitech company Symanta and other entrepreneurs who had applied to Blackbox through the global Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Network. “Going down there, we were like, ‘Wow, these entrepreneurs are so much further along than we are,” said Beth Nenniger, CEO of DraftingSPACE. “One guy sold his last company for $23 million, so we were among some pretty accomplished people.” Nenniger and her co-founder, Laura Austin, stayed at the inn, which dates back to 1893, as reflected in the wallpaper, floral curtains and furnishings. “Every morning you would wake up to a nice breakfast of pancakes or waffles that was laid out,” she said. It seems like everyone has a story down there. “The [inn’s] owner, Hugo [Santos], worked in tech and he decided that his retirement project would be to buy up this bed and breakfast,” she said. The days didn’t start until 10 a.m., which gave everyone time to handle business back home and even get in a quick run or yoga session. “The program was a full-day experience where it was full-on, and you had to sit and listen to a lot of things going on during the daytime,” Nenniger said. Blackbox brought in venture capitalists, lawyers and industry speakers to inform and inspire participants. After long days of sessions, Nenniger enjoyed the debates while eating ice cream with the other entrepreneurs. “I think in Canada we take a lot of things for granted,” she said, after talking to entrepreneurs from places such as New Zealand, Israel and Kenya. “A lot of them didn’t have a community around them; they just worked in their own little space and they sort of had some idea that other people were out there doing businesses,” she said. It put things into perspective, as did a talk from Keith Teare, founder at Palo Alto-based incubator Archimedes Labs. “He really drilled in the idea of the power of storytelling,” she said. “In the Valley it’s more about how big of a story you can spin and can you convince people that it’s the next billion-dollar idea.” As a result, Austin and Nenniger returned to Waterloo Region with a clearer version of the DraftingSPACE story. “WordPress came along and they made everyone into a blogger, and then Instagram came and they made everyone into a photographer,” Nenninger said. “DraftingSPACE makes everyone their own home designer.” Aside from working out how to tell people who don’t design bathrooms all day what DraftingSPACE does, Nenniger saw how differently things work in Silicon Valley. “We realized how expensive everything is down there – it’s crazy expensive – and how fast people move,” she said. Startup activity is rampant and “the intensity of connections is crazy; everyone knows everyone down there.” For DraftingSPACE, the time at Blackbox was inspiring and highly motivating as they seek to license their software to contractors as a lead-generation tool. But, as with any trip, there’s no place like home. “It’s the community and the support system, and knowing that I have an office to come back to, that I don’t have to pay for,” Nenninger said. “And I have all these really smart engineers around me who I can ask for help and advice.” Photo: Beth Nenniger, CEO of DraftingSPACE.