Lyndsey Butcher was in a meeting late last November where she stated that she needed a fierce new generation of advocates for her 45-year-old agency.
She also needed a fierce new makeover for her website.
And she needed a fierce new way to re-engage with the women – many of them young women — who need her agency’s help.
It’s hardly a surprise, then, that she’s now part of the latest cohort in the Fierce Founders bootcamp.
Fierce Founders is a Communitech program backed by Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Thomson Reuters, Google and Deloitte that helps women tech entrepreneurs accelerate their companies.
The program, for the first time, has admitted a not-for-profit social agency to its six-day bootcamp. The agency is called Shore Centre, formerly known as Planned Parenthood. Butcher is the executive director.
“I’m trying to soak up as much as I can so what I learn here can make a difference in our community,” says Butcher. “I’ve already gotten so much advice and made so many connections.”
Butcher says her aim to is revamp the way her organization engages with the women who come to it for help and advice. She’s hoping that better tech can offer at the very least a beginning of a makeover, and possibly much more.
“The work we do hasn’t changed all that much [in decades],” she says. The counselling is done in person or over the phone. All our workshops are in classrooms and in person.
“But we’re finding our clients’ needs are changing and the way they want to be served is changing.”
She says women today are looking for online chat options, a way to communicate anonymously and confidentially and with certainty that their information is secure.
“We know we’re not meeting that need, particularly for younger women,” she says. “Picking up the phone for this generation is not something they enjoy doing. They just don’t use phones in that way. They sort of expect to be able to go online and to navigate for themselves the information that they need.
“The issue we work around is that with pregnancy information and abortion care there isn’t a lot of accurate information available online. So it can be very frustrating for our clients. They end up calling us but I think it’s just out of frustration due to the lack of options they have online.”
By colliding with the other 25 women in the bootcamp — who are themselves using the program to rework business plans and rethink business assumptions — Butcher, who admits she didn’t so much as know what UX or UI meant when the first workshop began, was hopeful new ideas and avenues for engagement would emerge.
Sure enough, a Eureka! moment hit her midway through Day 1.
“Sort of a Buzzfeed quiz, but for pregnancy options,” she says.
“So the client would go on our website, and there would be an online tool that they could go into and enter their information, the details of their pregnancy, what they’re hoping the outcome of their pregnancy would be. What city they live in. What their criteria is.”
“Depending what options they chose, we could ask further questions. If they chose adoptions, for instance, we could ask whether they wanted to stay involved with the family, or whether they wanted it to be a completely closed adoption. Do they have a family in mind already? Or do they want to go through Family & Children’s Services?
“So we could get that detail through questions they answer and then when they press submit their referral would be there and would be based on the needs that they had outlined.”
The Fierce Founders bootcamp takes place in two three-day sessions. Participants get hands-on mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs who aim to help them refine their products.
At the end of the bootcamp, qualifying participants will take part in a final pitch competition on Feb. 23 with a $100,000 prize up for grabs, donated by Waterloo Region technology firm Kognativ.
Butcher won’t be eligible for the prize, but will make a pitch on stage. She plans to ask for help from the region’s tech community to help her build out enhancements to her website.
Danielle Graham, Communitech’s Women in Tech Program Manager, says the fit of Shore Centre with her program was a natural.
“[Shore Centre faces] a lot of challenges without a lot of support and I wanted to put them on stage to draw attention to them and the hard work that they’re doing,” says Graham.
“[We’ll] already have an audience that clearly cares about women’s issues and here is an organization that is directly working with the community to improve the lives of so many women.”
Butcher believes the timing of her ask, coming in the wake of the U.S. election and the Trump administration’s recent decision to ban foreign aid to groups that give abortion counseling, couldn’t be better. She says that events in the U.S. immediately translated into more dollars for her organization.
“We do our fundraising in November and December every year. Last year we raised [Canadian] $38,000. This year we raised $52,000.”
She smiles. “We called it a Trump bump.
“We had several new volunteers sign up specifically as a response to the election results. People have been channeling their anger into something productive and constructive.
“So there’s a silver lining [to Trump’s election]. It’s engaging people who may have been more complacent about human rights, women’s rights and the rights to choose – that we can’t take those rights for granted.
“I think the tech community here in Waterloo Region takes social responsibility very seriously and realizes it is part of being a good business here — where you make an impact not just on the bottom line but take care of the community as well.”