Op-ed: Ottawa boot camp aims to ‘create magic’ for women entrepreneurs

Fiona Gilligan
Fiona Gilligan

When I started my first company in 1991, the landscape for women business owners in our region looked very different. There was no entrepreneurial ecosystem, and if training existed, I didn’t know about it. I couldn’t imagine finding my own tribe of advocates, collaborators and allies in our community to help me with my business.

Fast forward to 2019, where women entrepreneurs now have the opportunity to do just that.

Thanks to the Business Development Bank of Canada, a day-long boot camp offers women entrepreneurs the chance to establish relationships, find ways to drive growth, build confidence and skills and tap into a wider network ​– all free of charge.

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BDC has partnered with my company, The Beacon Agency, to create the program – and its impact has been significant.

“This past year has taught us that magic does happen when women work together, and now, more than ever, it makes us want to help create as much magic as possible,” says Laura Didyk, the national lead for women entrepreneurs at BDC.

Half of all new businesses in Canada today are led by women, and the desire for training and networking among female entrepreneurs has never been stronger across the country. In Vancouver, more than 150 women signed up to attend the boot camp; the event in Calgary attracted in excess of 120 participants, including a busload who came from Lethbridge.

The last stop on the national tour is here in Ottawa at Bayview Yards on March 19. Sonya Shorey, the vice-president of marketing and communications at Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards, was instrumental in ensuring local women have the opportunity to participate in the boot camp.

Shorey believes the workshop will equip women entrepreneurs across our region with new skills to help their businesses go global and succeed in international markets. As well, it “directly supports key objectives in our strategic plan, gender diversity and inclusion guideline, and venture development team,” Shorey says.

Sense of camaraderie

What can attendees expect?

They can expect to leave feeling inspired, motivated and confident, with a heightened sense of community and camaraderie. This is achieved by spending the day working on their businesses while upgrading their skills.

Five key topics are covered. The day starts with a one-hour session on leadership taught by Clare Beckton, the driving force behind the five-day Advancing Women Leaders Program at Carleton University. She is also my co-author on two national studies on women entrepreneurs and the co-facilitator of the boot camp.

The finance section and people and culture topic are both presented by BDC’s own experts. I bring real-world experience, technical expertise and practical solutions to both the sales and marketing session and the growth strategy session. A representative from the Economic Development Bank of Canada will then briefly highlight the benefits and opportunities of going global as a key strategy to growing a business.

Over lunch, a seasoned and successful woman entrepreneur will discuss her rollercoaster entrepreneurial ride – a presentation that’s always a highlight. Participants love hearing the challenges that a successful entrepreneur has faced and overcome because it helps to keep their own difficulties in perspective.

“Women know there are more challenges facing them,” Didyk says. “Challenges that include accessing capital, finding support and resources or even mentors who have been in their shoes before.”

Award-winning entrepreneur, investor and author Fiona Gilligan will be the lunchtime keynote speaker in Ottawa. She will highlight stories from her book Confessions of a Girlpreneur, a delightful read that addresses the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs face. Gilligan, who started Trauma Management Group in 1994 and ran the company until 2007, is currently the co-owner of Ottawa Anxiety and Trauma Clinic. Her wealth of experience is exactly what attendees will want to hear about.

The day wraps up with cocktails, conversation and a networking session that connects entrepreneurs with key partners from organizations such as EDC, Futurpreneur, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, BDC and others. New connections are sure to be made as expansion plans are hatched.

Why has BDC taken on this leadership role for women entrepreneurs across Canada? The bank recognizes the drive, resilience and passion of women entrepreneurs and is committed to supporting them at every point along their journey.

“We will do whatever it takes to help (women entrepreneurs) succeed and to set an example for others to follow,” says Annie Marsolais, BDC’s chief marketing officer.

A fine example indeed.

For more information and to register, go to www.bdc.ca/en/i_am/woman-entrepreneur/pages/default.aspx. Some spots are still available.

Janice McDonald is the founder of business strategy firm The Beacon Agency, an adviser at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business and the co-author of two national studies on women entrepreneurs.

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