This is a guest blog post written by Kristin Garn. Kristin was one of the twenty-one women chosen for TechWomen Canada 2013 and is the Founder and Director of Mathoons Media Inc, an educational technology company that builds mobile teaching and learning tools.
If you were the founder of an early stage Canadian technology company, where would you look for the best advice to help you develop your business?
Given access to executives at Twitter, you could get advice on user acquisition and maybe even insider tips on their upcoming advertising platform. And who better than Facebook for the most current digital marketing behaviour? Another dream advisor, Google, might suggest best practices regarding talent recruitment and retention. The opportunity to tap into this level of expertise would be considered a “dream team” of support for executive coaching.
In mid May, twenty-one tech CEOs got exactly this opportunity and more as we took part in the Canadian Trade Commission’s TechWomen Canada program in Silicon Valley. From May 13th to the 16th, we converged at the geographical centre of global technological innovation where we undertook to survive and thrive through what we would eventually (and good-heartedly) call our “Silicon Valley Bootcamp.”
My own initiation into the enterprising California tech culture began immediately when I arrived at the event’s reception at IDEO Design’s vast and modern office space along the Port of San Francisco. Before I had a chance to pin on my name tag, I was asked, “What stage of business are you at and what do you intend to get out of this program?” by Luticia (Tish) Hill, CEO of Diggit.ca and a fellow British Columbian. A quick conversation with Hill bumped me up to the velocity of the night’s dialogues and introduced me to the intense ambition among the people I would meet. Hill spoke confidently about bootstrapping and content-user conundrums (new vocabulary for me), and I learned very quickly that my fellow TechWomen bootcampers were knowledgeable, tech savvy, and highly capable.
The following morning, we were all back at IDEO’s bayfront offices for a session on “Human Design Thinking” and another called “Silicon Valley Reality Check.” I started to meet my cohorts, some of whom were also from BC, although most were from Toronto or Calgary. I learned that topics within this group could change quickly and that I was in the company of women like Calgary’s Tara Kelly, CEO of Splices Software, who could turn a session about design into a discussion on convertible debentures without a signal (much to our benefit).
To some degree, we had Hillary Clinton to thank for this opportunity. In 2011, Clinton gave the keynote and final speeches at the APEC “Women in Economics” conference in San Francisco. In attendance at the conference was Cassie Doyle, Consul General of Canada in San Francisco, who was inspired by Clinton’s challenge to participants to “improve women’s access to capital and markets and to support the rise of women leaders in the public and private sector.”
Shortly after the APEC conference, Doyle called on the Consulate’s Silicon Valley network to help her create an outreach initiative to introduce Canadian female business leaders to the valley’s high growth and innovative technology culture. “Our goal is to help grow women-run technology companies in Canada and to increase the connections between Canadians in Silicon Valley with Canadian business."
In 2012, the Trade Commission launched the first year of the TechWomen Canada program with ten participants chosen from across the country who represented “high growth potential and a track record of achievement.” Saskatchewan business owner Janice Taylor, founder of Just Be Friends Kids, attended the program in its first year. Participation in the program “was critical to the development of my business and truly made a lasting impact.”
To help select this year’s participants, the Trade Commissioner Service received support from people like C100 Charter Member, Nanon de Gaspe Beaubien-Mattrick, and Reza Kazemipour, CEO of Oris4, both active mentors and supporters to many Canadian businesses.
When asked how they chose participants, Beaubien-Mattrick said, "We looked for good ideas, good people and the problems they were solving." She and Kazemipour used "investor's eyes” to choose companies, like Vancouver's ethicalDeal, which they believed had “the best future chance for success.”
“The whole purpose of TechWomen Canada is to facilitate that success,” says Cassie Doyle. "One of our roles at the Consulate is to maintain an active network of people who are interested in Canadian business and in helping to expand our businesses globally."
The TechWomen planning group was able to pack our schedule with trips to companies like Google and Citrix. We learned about the newest tech ecosystems by visiting top accelerators like RocketSpace and NestGSV. And we spent many hours learning from top tech insiders and influencers like Anthony Lee, co-founder of the C100 and (according to his twitter profile) a “proud Canuck”. Lee coached us on strategies to prepare for investors, urging each of us to focus on “Why big? Why now? and Why your particular company?”
A highlight of the program was time spent at Googleplex, the corporate headquarters for Google in Mountain View, California. Admittedly, I had expected to enter “Nerdvana” when I stepped into Google’s world, anticipating rows of cubicles filled with over caffeinated developers, solving the world’s problems while twisting Rubik’s Cubes.
The reality was far different from what I had expected and, although I did see some lab dwellers wearing awkward (and very noticeable) Google Glass, the Google complex reminded me more of visiting a UCLA campus or even an upscale resort. Self-described “Googlers” are well taken care of at their workspace with free bikes to share throughout the complex, ample sports facilities and organic gardens growing next to outdoor cafes which serve fresh food from the many free onsite restaurants and micro-kitchens.
Suzanne Dalcourt, who leads the global recruitment team at Google, spoke to us about hiring and retention strategies. A native of Toronto, Dalcourt explained that Google looks at “four areas to assess talent: cognitive abilities (problem solving and logical thinking), role related knowledge (how you are at your job), leadership inside and outside the industry, and the cultural fit to our company.”
We received additional advice about team building from Michelle Zatlyn, Co-Founder of CloudFlare and a graduate of McGill University. A Canadian tech "success story" herself, Zatlyn will also mentor Tara Kelly for the next few months, along with the twenty other mentors assigned to each of our companies.
Dalcourt will mentor Laurelle Jno Baptiste who runs Toronto’s ScholarLab and who, only weeks after the completion of TechWomen Canada, reports, “My mentor has already been able to give me great insight and I am leveraging her expertise and network.”
Since returning home from the program, I’ve been reflecting on TechWomen Canada as an intensive “Entrepreneur Immersion” course, which is why participants like Karen Milde, CEO of Vancouver’s Reframe Marketing, agree that it was “extremely productive and useful.”
"We planned this program with the belief that if we put women entrepreneurs together with similar interests, they would naturally encourage each other," says Beaubien-Mattrick.
When TechWomen participant Victoria MacLean’s company BeauCoo.com was recently quoted in Forbes, she had twenty of her fellow bootcampers tweeting with our #techwomen2013 hashtag and sharing her success. As Adobe's Donna Morris told us, “band together, promote each other, find a network & cultivate it, get your social brand out there and connect with other women.”