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As a women entrepreneur in Toronto, I've found some great groups focused on helping female business owners succeed. Here's my list of groups in GTA, especially those in the startup and technology fields.

Ladies Learning Code - http://ladieslearningcode.com
One of my favourite groups; wonderful organizers, mentors, and teachers offering affordable classes in coding and technology. "We’re a women-run not-for-profit group working to empower everyone to feel comfortable learning beginner-friendly technical skills in a social, collaborative way."

Women and Tech - http://womenandtech.com
A new and awesome group.  They are inviting 50 kick butt women in technology out for coffee and then will write about them in their blog and app.  You can nominate a female in technology today at their website.

Girls in Tech Toronto - http://girlsintechtoronto.com
A great group of smart and friendly tech girls.  Hosts Power Hour Socials with great guest speakers.  "Girls in Tech Toronto launched in early 2011, and is focused on connecting, empowering and advocating for women and girls in tech. We do this by hosting events and mixers, helping out with area conferences and tech events, and spotlighting awesome women and their contributions to the tech industry."

Canadian Women in Technology - http://www.cwc-afc.com/home.cfm 
"CWC raises the profile of women working in the communications and technology field through a number of benefits, services, awards and internships, a national mentoring program, local and national events, professional development, high-profile initiatives like the Women on Boards program and through strong partnerships with government agencies, industry corporations and other associations."

Rotman Women in Business - http://women.rotman.utoronto.ca
"We provide professional women with leadership development opportunities, new ways of thinking and vital connections that help them advance and succeed in their careers. We are a trusted partner to forward-thinking corporations and organizations through our custom programs, presentations and events, and diversity consulting."

Girl Geeks Toronto - http://www.meetup.com/GirlGeeksToronto/  
"We call ourselves "girls" because we're young at heart and we call ourselves "geeks", because we care about the detail, but essentially we're just smart women who get technology. Technology may include programming, engineering, electronics, interactive design, IT management, chemistry, biology and more!"

 
Last week, John and I headed out to Montreal for the International Startup Festival.  We hustled, pitched, pumped, laughed, and sweated our way to be a finalist in the $50k startup competition.  Here's a brief recap of our adventure.

Early Wednesday we joined an amazing group of entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors on the Startup Train bound for Montreal.  Brydon Gilliss (Startupify.Me; ThreeFortyNine) organized the "unconference" on rails by renting out an entire Via Rail car and facilitated business pitches and powerpoint karaoke.

We were the first up to give our pitch.  We've been working on our beta and thought that the train pitch would be the perfect time to launch it.  So with the Via Wifi working, John deployed the code to production... and it worked!  

For the pitch, we explained how we are trying to address the problem that first time expectant parents face in that they are overwhelmed with information about what to buy and they can't figure out what they really need for their family.  There are 2.2 million first time parents in the U.S. each year facing this problem and they spend on average of over $8,000 on baby gear! We had some great questions from the audience and ended up winning one of the Audience Choice awards!

The rest of the trip was spent chatting and getting feedback from people like Brian Kobus (Summerhill Ventures), Scott Allen (Sightmetrics), Nathan Monk & Leona Teixeira (MaRS DD), and Kevin Holbeche (Faskens).

Wednesday evening at the festival reception we started our hustle, trying to talk to as many people as possible about babySIMPLIFY.  It was a good chance to practice our elevator pitch, get feedback, and tweak it before the real elevator pitch the next day.

Thursday morning kicked off with thought provoking talks from Chris Shipley and Dave McClure.  Chris encouraged us to think big and create a company built to last.  "Building an app is not building a business" - I'm keeping this in mind as we iterate on our revenue model and figure out what resonates best with our target customer.  Dave gave us all the finger (yes, the middle one) and begged us to take risks with our business.  He suggested we tap into human emotions of fear, sex, power, family, and anger.  Our business certainly hits on the fear and family angles.  It will be interesting to test promotional materials with fear-based messages (e.g. don't get the wrong things for your baby; don't be caught unprepared) versus family-based messages (e.g. get just what you need for your family).

I was able to chat with Dave after his talk and he liked our business concept.  While talking with him, Ondi Timoner, an award winning documentary film maker, slapped a baseball cap on him that had an embedded camera and mic.  So most of our conversation was captured on tape.  I later chatted with Ondi about babySIMPLIFY while pumping in the ladies washroom (if you're not a mom, you probably don't know what I mean, but I will spare you the details).  It should be an interesting recording with the sounds of toilets flushing in the background.

I have to admit that I didn't see many of the other talks on Thursday.  We were too busy chatting with everyone and making pitches.  We took the plunge in the elevator pitch competition and shared our story with the grandmother judges.  But my favourite part was talking with other entrepreneurs who have gotten farther along the startup journey.  Folks like Sebastien Provencher (Needium), Caitlin MacGregor (cream.hr), Gary Crane (couplewise), Ken Seville (CiviSide.com), Benoit L'Archeveque (azzimov), and Ivan Tsarynny (QuadLook.com).  We also got to share our story with VentureTV and Startup Canada.

We capped off Thursday night at dinner with the team from the MaRS Discovery District.  As we headed off to bed we were alerted through twitter that we were finalists for the $50k prize and would be presenting to the judges for 10 minutes on Friday morning.  So out came the laptops and we worked hard through the night to practice and perfect our pitch and make some changes to the beta to prove out our revenue model.

On Friday morning we were anxiously awaiting our turn to pitch when we heard that the pitches were now 2 minutes and should focus on why we are a startup that matters.  In front of the 10 judges, they first informed me that Dave McClure had nominated us as a finalist (cool!).  Then I jumped right into how babySIMPLIFY is going to help consumers buy less and get the most utility out of the things they do buy.  It's sort of like anti-marketing where the consumer gets exactly what they need and thus reduces waste.  In my career, I've helped big companies use predictive analytics to sell customers more things, that they may not necessarily use, but this turns the model on the head by using predictive analytics to buy less things.  It seemed to resonate well with the judges.

In the end, we didn't win the $50k prize but I feel that we got $50k worth of mentoring, advice, and valuable connections.  But look for us next year at the festival when I hope to pitch on the main stage and share our successes from the upcoming year.
 
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Proud parents (founders) Alison Gibbins and John Griffiths are pleased to announce the birth of their baby (website) named babySIMPLIFY Dot Com on at 10:36am on Wednesday, July 11, 2012.  Alison and John were headed to the International Startup Festival in Montreal on the special Startup Train.  All are doing well and we’ve had over 6,000 visits in the past week!


 
We're excited to announce the launch of the babySIMPLIFY beta!

We are doing it in style by unveiling the new site while on a train to the International Startup Festival in Montreal.
 
Here's the link to the Globe & Mail article about daycareSIMPLIFY!

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/young-children/child-care/have-you-got-what-it-takes-to-get-your-kid-into-daycare/article2430410/
 
It's been a busy few months!  John, a tech superstar from the original Startup Weekend, and his partner Michelle have been helping out on babySIMPLIFY and we should have it up soon.  All of the images are done and I'm working on the copy for the recommendation pages.

In daycareSIMPLIFY news, I was contacted by a reporter at the Globe and Mail newspaper who is doing an article on daycare waiting lists.  He was very interested in our concept and hopefully we'll get some good PR in the national paper.

 
I'm very excited about the new page designs.  Anthony (www.evolveartistic.com) has done a fabulous job on the overall designs.  Lorna (www.lornalivey.com) has brought the images to life with her great illustrations.

We're still working on the designs so any feedback (good or bad) would be greatly appreciated!
 
babySIMPLIFY.com is developing well!  We've created and user tested wireframes.  The initial design was completed and I went out to get expectant parent feedback.  Got lots of great comments and decided to change the logo.  I personally like the old logo with the baby on it, but the potential users overwhelmingly liked the simple, text only logo - so that's what we're going with!

I'm awaiting final mockups of the page designs and will post them to this site as soon as they are available.  A very talented artist, Lorna Livey (www.lornalivey.com) is busy working on all of the product illustrations.

Next step will be reworking the back end code and getting the beta site up.

On the business side, I've been chatting with lots of great technical folks and have a few good leads for technical support in the future.  I'm also considering applying to Dragon's Den!  Last night I saw a website get offered a valuation of $350k or more with only a prototype, no users, and no revenue.  They turned the offers down but got great exposure to the Canadian market.
 
Had our first real customer inquiry today from the babySIMPLIFY website!  A customer heard about the site from colleagues and he filled in all of the survey info and submitted a e-form through the website.

I followed up tonight with a call to him and he was really interested in the website and is looking forward to the full launch.  I offered him and his wife a personal consultation, but I guess he had yet to tell his wife about it.  (mental note: must include refer to friend/spouse functionality in the full build).  In my experience, it's usually the soon to be mom who plans the baby purchases so I wasn't surprised that he wanted to get her involved.  So I'll be following up soon with the wife to get feedback on the site and provide them with their complimentary personal consultation.
 
Merry Christmas!