Last night the first cohort of the BendX Women’s Entrepreneurial Bootcamp pitched their startup ideas to a packed room at the Deschutes Brewery. The evening represented the culmination of eight classes that advised 15 early stage entrepreneurs on the first steps needed to transform their ideas into a tangible endeavor.
The startup pitches ranged from resistance training swimsuits for competitive female athletes to luggage for children of divorce to Sephora-like retail locations for CBD products to better pajamas for kids in the hospital. I’m always inspired by founders who are pitching, especially in the early days of their entrepreneurial adventure: They’re always fired up and passionate about their ideas, and filled with the energy it takes to launch a company.
The BendX presenters exuded all of that. But I think what was particularly moving about last night was the existence of the cohort in the first place. The program founders, Talena Barker and Christine Callahan, are entrepreneurs themselves (founders of Mission Limelight and Ella + Oak, respectively), and they witnessed a need for more support for women starting businesses.
They hatched the idea last spring and by fall they had 15 entrepreneurs signed up and participating in the two-night per week course. The program isn’t an accelerator, but more of an early intervention — Talena described BendX as providing founders with the basic expertise they need to start their companies and then resources and connections required so that they continue the journey.
Launching from a solid foundation of guidance, as well as an understanding of where to find what you need as you build out your business, is critical. It saves founder time, saves precious dollars and ultimately allows entrepreneurs to devote their energy to completing key early stage steps.
To be sure, women entrepreneurs face hurdles, especially in fundraising (women received a scant 2% of venture capital dollars last year). But local and statewide initiatives like BendX (and the Portland-based XXcelerate Fund and the TAO Women in STEAM group here in Bend, to name a few) aim to tackle these challenges head on and move the needle on building a more equitable and inclusive startup and tech community. They make it possible for more women to start companies, find funding, and find success.
Congrats to the BendX entrepreneurs and to the program founders. We’re thankful for your work and excited to see where you all go. If you’re interested in being part of the next BendX cohort, stay tuned. Talena noted that the details are the next course are still being determined, but that it will likely kick off in January or February.