Women entrepreneurs to be thrown in Springboard Enterprises' Dolphin Tank: Canadian Women in IT want to give women entrepreneurs a chance to pitch with a new event in the vein of Dragon's Den, but with a more supportive environment. By: Christine Wong
July 11, 2012

Canada's flagship IT business organization is hoping to launch a series of Dragons' Den style pitch events for women tech entrepreneurs modeled on a similar initiative in the U.S.

Springboard Enterprises' Dolphin Tank events have become successful with female entrepreneurs in the U.S. The name is a playful reference to the U.S. TV show Shark Tank, which is basically an American version of the CBC series Dragons' Den. While Shark Tank and Dragons' Den feature both men and women pitching their ideas to (sometimes snarky) investors, Dolphin Tank events are aimed at female entrepreneurs and try to be more supportive than sarcastic. 

“Instead of that negative, intimidating approach (of sharks), dolphins work together. It's about networking and a positive approach to supporting women-led businesses,” said Emily Boucher, executive director of Canadian Women in IT (CanWIT), a branch of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) devoted to advancing women in the tech industry.

Female entrepreneurs pitch ideas to investors at a Dolphin Tank event in the U.S.

“I want to see how we can bring (Springboard Enterprises' Dolphin Tank) to Canada here starting in Atlantic Canada in the fall,” Boucher added.

No specific dates or locations for the Canadian version of Springboard's Dolphin Tank events have been firmed up yet. But Boucher will be in New York City on July 25 and 26 to see how a Dolphin Tank event unfolds firsthand as she maps out a vision for CanWIT's Canadian version. Dolphin Tanks were started in the U.S. by Springboard Enterprises, an American company that helps women entrepreneurs get financing. CATA originally teamed up with Springboard back in 2005 to help get CanWIT off the ground.

Bringing Dolphin Tank north of the border is just one part of some big changes at CanWIT. The organization launched a restructuring process two weeks ago with Boucher as the new executive director and Catherine Aczel Boivie as its new chair and CEO. And while CanWIT formerly had an executive committee, it's now accepting nominations until July 31 for a new advisory council of nine to 12 women from the IT field. 

The restructuring is partly aimed at recruiting a fresh crop of younger members to CanWIT, which has 3,000 executive outreach network. 

“(Membership) hasn't grown as much as we'd like in the past few years and part of that is awareness, especially in the Generation Y group,” Boucher said. 

She stressed that CanWIT's veteran members will still have a key role to play, particularly in giving insight and advice to those Generation Y recruits. New CEO Aczel Boivie is an example of the leadership's deep industry roots. She's the founding president of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) Association of Canada and recently retired from dual roles as CEO of Inventure Solutions and senior vice-president of technology at Vancity. In February she was named one of Canada's 100 most powerful women at the WXN Top 100 Vancouver Summit.

Another goal of the restructuring is to shift CanWIT more towards a focus on “business skills and commercialization,” she said. Mentoring and networking activities have featured more prominently at the group since it was founded seven years ago. CATA and CanWIT are also reteaming with Springboard on a crossborder program to help female entrepreneurs in Canada and the U.S. get financing for their ventures.

Christine Wong is a Staff Writer at ITBusiness.ca. E-mail her at cwong@itbusiness.ca, connect on, follow her on Twitter, and join in the conversation on the IT Business Facebook Page.