Written by Samantha Costanzo Carleton
Many of the attendees at any given MIT Bootcamp are there to learn about entrepreneurship because they’ve already founded their own companies. Many more are seriously considering becoming founders themselves. Margarita Camus, who attended the Brisbane, Australia Bootcamp in February 2019, falls into a category all her own: She was there to gain a little more empathy.
Camus is a digital innovation lead at Queensland Urban Utilities, one of Australia’s largest water brands, where she oversees digital marketing efforts and initiatives that support entrepreneurs and water-focused innovation across the industry.
“I get to work in that startup ecosystem without being a startup founder myself,” Camus said. “That’s why I saw Bootcamp as a good way to not only learn a startup and innovation methodology that I could apply internally in my organization, but also as a way to understand what’s important to founders, how they operate, and how I can support them.”
Centering others first is all part of the Bootcamp experience, where Camus said the startups participants pitched during the weeklong event were overwhelmingly designed to improve a community or create social change.
She and her team, which consisted of participants from South Korea, Japan, Germany, Chile, Canada, the USA, Australia, and Hong Kong, were no exception. They set out to solve the problem of safety for solo female travelers, many of whom deal with their own fears or those of loved ones when they announce their plans to travel alone.

Margarita Camus pitching with the Travel Angel team in the final demo day round.

The team’s company, Travel Angels, would sell an inconspicuous bracelet designed to send out a distress signal to nearby healthcare professionals, who could then escort travelers to an embassy or hospital, tend to an illness or injury, or help file a police report in the aftermath of a crime. They would be also be compensated for their efforts, allowing Travel Angels to tap into emerging gig economies and encourage participation in the program.
The team leveraged its international network to speak with more than 100 women travelers about their experiences and understand the need for something like Travel Angels.
“I really think that was the key to the success behind our idea,” Camus said. “We pitched with stories from real people that have had issues while traveling and saw them validate the idea by saying they’d buy the product at this price point and use the service.”
With only a week to refine the idea and turn it into a viable business plan, Camus and her team dove in immediately. Excitement carried them through the first few sleepless days, but the nights of only one or two hours of sleep eventually took their toll.
“When it’s three in the morning and you’re having discussions but not getting anywhere, everyone gets emotional and stressed,” Camus said. “You just had to remind yourself of why you’re there and go back to the team charter that you make on the first day that tells you why you all signed up for this thing in the first place to push through.”
MIT’s own team, including professor Bill Aulet, was also there for support. The team provided feedback and ideas for next steps while challenging teams to think like entrepreneurs and tighten up their business plans before pitch day.

Travel Angel was selected as the winning team for the Bootcamp in Brisbane.

“You’re there to learn, and you want feedback so that you can improve, which was a bit confronting to me at first but also really refreshing,” Camus said.
In the end, all the adjustments, meetings, and coffee-fueled hours of work paid off. Though none of them set out to win the Bootcamp’s pitch competition, Camus and her team walked away with the grand prize after all.
“I can kind of guarantee that if I had teamed up with the people that I made friends with on the first day instead of being randomly put in a group, we would not have had the same outcome, because our group really challenged each other took to think bigger and to think differently,” Camus said.
Travel Angels still exists only in the minds of its creators, and while Camus has considered reopening the conversation around making it a reality, she and her far-flung team are in the midst of some major life changes. Several are running startups of their own, and one is a musician about to go on a worldwide tour. Camus herself is finishing her MBA at the University of Queensland while planning an overseas move to Europe, where she hopes to work for a company that has a clear vision of how it can impact the world.
In the meantime, she’s bringing the skills she learned at Bootcamp to her role at Queensland Urban Utilities. The company has already changed the way it approaches working with startups and small businesses, which were previously offered the same long payment terms and procurement processes as those used for enterprise vendors.

The team celebrated receiving their certificates with coaches.

“We’ve instead set up trials and partnerships where we can use our own skills, access, and resources to set startups and small businesses up for success when working with us,” Camus said.
She and a colleague who also attended the Bootcamp are also designing a guide for internal innovators to use as they develop their ideas. The guide asks these innovators to consider the problem they’re trying to solve, whether the problem is a priority or good fit for the business, and the potential impact of their proposed solution – questions similar to the ones Bootcamp asked of its own participants.
Camus encourages anyone interested in innovation, entrepreneurship, and a serious challenge to apply for Bootcamp, regardless of whether they intend to found a company. Those who approach the experience with an open mind and a focus on what they can offer fellow participants, rather than what the Bootcamp can provide for them, stand the highest chance of being accepted into the program and getting something special out of it.
“You’re there with some incredible people who are there because they want to make a difference,” Camus said. “It really energizes and reinvigorates you.”

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