Katie Heggtveit of Bootcamps for Change is an award-winning social entrepreneur and educator. Originally from London, Ontario, she founded Bootcamps for Change while a full-time University student in Toronto at 21 years old. She has a gift for connecting with others to create solutions to complex business and pressing social problems. Her interest in community involvement has led her to sit on multiple committees aimed at improving the health of Canadians. Recently, she received the Sovereign’s Medal from the Governor General of Canada for her years of dedication.

Her business has now facilitated over 100 fitness programs for youth experiencing homelessness in Canada. Inspired by Samasource founder Leila Janah, she founded a fitness certification scholarship for homeless youth, and her company is hiring them to facilitate the Bootcamps for Change programs to other youth in shelters.

Hey Katie, can you introduce yourself to us?

Absolutely! Thank you for reaching out and for interviewing me for your website. There are many inspirational business owners featured here so I am very grateful for this opportunity to share what (and why) I do what I do.

Well, my name is Katie and I am the founder and creative director of Bootcamps for Change. I’m passionate about working with youth from all walks of life, as well as designing, implementing and evaluating the success of exercise and nutrition intervention programs.


Can you take us through your journey to where you are now?

I like to call myself an “adventurous planner.” I think one’s life’s journey is made up of the goals you plan for and the experiences you don’t. I first volunteered with youth experiencing homelessness when I was 12 years old due to the suggestion of a family friend. I often wonder if I would have ever had the opportunity without her connection. After 2 years of business school and then switching to nutrition science, I find it so ironic that I ended up managing a business and am going to do my Master’s degree in a business field. However, I think I ended up right where I needed to be.

What is a day in the life of you like?

I enjoy what I do on a daily basis, I love it, actually. However, it’s a hustle, and I possess a heightened level of discipline and patience in my life now in order to move with the fluctuating daily demands of the business. Although no two days are the same for me, I usually go to sleep between 1:30 – 2:30 in the morning and wake up around 9:00 – 9:30 am. I structure my week every Sunday to maximise productivity for my businesses and school work. I wear many different hats at Bootcamps for Change, from human resources to sales, and from marketing to spokesperson. One day of the week might be spent meeting with clients from one end of the city to the other and the next could be filled with team meetings, calls and responding to emails.

Working out at the gym solo used to be my me time, but I now go to a variety of group fitness classes up to 5-6x a week. Lately, I’ve been addicted to Barry’s Bootcamp and Kelsey Rose’s strength training classes. I teach a group fitness class at Horizons for Youth shelter every Wednesday at 1:30 pm alongside some amazing trainers in Toronto.

Seeing my friends and family especially is so important to me, so I make time for it at least 3 times a week (even if it’s just a workout or quick drink). I love spending time with my younger cousins in Toronto and seeing my brother as much as I can.

What is the concept behind Bootcamps For Change?

Myself as well as the Bootcamps for Change team believe that exercise programs have the ability to break the cycle of poverty according to our three pillars: 1) Physical Health, 2) Mental health and 3) Resilience. Even if youth we meet do not want to work in the fitness industry, just the expansion of our weekly in-shelter fitness programming alone benefits youth experiencing hardship to gain self-confidence to acquire new skills as well as improve their physical and mental health.

Physical Health: Poor physical health perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Organising accessible physical activity for at-risk youth on a consistent basis is essential to preventing cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, as well as strengthening your bones and muscles. Physical health is intertwined with mental health, as those who experience less stress get sick less often, and in turn, are more productive at work and take less sick days to avoid financial difficulty.

Mental Health: Mental health issues strongly relate to broader issues regarding homelessness, as these problems may undermine one’s ability to obtain and/or maintain housing, income, and other necessary supports. Youth experiencing poverty/homelessness are more likely to experience mental health challenges including anxiety and depression. When experiencing these challenges, it is not only hard to explain gaps in employment but also feel motivated/confident in improving one’s financial situation. Exercise has been shown to improve one’s mental health and confidence significantly.

Resilience: Many youths I meet in the shelters often tell me “this is all my life is and can be, I will not be able to do anything of value.” Unfortunately, this is caused by how others view the youth. They are essentially self-stigmatising. By improving their confidence with our programs, they can gain resilience and self-confidence to seek out new skills to improve their livelihood. We actually ask the youth if they have any skills they’d like to teach us during our programming for four reasons:

  • This cultivates relationships between the youth and instructors – instructors are then viewed by the youth as not just strangers coming in to teach a fitness class, we want the instructors to connect with the youth on a personal level and let them know we see them as equals to us.
  • The youth feel a new sense of self-worth knowing they have valuable skills to offer us and others.
  • The youth gain teaching skills, which may be of use later in fitness or other management positions.
  • The youth are able to connect with their peers in the shelter, creating a healthier environment of friendship and discover previously unknown common grounds between them.

How is Bootcamps For Change funded, is it bootstrapped, self-funded etc?

When we first started out, I personally funded Bootcamps for Change’s programs. At present time, they are funded by generous sponsors, businesses, and individuals in the communities we operate. Most recently, we have launched our “Community Supporter” programs. This guides others on how to host their own successful fitness events in support of our programs, in addition to mobilizing their personal and professional networks before working with us in the shelters or in program design. These events not only act as a way to fundraise for youth but often they create awareness of our programs for our target demographic that facilitates our programs. The brands we work with enjoy the exposure for their target demographic as well as our in-depth feedback collection from attendees.


Can you tell us how you are organising multiple weekly in-shelter fitness programs for youth experiencing homelessness in Toronto?

The concept of Bootcamps for Change, and the first time I taught a class in a youth shelter resulted from a cold email. I was doing research for my supervisor at the Trek for Teens foundation and noticed that on the website of a shelter we support (Horizons for Youth) it mentioned their wellness program had been cut due to lack of funding. Immediately, I sent an email essentially pitching my experience to teach the youth a fitness class – they accepted! After our first class, I committed to facilitating the classes weekly. After a while, I started noticing not only were some youth keeping up with the workouts better than I was but also they had natural coaching abilities.

Organising is a process of structuring and coordinating task goals in order to attain our objective of closing resource gaps the shelter is experiencing: fitness and otherwise. Luckily, recruiting is a non-issue, as instructors reach out to us often looking to get involved – this was a pleasant surprise for me. When I first volunteered with youth experiencing homelessness, I was nervous about what I was going to see and experience. It’s been incredible seeing how open instructors are to working with this population in addition to how receptive individuals are to our cause.

Who does the team involve behind you at Bootcamps For Change?

Bootcamps for Change couldn’t be what it is today without the encouragement and hard work from my incredible team. We have coordinators and a director in marketing, operations, sponsorship, and event planning categories. They come from all walks of life, and many either have had/know someone that has had the ability to overcome hardship with physical activity or wellness programs. They propel me forward in all areas of my life, and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to meet so many incredible people due to Bootcamps For Change.

Where can you see yourself within the next 3-5 years?

Although I’m open to new opportunities that come my way, I’m definitely a planner and have a decent chunk of the next 3-5 years outlined. In 3 years I’ll be 25 and ideally have lived in a foreign country for a bit (+ worked a summer at Croatia’s Yacht Week), with a Masters degree in Management of Entrepreneurship and Innovation under my belt.

In 5 years I’ll be 27, and most likely stationed in Vancouver or Toronto but still having a desire to visit every corner of this beautiful world. I’d love to do a fellowship before I’m 27 – (my dream fellowship is the Echoing Green fellowship). I hope to lecture in various universities and/or college institutions, while also acting as a mentor for students. At this time, I’d love to actively participate in program and certificate development in areas such as entrepreneurship, technology, innovation, public health, community development, and homelessness. I hope to continue as a consultant for various corporations and organisations including UN/UNICEF/FAO in education as well as physical activity/nutrition public health intervention initiatives.

I’ve recently learned I’m interested in the implementation an impactful corporate social responsibility strategy. Presently I’m going to assist Fuzz Wax Bar in Toronto launch a scholarship program for youth to become estheticians. This includes the creation, implementation, and evaluation of a scholarship program in 2019. I’d love to branch out and do this for other companies as well.


What strategies do you have in place when looking at the expansion of your business?

Sustainability is at the core of our expansion strategy. The population that we work with need consistent mentors and role models. The last thing that the youth we work with deserve is a let down – they only deserve the best.

We have instructors and businesses reaching out to us often. Although I wish I could be 500 places at once, I can’t physically be in every corner of Canada to supervise the instructors that are facilitating our programs with this vulnerable population. In order to ensure expansion operations are successful, we are creating a sustainability program including extensive online training for instructors to complete, before teaching a class in a shelter (in addition to the standard background checks.)

I want our programs to be personalized for every shelter, as not only are there different needs between cities/provinces in Canada, but also there are different needs of shelters in the same city. Creating a sustainable way to adequately meet everyone’s needs has proven tricky here for expansion. With this in mind, our expansion strategy includes the youth and shelter in the process of implementing and then evaluating our programs.

Can you tell us what areas you have struggled in professionally?

Definitely maintaining my own personal (yet professional) social media. I currently only have accounts on LinkedIn. I’m planning on launching this with a help of a friend after I graduate in September.

Which methods are you using to build your own support network?

I frequent events at the Centre for Social Innovation, The School for Social Entrepreneurs, and Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone with business cards in hand. Without hindering my school commitments, I am also involved in many groups with young professionals in Toronto, most recently I joined the All-Star Gala in Support of SickKids Committee. Online, I try to meet at least 1-3 people from LinkedIn weekly.

I have befriended many incredible people that are working in a similar field to me and therefore opportunities to connect with others have naturally presented themselves.

What would you like to see changed for millennials in business?

According to a study from EY, 72 percent of millennials believe startups and entrepreneurship are essential to driving jobs and innovation in the economy. This would lead us to think that millennials will be pursuing self-employment and startups, but based on my research and personal experience, many are nervous of actually taking the leap.

As of 2014, just under 2 percent of millennials were self-employed, compared with 7.6 percent of Gen Xers and over 8 percent of baby boomers. So, there’s a gap between how much millennials would like to start their businesses, and actually feeling enabled to do it. I’d love to see more resources and information for millennials to encourage them to start their own businesses.

Thanks to additional research conducted at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley in California, we know millennials understand this, as “more than nine in ten millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause.” Since millennials prefer to do business with corporations and brands with social impact, sustainable manufacturing methods and ethical business standards, if common barriers were removed to start businesses for millennials they could use their skills for good. I’d also love to set up a mentorship network for millennial entrepreneurs, similar to what we are creating for fitness professionals and youth recently certified to work in the industry.


What is the best piece of business advice you have received to date?

Patrick Linton shared the advice passed down from his late grandfather with Business Collective. “Following your passion can be great, but many people don’t maximize their talents. ‘Play to your strong suits’ really makes you stop and think, and try to understand what your strengths really are. How you can take those and apply them to something you’ll enjoy doing – which is really hard to do.” Also, I’ve recently perfected the art of saying “no”, a word that was so difficult for me before.

What is the number 1 critical lesson you have learned in your career so far?

Your road is not solidified, be open to other opportunities.

How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to master this yet when I’m at home in Toronto. I find I have a ‘grind mode’, where friends won’t hear from me for days – I’m notorious for taking hours (or days) to answer texts but minutes to answer a Snapchat (sorry!). Many entrepreneurs I’ve met over the last year are dating an entrepreneur and tell me they wouldn’t have it any other way. My partner does not have to be an entrepreneur but has to be down for an adventure and debate.

I just got back from a holiday in Southeast Asia. When I was exploring alone for the first few days, it was nearly impossible to stop answering emails and check up on updates with the business at home. However, once I met up with my (encouraging) friends I was able to delegate tasks to my team back in Canada and completely shut off my work brain. I’ve never been able to do this for 3+ weeks before. I’m taking two weeks off to head to Vegas next month (my parents, brother and I head there every year) and visit 2 of my best friends in Ireland. I plan to try to shut off my work brain on this holiday again. This time, I will definitely need to make sacrifices on my personal life before the trip to make up for the 2 weeks of work and school missed, including Friday and Saturday nights working instead of seeing friends and family. I consider this my strategised balanced life. One of my favourite writers, James Clear, wrote a piece on the balance of work and personal life here.

A seminal point in your career so far?

Certifying homeless youth to become personal trainers and boot camp instructors and employing them. I always wanted to close the loop (meet a youth during our programs, certify the youth and then hire them), but I didn’t think we’d be able to do it this quickly.

What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?

I presently and will continue to approach my career as a calling, instead of focusing on the work itself. At the moment, finding a sense of fulfillment from the work itself gives me career satisfaction.

What challenges have you seen to have been presented during the growth of your business?

In the beginning, I was definitely wearing too many hats – (some may say I still am), which prevented us from meeting our goals and growing the company like it should be. We have a few individuals that have been with us for a while that have worked closely together. Many youths have expressed interest in 1-on-1 personal training which would be very impactful, in addition to presenting mentorship opportunities for the youth and instructor, but developing criteria instructors must have to apply for this position has presented challenges.

Which other leading entrepreneurs and pioneering game changers do you also admire and why?

Leila Janah, founder and CEO of Samasource and LXMI, two companies that go beyond charity to give income to low-income people around the world. Also the author of ‘Give Work,’ the book that inspired me to give work within my organisation.

Shannon Grant and Len Cohen, Founders of NewView Collective – Now dear friends of mine (that I met through Bootcamps for Change), NewView Collective help make relaxing supportive space for students experiencing mental health issues.

Alex Stephany, founder of Bean, the world’s first crowdfunding platform for homeless people. The website lets anyone meet homeless people who have been referred by Beam’s charity partners and make a long-term investment in their futures by funding their training. Such incredible work.

Ivonna Dumanyan and Gabrielle Levac, founders of BioMetrix. They are creating wearable technology that detects a body’s weak spots, then coaches the user on how to stay in the game. They are condensing a personal trainer, motion-capture technology, and data analysis into a device the size of a Band-Aid.

Caitlin Crosby, founder of The Giving Keys. Recipients of these keys are encouraged to “pay it forward” and one day give their key away to someone who may need the message on the key more than they do. Caitlin took The Giving Keys to a new level when she began employing workers affected by homelessness, and has since created over 30 jobs for these workers in need.

Brett McCollum and Matt Richardson, the co-founders of Causebox: A subscription box with a purpose, Causebox curates 6-8 socially conscious products for its customers every season.

Jenna Nicholas, founder, Impact Experience. Her business identifies problems plaguing marginalized communities and then partners with philanthropists and investors to make a measurable difference.

Kevin F. Adler, founder, and CEO of Miracle Messages. Miracle Messages helps homeless people record short video messages to their dearly missed loved ones and then attempts to reunite them using social media.

Aviva Paley, co-founder, Kitchens for Good. Kitchens for Good rescues surplus food from wholesalers and farmers and, through a culinary apprenticeship program, offers a pathway out of poverty for individuals transitioning out of incarceration, homelessness and foster care.

Gautam Chebrolu and Yossuf Albanawi, cofounders of Pilleve. Their company aims to fight addiction through early intervention with its secure pill dispenser. Patients receive their opioid prescription in a Pilleve bottle and pills are dispensed one by one after patients input their pain levels, mood, and side effects into an app. Pill intake data is also collected in real time and sent to providers if patients are taking more than prescribed. The opioid crisis is one of the biggest public health challenges in America today with more than 115 dying of an overdose a day. One of the founders himself even struggled with substance abuse.

Eli Brown, founder of Shine The Light On, a t-shirt company that spreads the word about mental health issues impacting youth. He is very open about his mental health journey and that is extremely admirable to me.

Michael Braithwaite, CEO of Raising The Roof. Raising the Roof provides national leadership on long-term solutions to homelessness through partnership and collaboration with diverse stakeholders, investment in local communities, and public education.

Andrew Funk, president of #homelessentrepreneur. Homeless Entrepreneur is a charity that empowers homeless people to use the skills they have to create a new life for themselves.

Tyler Perry, Dani Johnson, Bernard Groves, Nathan Murphy, Suze Orman, Howard Schultz, and all entrepreneurs that experienced homelessness.

What is a good article or book you have read recently?

The gym used to be my me time, but now that I’m addicted to group fitness, reading is my “me” time now. For light reading, I love James Clear. I’ve recently read ‘Confessions An The Economic Hitman,’ ‘Dead Aid,’ and ‘The Greenhouse Approach: Cultivating Intrapreneurship In Companies and Organisations.’

Top 3 go-to Podcast channels?

I really only listen to podcasts when I’m traveling long distances. When I’m driving, I blast music or Spanish lessons. I do enjoy ‘Impact Theory’ with Tom Bilyeu, ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ and the ‘Zero To Travel Podcast.’

How do you define success?

I define success as a leader to inspire people through a shared vision and create an environment where people feel valued and fulfilled.

What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?

#BEYOUROWN is to have an unshakeable grit and perseverance in the face of obstacles.

Finally, what can we expect from you next throughout 2019?

A huge BFC celebration at RYU Queen West in a few weeks to congratulate our first round of youth scholarship recipients!

Instagram: @bootcampsforchange

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katieheggtveit/

Website: www.bootcampsforchange.com

Personal email: Katie@bootcampsforchange.com

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