Filmmaker & Cancer Survivor Encourages Young Women to "Dream, Girl"

Erin Bagwell (L) and Komal Minhas (R)

Erin Bagwell (L) and Komal Minhas (R)

It was a Kickstarter trailer that lead to a cold email that lead to a life-changing partnership. “It was an instinctual ‘I have to be a part of this,’ there was no doubt in my mind,” says Komal Minhas. “I knew I had to give it my all, and what that meant for me was being totally authentic, totally honest with why the project impacted me so much and why it meant so much to me.”

“This,” is Dream, Girl. A documentary from creator Erin Bagwell that features the empowering stories of female-led companies and their founders. From fashion to tech to non-profit, it explores the challenges, successes, the conventions that still hold women back, and the dreams that pull them forward. It is framed by Bagwell’s and Minhas’ struggle to make the movie.

When Bagwell launched the project on Kickstarter, the two women were complete strangers.

Minhas was in Italy on what was supposed to be vacation. Like thousands of others she saw the trailer one night before dinner and told her partner, Mitch, “I have to be a part of this, I have to figure this out.”

“I knew I had to give it my all, and what that meant for me was being totally authentic, totally honest."

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Initially launched with a goal of $57,000, Bagwell was seven days and $18,000 away from reaching her target, when the project received a boost from author and life coach Marie Forleo. Forleo agreed to blast the Dream, Girl mission to her email list of about 300,000 people. Money started pouring in and so did the emails. One of which was from Minhas.

“Erin went from having $30,000 to $104,000 in three days,” says Minhas. “The amount of press, the people-- when you’re cutting through the noise to get to someone who is that busy, who is getting cold attention, going from zero to hundred, I knew I had to stand out.”

Before she made any “hard ask,” Minhas thought about what she could offer. She had her own company, Montreal-based KoMedia, which she founded at 23. “I knew I could invest a little bit of the money I had saved up from the year of operating my company,” she says. Beyond that she could strategically supply “camera equipment-- I had a couple of 5D cameras and I had some audio equipment.” In her first email to Bagwell she outlined every provision she could make. Drafting what she called a “have-to reply.” Minhas says she “created an opportunity for Erin to respond, making the option of saying ‘no’ incredibly difficult.”

“I didn’t want to be overbearing,” she says. “I kept it light, but it was a rich ask and also, offer.” The response was not immediate. “It took Erin three days to reply after I sent a follow-up email. It felt like ages to me because I knew this was went I meant to do.”

Three nights later the two were on a Skype call. It was midnight in Naples, the connection kept cutting in and out, but where the internet failed, the synergy between the women succeeded. “We told each other our life stories, why we were each doing what we were, and I again reiterated the offer, the strengths I knew I had and what I could bring the partnership.” Bagwell, she says, “she was right there with me."

"Throwing it down, not being afraid to ask, but also, not being a crazy person,” that’s how she got in the door. “It’s a strange line to toe,” she says, but acknowledges, “I prefer more over less. Fortunately in this situation, Erin did too.”

From a Skype call, an in-person meeting, emails in between, and Minhas landed on set a couple of weeks later.

That first $104k gave the filmmakers enough funding to make it through about 8 months. “For the first time,” Minhas says, “I didn’t take a salary. It was almost a full year before I did because we were bootstrapping.” In the summer 2015, lead by investor Joanne Wilson, who appears in the film, they did a round of Angel funding. That raised another $100k. They did one final round of friends and family to “make it through the finish line.”  

Though Minhas had never raised for business, she had done work raising money for charity. For instance, while at university she spearheaded a campus fundraiser that raised over half a million dollars for the Canadian Cancer Society. “I knew how to magnetize money for a cause,” she explains, “but when it’s a business you have to include how you’re going to share long-term revenue projections, understand distribution, and we had to convince our investors that beyond the social impact mission of the film we would bring them returns, and hopefully great returns.” It was a “learning curve when we were starting to pitch.”

And then there was the big curveball. “Back in March,” says Minhas, “I was actually diagnosed with cancer. I am survivor and was diagnosed cancer free a couple of weeks ago. But when we got the news March 2nd our premiere was set for May 26th at the White House. We figured it out and did our best.”

Erin Bagwell, third from left and Komal Minhas, fourth from left at the White House screening. 

Erin Bagwell, third from left and Komal Minhas, fourth from left at the White House screening. 

They premiered the film to a private, 190-person screening for women entrepreneurs, followed by a round table discussion led by Diana Doukas, the director of the White House Business Council.

The response was overwhelming and powerful. “It took two years to create the film and we’re anticipating it will take a full two to fully maximize the distribution. We’re not only creatives, but we made a film about business and we are running a successful business.” Since launching in June in New York, Dream, Girl has had over 100 screenings in seven different countries. They are planning to scale that number to over 1000 in the next year.

Another arm of the goal is to give young women “better examples of what wealth and what wealth in business looks like,” says Minhas. “We don’t want to be Wolf of Wall Street. That’s not our jam, but it’s a no-brainer that a woman can be in power.

"We don’t want to be Wolf of Wall Street. That’s not our jam, but it’s a no-brainer that a woman can be in power."

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Minhas and Bagwell are also turning the forty plus hours of unused footage into a web series called, Your Moment of Ambition, which they are looking to launch in 2017. The series will be 20 episodes at about 2 minutes each. "There are so many stories that couldn't make it into a film,” says Minhas. “Those of sexual harassment to a professor at Wharton talking about why it’s also a no-brainer that every man should be a feminist.”  

They are not only incredibly inspired by the people they interviewed, but by what Minhas says are “the next generation of feminists like Zendaya and Rowan Blanchard. These are really woke women. They have Queen B to look up to and some of them are just thirteen, fourteen years old.”

She says “Maybe Gen Z won’t see the work and effort it took to get here,” but “there will be no barriers in this generation's mind that they can be limitless.”

Dream, big. Dream, Girl.

For more information or to host your own screening and bring Dream, Girl to your community, visit the site here