Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. So, too, sometimes, are the curves that life throws your way, the ones that knock you back from the plate and force you to brush yourself off and dig in all over again.

About nine years ago, Serese Selanders’ mother died. Six months later, her father fell ill with cancer. Suddenly, Selanders, who was then in her mid-thirties, married, no kids, and with an executive role at a large credit union, found herself in the position of caregiver – to a father who lived a 4 ½ hour drive away.

“How is that going to work?” Selanders remembers asking herself. “My story is not unlike many other people. But I guess I just wasn’t prepared for it. How do I make sure he’s okay?”

The quest for an answer would eventually lead Saskatoon-based Selanders to create a product and a company called Ora. Ora is a keyfob-sized device capable of notifying loved ones, caregivers and authorities that its user needs help. Unlike traditional medical alert devices, it works anywhere, is low-cost, and is more technologically capable – the device is self-charging, for instance, and can even wake a sleeping cell phone and call 911.

But perhaps most important of all, Ora doesn’t look like a traditional medical alert device. It’s intended to be embedded in a piece of jewelry, or attached to a keychain, so no one save the owner knows it’s being used.

“I got to understand that the medical alert products have the best intention in mind; they really do help people, but they have serious flaws,” says Selanders.

“The biggest flaw [in] a safety device is that people don’t want to wear it.”

Selanders’ father was a prime example; the stigma associated with a medical alert device meant she couldn’t convince him to use it. “‘I’m not frail enough,’” he’d say.

And even if she could have sold her father on the idea of wearing a medical alert, the other problem his situation highlighted was that he was still mobile, and wanted the freedom to drive his car. Selanders discovered that the majority of traditional alert devices only worked in the home and the yard.

“The ones that did work outside the home were huge, horribly ugly things that were very expensive.

“I thought, this is an industry that has been around for 40 years. How come it hasn’t evolved? I thought, there has got to be a better way.”

She discovered there was – Ora.

Today, her company, which has one other full-time employee, is ready to scale and go to market, and in part that’s what has brought Selanders to Communitech, where she spoke recently with Communitech News.

Ora is part of the current cohort of 24 companies taking part in the Fierce Founders Bootcamp, a Communitech initiative that helps female entrepreneurs refine their companies. The bootcamp operates in two three-day stages, the first of which ended on Jan 11. Part two is set for Feb. 13-15. The best companies will earn a chance to pitch for $100,000 on the camp’s final day.

“[Fierce Founders]  has allowed me to pause for three days this week and three days in February, to really think about, from a strategic point of view, how I’m going to continue on with my business,” says Selanders. “It has been very timely for me.”

Selanders has much to reflect on. Her journey, typical perhaps of many startups, has nevertheless blazed a trail replete with surprise, disappointment and breakthroughs, all accompanied by lots of lonely, hard work, and little of it unfolding in a straight or a smooth line. Among the discoveries? Learning, for example, that her target market wasn’t necessarily what she thought it was. It turns out her product was not only suitable for people like her father, but it was additionally ideal for people who work on their own and need the peace of mind that comes from knowing they can get help quickly if they need it.

“My very first customer was not an older adult. It was a real estate agent,” she says.

“She called me up and said, ‘This is exactly what I’m looking for. I’m a woman, I live alone and I’m a realtor, and I’m at risk every day. I’ve had an incident at my work where I felt unsafe and this is the ideal product for me.’

“It opened my eyes.”

That was a year ago. It was hardly the first time her assumptions would be challenged.

Two years into the project, and after investing close to $200,000 in research and product development, she discovered that the device she had commissioned paired just fine with an Android device, but was unable to wake an iPhone that was in a locked-sleep state – crucial if its owner was unable to make a call on their own.

“I said, ‘Wow. I’ve hit the point where this product might be ... useless.’”

So. She realized the company would have to morph, and that she would have to start virtually from scratch. To do so, she needed capital. And she needed it fast.

“At that period of time, it was just, ‘Holy ... this is getting real fast.’”

After raising some money – “I’m sure I’ve talked to 100 VCs and angels” – and pouring it into a new version of the product, she was ready to go to market. Convinced that her product’s utility and uniqueness would simply speak for itself, she embarked on an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

“Well, it bombed. It was terrible,” says Selanders.

“I thought, how does everybody on the planet not want to buy my product?”

Since then, she has been “figuring out how to get to market.” She has an agreement in principle with the Saskatchewan Taxi Cab Association, to outfit its drivers with her device, and was recently approved for the federal government’s Build Canada Innovation Program, which helps entrepreneurs by buying products that improve government services.

And she was accepted into the Fierce Founders Bootcamp.

Her journey has generated lessons, not only how hard it is to create and market a new technology, but how hard it is to stay the course, to not lose faith.

“If we had done this interview a year ago, I don’t know if I could have done it without tears in my eyes,” says Selanders.

“I was really worried about [whether] we were going to make it. I was starting to calculate how long the money was going to last and where we were going to go next.

“You learn from your mistakes, you dig deep, and gosh, I know there’s going to be more heartache to come and some good times and bad times. You just keep at it.

“Nobody wants to talk about those times. Nobody wants to talk about not being able to sleep at night or crying at the drop of a hat because you’re so terrified.

“I’ve been there and I’ll probably be there again.”

Because life has a way of throwing curves when it’s least expected.

“My life essentially changed overnight.”