Tech insights and learnings from the Canadian start-up scene…

I understand you are a business blogger and you profile Canadian entrepreneurs and start-ups, how did you get started in the tech start-up scene? 

Like many great relationships, my involvement with the tech start-up scene is entirely due to a friend. The social media marketing department of a major Canadian telco supports SMBs and entrepreneurs across Canada and they were launching a business blog in 2009. The intent wasn’t to populate it with customer profiles and testimonials but to be a conversation hub filled with advice and tips. A friend at the telco referred me and because of my 15+ years as a journalist I landed a contributing blogger position.

Today I’m still digging up profiles of great Canadian businesses. And seeking out support and advice from in-the-field experts. I love talking to local investors, passionate SMB owners, start-ups and mentors. Often start-up founders struggle to explain what they’re trying to accomplish. They’re great at their jobs and have amazing focus but that doesn’t translate into great marketing or branding or the pitch. I love pulling that information from them and sharing that passion with readers. Once the story has been published I love when they email me: “That’s what I meant to say but I didn’t have the words for it!” My role as a storyteller is to initiate conversation and support entrepreneurship, which will hopefully

What are the success rates of tech start-ups that you see growing into profitable businesses in Canada?

I don’t have official stats for Canada but a common statistic (and an awful one) is nine out of 10 tech start-ups are said to fail. Or so I’ve read. I’ve also read that incubated companies have an 87% success rate compared with 44% for the average startup. I’m not saying we’re looking for unicorns but I will say that running a start-up is not for the faint-hearted.

 

What are the most common challenges that you see tech start-ups face, and do they differ from entrepreneur’s challenges?

Entrepreneurs and tech start-ups face similar challenges. One of the most common is financing. Others are: scaling and cash flow; building the right teams; knowing how to market the product/service correctly; and keeping up with and maximizing mobile marketing.

 

In Canada, do many tech start-ups use incubators and accelerators, and why?

Yes we have numerous incubators and accelerators. I’m afraid I don’t have statistics on what percentage of the total start-ups are taking advantage of them. However I do know that they are well regarded and get good results. Communitech Waterloo, Ontario, is possibly the best-known. It’s been around since 1997 and has helped build a tech cluster of nearly 1,000 companies. Students from the University of Waterloo who work here are frequently head hunted and end up in Silicon Valley. The Digital Media Zone (DMZ) at Ryerson University in Toronto is a large incubator and co-working space for entrepreneurs. MaRS Discovery District, also in Toronto is a well-known accelerator where science, technology and social entrepreneurs get the help they need. Out West, the Venture Accelerate Program in Victoria, B.C., is a six-month program that supports early stage tech companies. As you can see we have a lot of intellectual capital here! Start-ups use an accelerator because they offer a chance at mentorship and the possibility of rapid growth! Why wouldn’t start-ups use the help if they can get it?

 

Also, what do you think of young entrepreneurship in Canada?

I know we have so many great young entrepreneurs! This is the land of HootSuite! And I’ve spoken to many of them – they’ve launched their own jewellery design companies; sensory deprivation studios; construction site apps. Are you getting the sense that our 18-24-year olds are creative like crazy? We have Futurpreneur Canada, which offers young Canadians start-up financing and mentoring. The financing can often can be matched with funding from Business Development Bank of Canada. I could go on and on and on…

 

From all your research and blogging, can you share with us an advice that you feel is the most important for aspiring entrepreneurs?

In the last seven years I’ve been told repeatedly that there are no new ideas, just versions of that idea. The upshot? Get out there and be a detective! Know your customer, talk to them and understand how to solve their pain points. Worry about the funding second. “Success is in the execution.” And always know how you are going to tinker it for the next iteration…