…with a push from Innovate Manitoba
There is definitely something in the Manitoba air. Local startups such as Exigence Technologies™, Advolve Media, Kindoma and Permission Click are making substantial progress in investor and business circles in Canada and internationally.
Each credits Innovate Manitoba for playing a pivotal role in their journeys along the entrepreneurial path.
Zach Wolff, Co-founder and CEO of Exigence Technologies said that Innovate Manitoba’s Startup Skills Bootcamp was essential in launching the antimicrobial technology company forward. “This experience really gave us the tools to get started.” Just as important, Wolff said, are the connections that began and have continued through its involvement in programs such as Bootcamp and Venture’Challenge.
“Their ongoing support has helped us take advantage of opportunities to solve crucial parts of our business puzzle,” Wolff said. Exigence recently earned national recognition and a startup package of up to $50,000 in financing and a high profile mentor through the Spin Master program that is sponsored by Futurepreneur Canada and BDC. The awards are given to only nine startups nation-wide.
They were joined on the Spin Master stage by Permission Click, another local startup and Innovate Manitoba success story. The company provides an automated solution for school permission slips and payments. It recently beat out 14 other new businesses to be named Canada’s Most Promising Startup at the National Angel Summit in Quebec City.
Chris Johnson, Permission Click’s Co-founder said he appreciates the hard work Innovate Manitoba puts into these events and the opportunities they help line up for startups in the community. “Innovate Manitoba provides an incredible opportunity for new entrepreneurs to get both validation and feedback for their business idea from an investment perspective. When you’re just getting started these really are two of the most critical elements you need to guide your next steps.”
Kindoma, the company that placed first in Venture’Challenge 2014 competed at the CFF where they won Top Startup. Kindoma’s video chat and messaging app connects families wherever they are. The company’s Co-founder, Carly Shuler, said the benefits of participating in Innovate Manitoba’s programs have been immeasurable.
“They have created a whole community around innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. I can literally pick up the phone and ask others I’ve met through the Innovate Manitoba startup ecosystem for help if I’m looking for a particular talent or any other questions about my business,” Shuler said.
Bryce North, Co-founder of Advolve Media, won Best Technology Pitch at Innovate Manitoba Pitch’Day 2012. The custom display company recently beat out nearly 500 other companies to become one of 10 startups named to Communitech Rev, a new accelerator program that helps new businesses focus on revenue growth.
Advolve was also selected from among 1,000 companies across Canada to become one of 10 regional winners of the Small Business Challenge Contest sponsored by TELUS and the Globe and Mail. In addition, it was one of the top 5 Canadian startups to compete in the Get in the Ring ‘Olympics for Startups’ in Kansas City, a week after competing at the National Angel Summit, narrowly missing the top 5. North credits Innovate Manitoba for being one of the reasons that Winnipeg is standing out as a national player in the startup scene.
“Other cities haven’t developed their innovation ecosystem as much. Winnipeg is coming along and moving faster because of Innovate Manitoba,” North said.
Jan Lederman, president, Innovate Manitoba, appreciates the praise but said that these four companies are prime examples of what a strong, supported startup ecosystem can deliver. “Each of these companies have vastly different business models and are at different places of their success,” said Lederman. “I have no doubt they will all be enormously successful. In addition to their persistence and hard work, we’re seeing each of them reaching out for help when they need it, and focusing on building scalable businesses with an eye on markets beyond Manitoba and Canada.”
Power of a strong startup community
Randy Thompson, an established angel investor and entrepreneur mentor, leads Innovate Manitoba’s annual Startup Skills Bootcamp, 1-day Workshops and Brandon Entrepreneur Bootcamp. He runs similar bootcamps internationally and is impressed with what’s happening in Manitoba.
“Winnipeg has a strong incubator acceleration community. What Innovate Manitoba has done is honed in on programming that’s right here right now so it’s available to startups when they need it most,” Thompson said.
He cited the recent Know When to Quit Your Day Job event featuring Brad Feld and Dr. Sean Wise as an example. “It’s clear that Innovate Manitoba isn’t afraid to bring in the best talent available to support the startup community.”
Joelle Foster, Director of Futurpreneur Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut, NWT, added that the community of support for innovation and entrepreneurship has evolved over the past several years. “Four to five years ago nobody was working together. But now many organizations, such as Innovate Manitoba, the Eureka project, the Asper School of Business, Futurpreneur and others that are supporting startups are working together and we’re seeing real traction. It truly takes a community to raise these entrepreneurs,” said Foster.
Jeff Ryzner, president of the Eureka Project and member of Innovate Manitoba’s Board of Directors, said that the continuum of events that Innovate Manitoba is presenting allows new entrepreneurs to test their ideas in a safe environment before spending a lot of money. “Early feedback is critical to that whole bootstrapping mentality. Test it and make sure you’ve got something before you quit your day job,” Ryzner said. “You take that continuum of support and mix in entrepreneurs that are coachable and driven and you’ve got a recipe for success.”
Mentorship is another key piece to the puzzle, according to Foster. “These new entrepreneurs feel like they are part of something and not alone. As a tech company, you have your highs and lows and sometimes you need those different mentors and advisors to give you solid advice as well as hard truths.”
Ryzner agrees. He was recently presented with the 2015 BDC Mentorship Award recognizing outstanding Canadian business mentors.
“You can’t be shy about asking for help. In my career, I still bump into things I have never dealt with before. It’s a natural part of the entrepreneurial process.”
“Having a clear, long term vision of the company attracts good people who want to work for and with the company and help forward its vision,” said Ryzner. “This also attracts investment. Mentors get really excited about people who are passionate, smart and driven. We’re absolutely seeing that in these startups.”
Thompson said, “Success is really about the execution. The idea really is such a small part of it. Many of the companies we’re seeing come through the Innovate Manitoba bootcamps now are getting that. They are businesses, not ideas, and they get the importance of validating their concept through research and just getting into the ring.”
He added that there isn’t one formula for successful entrepreneurship. “If there is one it’s where the talent equals opportunity equals timing. In some cases, we see these pieces line up and in others it’s just the pure driving effort of a few individuals that has gotten people’s attention.”
What’s Winnipeg got to do with it?
A lot according to Ryzner. “There’s a spirit of collaboration, cooperation and wanting to give back that’s always been strong in Manitoba,” he said. “When people need help, we like to help. That willingness to provide mentorship and support is a major driver that pushes the entrepreneurial ecosystem forward.”
Thompson believes that Winnipeg has all the makings for success that people living here may be largely unaware of. He compares it to the “big 3” – Silicon Valley, Boston and New York. “Winnipeg has all the right tools to be a tech hub – A large research-driven university, a massive pocket of money (it may be risk averse but it’s still money), and a community that people want to stay in.”
The startups agree. North said, “I was born in Winnipeg and the resources that have been made available to us are validating what we’re doing. We’ve been able to test and get people to adopt the product. You have to go where there’s support and success.”
The Exigence operation relies heavily on the tech resources available through the University of Manitoba. “Dr. Lui advises on our internal development programs and continues to do ground-breaking work in his lab. None of that collaboration would be possible if we didn’t have a trusting relationship with the Technology Transfer Office at the U of M,” Wolff said.
Best advice for companies that are just getting started?
Thompson said, “I tell Canadian entrepreneurs in general there’s not going to be a moment in time when you have all the right answers, have written the perfect business plan, perfected that bank application, or had a granting agency deem you worthy. Canadians have a habit of researching everything to death and hoping to avoid failure. If you’re going to do it, get in the ring and give it a try.”
Foster reiterates the importance of being open to sharing your idea and asking for help. “These young tech companies can benefit so much from asking for advice, sharing ideas and getting feedback from people in the community. The failure rate is a lot higher for startups that won’t seek guidance.”
Ryzner added, “Get involved in the community and ask for help. Find a good mentor that can add value to what you’re doing.”
What do the young tech companies have to say?
“Work hard, share your story, and let people know what you’re doing,” North said. “Surround yourself with like-minded people at home and in other startup ecosystems.
Shuler agrees. “Talk to others and stick with it. It can be an emotional roller coaster at times!”
Johnson said, “Stay focused on your priorities, and keep your eyes on the target as well as your clients’ needs.”
Wolff wraps it up. “Measure twice, cut once and just do it. Have a good plan, do all the research you can and then jump in. You can’t do it from the sidelines.”
INSPIRED? READY TO JUMP IN?
LIFT’OFF ON JUNE 17 IS THE PLACE TO BEGIN
This is an opportunity-packed full-day event featuring the latest from the local startup scene and the chance to hear from and connect with international leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship. Book your tickets now to attend one or all of the events that will make a difference in your entrepreneurial journey: Venture’Challenge, Entrepreneur Power Lunch and Entrepreneur IQ Forum.
Croll is one of Canada’s foremost startup experts and public speakers and is the author of four books on technology and entrepreneurship, including the best-selling Lean Analytics, which has been translated into nine languages.
Randy Smerik is a successful San Diego-based serial entrepreneur, angel investor and startup advisor whose most recent startup, Tarari Inc. exited for $100 million. He was also part of the team that sold iPivot to Intel for $500 million. He is currently founder and CEO of Osunatech, owner of Solare Ristorante, and sits on the board of directors of Fortaleza Tequila.