Upon encountering a youngster hosting a sidewalk lemonade stand, don't just buy a glass – buy the entire jug to nurture that five-year-old's entrepreneurial spirit.
Mercury Grove's Scott Annan. (Photo by Mark Holleron)
That's the message given by panellist Gary Ziegler at Startup Canada's official launch on Wednesday evening. Mr. Ziegler's Calgary company eThor, which allows restaurants to receive orders via mobile devices, was named the most innovative startup on the planet at the Global Technology Symposium in Silicon Valley this March.
Mr. Ziegler was one of six members of a young entrepreneurs panel at the national tour's launch event hosted at the University of Ottawa, including Mercury Grove founder Scott Annan and Shopify's Harley Finkelstein.
The panel discussion was part of Startup Canada's national tour launch, with 30 town hall meetings and 130 events scheduled from coast to coast between March and September to discuss how to solve challenges faced by Canadian entrepreneurs, with the goal of increasing national competitiveness and prosperity.
Suggestions and ideas from across the country will eventually be compiled into a white paper to be presented to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Wednesday night's event attracted a diverse crowd that included veterans of Ottawa's tech community, economic development officials, lawyers, accountants, budding entrepreneurs and the founders behind some of the city's hottest startups.
Discussing how to overcome challenges faced by Canadian entrepreneurs, Mr. Annan said that companies need to find creative ways to obtain financing, and that customers, not investors, are the best source of funding for a business.
"We need to stop bitching about not having money," he told the sold-out crowd of over 200 attendees, some of whom had to stand in the lobby outside the lecture hall to listen in.
"Suck it up," he said. "Do better."
While Canada is a leader in many industries including fisheries and the arts, entrepreneurs often rely too much on institutions to achieve success, Mr. Annan said.
Comparing building a business to riding a bike, he said the only way to learn is to hop on and start pedaling – not to sit and study how to do it.
Mr. Annan suggested that Canadians should "vote with their dollars" by spending money on local businesses instead of corporate enterprises, spreading the word about Canadian success stories and discussing actual companies, not the organizations behind them.
Being an entrepreneur includes "some modest success, but a lot of failures," Mr. Finkelstein said, adding that Canadians need to continue to learn that it's alright to "fail gracefully."
Starting a business as a student, as Mr. Finkelstein himself did by making t-shirts at McGill University, is a great way to test a product because of its access to customers (students), mentors (professors) and media (campus newspapers).
Entrepreneurs need to be proud to be Canadian, Mr. Finkelstein added, and willing to broadcast their successes.
"We're humble as Canadians, and I think we need to shake that off a bit," he said.
Topics focused on how to make Canada more attractive to foreign investors by making it easier for them to invest, tackling mindsets such as thinking that one only becomes an entrepreneur if they can't get a job, and how to make Canada a culture less averse to risk.
A reception followed the panel discussion, featuring brief addresses from local entrepreneur and Startup Canada chair Adam Chowaniec, Conservative cabinet minister John Baird and Wesley Clover founder Terry Matthews.
When explaining why and how he has created over 90 startups throughout his career, Mr. Matthews said that it's because he enjoys it so much.
"How can one person do that? I'll tell you what, it's because it's fun," he said. "It's fun going out there and battling for business."
With no plans to retire anytime soon, Mr. Matthews said that the Ottawa community can continue to expect his number of startups to rise well above 100, and gave audience members a similar message to the one he shared at a recent event hosted by Invest Ottawa.
"Put a little more into startups, and have the kind of fun that I'm having," he said.
The Startup Canada tour will arrive in Ottawa on Sept. 6-7 for events that are as yet unscheduled, and will end in Vancouver on Sept. 21.