‘Stop bitching about not having money’

Courtney Symons
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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.

Organizations: Startup Canada, University of Ottawa, McGill University

Geographic location: Canada, Calgary, Silicon Valley Ottawa Vancouver

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Recent comments

  • Pat Foley
    May 06, 2012 - 12:26

    Seriously, this is terrible advice: '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." So the kid learns right off that all he/she needs is to stand there and look cute and people will give them money. Mom and dad bought the product (lemonade), provided the equipment (containers, cups, table, paper and pens for signage) and likely did most of the cleanup. Then the next time when a single customer, if they even get one, doesn't buy the lot, they are crushed, so mom and dad have to buy it. At five, kids need to learn the value of money and develop a work ethic.

  • Andrew Rees
    May 03, 2012 - 14:39

    Amen to all of the above, however if one plots a point on a continuum reflecting those able to allocate $200 – 250,000 of their hard-earned investment portfolio to high risk/return seed-stage investments, an amount reflecting the requisite eight-to-ten 25k minimum investments necessary to reasonably expect a marketable return, and one compares the relative size of the potential investor population on either side of such point, it’s clear one of the impediments to the flow of capital into this sector is the absence of an investment vehicle for the majority of smaller investors to participate in a profitable fashion. Terry spoke to investor goodwill at a recent Invest Ottawa breakfast event, goodwill substantially influenced by investor’s returns or losses in a sector. In my view, if we can come up with a profitable investment vehicle for the majority of those willing but unable investors, unable in the sense they are savvy enough not to bet the farm on that one rocket ship to the stars, we will all take one giant step towards increasing both the flow of capital into seed-stage businesses and the goodwill they enjoy. What that vehicle looks like is the billion dollar question, it’s certainly not a venture capital fund in the traditional sense… the motives of investors in such funds and the mechanics of the management model don’t lend themselves to doing a large number of small investments across multiple sectors and perhaps most importantly, staying with portfolio companies to the point where they are self sustainable businesses encompassing a full P&L as Terry puts it. So what is it? Is it a hybrid traditional organized Angel / ‘something’ model where something is a seed-stage fund of some kind, perhaps a publicly traded entity? Certainly any model will require a balance of investment, financial management and hands-on mentorship towards the interests of ‘all’ investors including the smaller fish. Thoughts?