Entrepreneurship is a contact sport. But this expert has some tips for aspiring business owners.
Victoria Lennox is the co-founder of Startup Canada, an organization established in 2012 to provide support to entrepreneurs in Canada and beyond.
Their goal is to create an environment and culture for entrepreneurs to succeed. The organization uses grassroots startup communities to connect mentors, investors, service providers and other entrepreneurs.
Longitudes caught up with Victoria to discuss Startup Canada and her thoughts on entrepreneurship.
Startup Canada was itself a startup at one time. What motivated the idea for this organization?
Lennox: I began Startup Canada to create a shared culture and environment for entrepreneurship in Canada. My friends in the United Kingdom had started Startup Britain, the Chilean government had started Startup Chile and Startup America was in its infancy. I looked at the Canadian context and believed that Canada had all the ingredients to be an exceptional startup nation.
What steps did you take to get the organization off the ground, and what were some challenges you faced along the way?
Lennox: I identified gaps in the Canadian entrepreneurship landscape and then reached out to various organizations for support. I facilitated partnerships with more than 200 organizations to launch a national tour across Canada. We visited 40 cities and spoke with 20,000 entrepreneurs about what we needed to do to build Canada into an innovation nation for new businesses.
After a six-month tour, we conducted national town halls across the country, which included interviews with entrepreneurs from coast to coast to coast.
We authored a report called the Startup Canada Blueprints and a video documentary series that shared our learnings. It really resonated with the entrepreneurship community. This formed the basis of what we do at Startup Canada today.
The challenge for us was working around the size of the Canadian market in a global context. Having started a charity in the United Kingdom, I experienced first-hand London’s position as a global financial powerhouse. It made connecting government, industry and entrepreneurs seamless.
While many multinational corporations and organizations have offices located in Canada, their headquarters are located elsewhere.
I not only had to change the mindsets of those who were operating in the Canadian market, I also had to make the case for Canada to their North American headquarters. As such, we move slowly, we require great perseverance and we need to keep reminding ourselves that we’re in it for future entrepreneurs – we must keep to our long-term vision.
How have you seen this organization grow and develop?
Lennox: Over the last five years, Startup Canada has moved from a completely volunteer-based organization to Canada’s leading entrepreneurship institution. We now have 10 full-time staffers, 200,000 entrepreneurs and 50 Startup communities across Canada.
“Every entrepreneur needs to understand they are not alone.”
I’m so proud of what we have achieved as a country and as a community.
Our approach through Startup communities is championed as a global best practice among other countries looking to emulate our successes and our model as an effective vehicle for economic development.
Together we are building an organization that provides a conduit between entrepreneurs and leading government decision makers.
Based on your experience, what are some lessons for entrepreneurs looking to start a business in any region?
Lennox: Every entrepreneur needs to understand they are not alone. There is a whole ecosystem of support and a country that wants to see them succeed on the global stage. We have great programs like Startup Finance Bootcamp, Go Global Bootcamp and Pitch Nights where entrepreneurs can grow and test their entrepreneurial skills.
Entrepreneurship is a contact sport. It’s experiential and social, so it’s critical for entrepreneurs to understand that they need to get out there and become part of the community.
What are some things businesses should consider when looking to expand into global markets?
Lennox: Businesses can leverage the startup community to tap into preexisting channels. There are great networks like LatAm Startup and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We have Export Development Canada and incredible trade commissioner services that are provided free to every Canadian entrepreneur.
Partners like UPS can provide the logistical networks and solutions that entrepreneurs need to start up and grow.
Canada is an ideal destination for businesses. From an exemplary quality of life to a skilled and diverse population, we are a place where every international business can thrive. I would encourage them to connect with Startup Canada to see how we can work together and create partnerships that anchor their businesses in the right community across our country.
We have wonderful innovation hubs covering everything from ocean technology and cyber security to artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing.
What does success look like to you? What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs, especially women?
Lennox: Success for me is a culture shift where children sitting around the breakfast table ask their parents how they can take their idea and start something exciting with it – a culture where their parents encourage them to pursue those ideas and provide them with a list of resources available like Startup Canada to do so. Success is empowering every Canadian to realize their dreams and their ideas through entrepreneurship. My advice to women is just to start. Be bold, find mentors, leverage your startup community and be unapologetically ambitious. When you think you’re thinking big, think bigger because anything is possible.
For more on Startup Canada, visit startupcan.ca.
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