- Canada’s funding ecosystem for startups and scale-ups will need to grow in order to better support entrepreneurs.
- Canada has the right foundations in place in order for its startups to go global, but more supports are needed for entrepreneurs.
- The current support programs in place in Canada need to be reworked in order to better suit the needs of entrepreneurs in today’s landscape.
While many helpful support programs exist in Canada to help entrepreneurs get started, there is a lack of updated support programs that help entrepreneurs get to the next stage of the process. The Canadian government can help businesses overcome these challenges by retooling these support programs.
Please introduce your company.
Neovation Learning Solutions is a digital learning company. We help organizations develop strategies and implement solutions to help their people be smarter. This could be in the form of training or performance support. We provide both the software and the services to accomplish that.
How would you describe Canada’s entrepreneurship ecosystem?
That is a great question and one that could have a pretty big answer. Canada’s strength is we try harder. We are the smaller cousins to some pretty big markets and yet we punch above our weight.
In terms of the weaknesses, any Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will say that the funding ecosystem for startups and scaleups in Canada is not as developed as other markets. It is certainly getting better but it is not quite developed as some other markets.
What does the CBGF investment mean for Neovation?
CBGF’s approach is really remarkable because CBGF’s funding allows large startups like ours to be able to remain Canadian and have control over our destiny. We are using that fund to accelerate all the different parts of what we do from marketing to sales and product development to client success.
We want to continue honing our path and grow a bit faster than we were before. Now, we can provide even more value for our clients and more opportunities for our employees.
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What are the opportunities for Canadian companies and entrepreneurs in the education technology space?
Within the digital learning space, there is the academic side and then the corporate side. Our focus is on the corporate side. If you are a competitor listening to this interview, I am going to say there is no opportunity here and that you should find another market to play in.
More seriously, digital learning has skyrocketed in the last couple of years for obvious reasons related to the pandemic. Many organizations have had to find a way to move from in-person training and onboarding to digital ways of delivering that. The biggest beneficiary of that trend was video conferencing platforms like Zoom because they presented the easiest way for organizations to pivot. They could now do live events digitally.
Now, organizations are starting to take the next step. Zoom and other solutions like it are great, providing live training and more, but now organizations need something more long-term. Organizations are looking for different ways to package content for ongoing delivery to be more efficient.
“If somebody has been at a company for 20 years, there will be tons of knowledge that will evaporate if they retire or leave.”
Delivering training is one piece of it. Another piece is helping companies figure out how to manage and encapsulate the knowledge that their employees have. If somebody has been at a company for 20 years, there will be tons of knowledge that will evaporate if they retire or leave.
So the next question will be how to make sure the knowledge ecosystem within your organization is strong and how companies can retain that knowledge within the organization.
What is in the entrepreneur’s DNA?
There can be some passionate debate about this question. Being an entrepreneur is in your DNA. It is in the way you assess the world, look at risk and reward, and make decisions. A business owner does not actually have to be an entrepreneur from my point of view because some great entrepreneurs are working in jobs or companies but behave in an entrepreneurial way.
“What makes somebody great at one stage of growing a company might make them really lousy at a different stage.”
I think of entrepreneurship more as a mindset. It is something innate. That does not mean that every successful business is always run by an entrepreneur. What makes somebody great at one stage of growing a company might make them really lousy at a different stage. Entrepreneurship is more about how someone approaches opportunities and sees risks; it is not something learned.
What must Canada do to better support its entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs?
Canada is in a great position to grow its entrepreneurial ecosystem and get many more world-changing companies. However, we are in constant danger of those companies ending up down south. There are some Canadian institutions like the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), which is incredibly useful in helping organizations develop new products and fund things they otherwise would have difficulty funding.
We also have the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program, which is good on paper. However, funding programs like SR&ED can be a bit of a lottery because you never know if it is going to be accepted until after you make an investment. That could really use an overhaul.
The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) is an institution that has gone from an entrepreneurial-friendly organization to one that is chock-full of red tape, making even banks look nimble. This is odd for a government institution that is supposed to help the startup and scale-up infrastructures.
“Canada needs to look at the SR&ED program and the BDC and figure out how they can be retooled to be more modern.”
Canada needs to look at the SR&ED program and the BDC and figure out how they can be retooled to be more modern. They are great tools. The three tools I mentioned are so important to making sure our entrepreneurial ecosystem is strong and that we have many new companies moving from startup to scale-up every year.
If we were a startup today, there are two areas that we could use a lot of support with. One of them is intellectual property (IP), where assistance with general knowledge about various types of intellectual property from trademarks to patents would be very useful. Another area is online security data privacy and how to best meet the various regulations around the world and in Canada. We would need to know how to position ourselves and our infrastructure to support that. Those are that a startup today would need more outside guidance on and it would be great if government programs help support them there.
What advice would you give young Canadian entrepreneurs today?
The old adage is that entrepreneurs never give up, but it is kind of a funny thing to say to somebody because the truth is that you should never give up unless you need to pivot. Always pivot in a way that is going to be better than what you were doing before. It is true that you should not give up, but it is also quite impossible to know all the implications of that for an organization as there are so many points where an entrepreneur could give up. Knowing the difference between when to retool and when to stay on the same road is difficult; it is almost impossible for somebody outside to provide proper advice to you on that. Still, you need to talk to everybody you can as everybody has a piece of wisdom. Talk to your customers, your team, advisors and mentors.
“You are not the most important piece on the board. Make everybody else in your business more important than you and you will be successful.”
The next thing would be to put your ego on the shelf. This is not about you. You may think it is about you because you are the CEO and you are leading the organization, but it is not about you. You are not the most important piece on the board. Make everybody else in your business more important than you and you will be successful.