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Colette Miller
Partner - Wilde & Company

Telling the Canadian Entrepreneurship Story

Published on

Takeaways

  1. Family businesses benefit from sharing a common goal and principles, allowing their entrepreneurship journey to be more seamless.
  2. Entrepreneurs will always have gaps that can be filled with the expertise of trusted partners who can help them build strong foundational skills such as bookkeeping and more.
  3. Canada’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is robust, and as such entrepreneurs will need help navigating the web of programs available to them.

Action

Canada has a great innovation and entrepreneurship story to tell, and government, media entities, and entrepreneurs themselves will need to work together to make sure that story is told. Considering Canada’s potential and available resources, we can make more of an impact on the world stage if our story is more publicized.


Can you give us a brief background of your entrepreneurship journey? 

In 1962, my father looked at a map of where a chartered accountant firm was needed and zeroed in on Vegreville, Alberta, which is an hour east of Edmonton. There were major highways there and it was a rural community. My parents left their families in Saskatchewan and moved to Vegreville with nothing and two young children, my sister and me, and my father started the business. It was very lean times and the scarcity of entrepreneurs having to make do and build a business from scratch was very challenging for them.  

Growing up with a business, you have no separation from business and family life. Your family dinner often involves talking about business, its challenges, and the highs and lows. I had wanted to become a chartered accountant early in my career but in high school, I decided to go into law. Along the way, I had a little accident. I got pregnant just after high school so I ended up having to wait out a year and could not go to university. I was supposed to go to the University of Alberta Campus Saint-Jean, the French bilingual college. I was pretty sad but I took accounting courses and worked here in the office while I waited for our first son, Geoffrey, to be born. After that, I got to go to university and I was overjoyed. I have never lost the appreciation and the gift of an education. 

“Growing up with a business, you have no separation from business and family life.” 

My husband and I moved to Edmonton and we had four children by the time I finished my chartered accountant program. We had our family. I was 26 years old and we were farming, which is another journey in entrepreneurship and a whole other story. Here I was, with the opportunity and expectation to become a business partner with my father. It was a great time of my life with lots of excitement and challenges, and that is how I got started. 


What are the unique characteristics of a family-owned business?  

There are two schools of thought: you can be passionate about what you are doing or you can pursue your passion. I have always been of the first camp. I am going to love this work and build a great business with great people. I am going to be responsible for the livelihoods of our team. We have grown to about 45 team members right now and we have a diverse, multidisciplinary practice. 

Family is amazing because the DNA and the fit are automatic. Your kids understand your core values and basic principles in life, and that is how you build your business. Family businesses are very clear about what is important from a value perspective when attracting clients and taking on new work. Whatever it is that you are doing, it goes back to those core values. 


What makes up the DNA of a successful entrepreneur?  

Are accountants, lawyers, or any professional service providers really entrepreneurs? Traditionally, they are not because they tend to be very narrow and deep, and sometimes a little arrogant and old school, always thinking they did the right thing. Entrepreneurs have to have softer edges, a much broader perspective of the world, and a growth mindset. Those are some of the basics of being a great entrepreneur. However, entrepreneurs need accounting services. So many businesses fail because they lack the basics such as an understanding of cash and capital management, profit and loss understanding, accounts receivable or payable, and work in progress. Other examples include how to read a balance sheet or how to handle and navigate taxes like the goods and services tax (GST). 

Are there government programs available? What can you tap into for more resources? These are foundational and great entrepreneurs have that or if they do not have it, entrepreneurs should be humble enough to accept great partners in their life. That is where I see some roadblocks with entrepreneurs, which I call the arrogance-ignorance challenge. They do not want to listen.  

“Entrepreneurs should be humble enough to accept great partners in their life.” 

If entrepreneurs can partner with great people, they will be much better off for it. Trusted advisors, partners, and shareholders are the foundation to success if you do not have all of those skills yourself, and you cannot have it all yourself. You are going to have gaps. I have gaps, but that is why I surround myself with great people. 

Then other DNA qualities include communication skills, learning to present your ideas, and translating to your potential buyers, customers, and clients. Entrepreneurs need to effectively translate the value they are bringing to the world. You need to communicate well verbally and have good written communication, which sometimes is missing. The flipside of being able to put things out there is to receive, which means active listening.  

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What is Canada’s entrepreneurship ecosystem like?  

Canada has a huge ecosystem but the problem is that it sometimes feels like chaos. There is a web out there: incubators, accelerators, innovation labs, and business resources like the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)Export Development Canada (EDC), and Farm Credit Canada (FCC). There are also venture capitalists, private equity, crowd-funding, and government funding. I am fortunate to be involved with CBGF, which is awesome, and AVAC, which funds startups and is a venture capital company. We have this phenomenal ecosystem. However, who helps an entrepreneur navigate it? It can be daunting for any young entrepreneur to try to find the right resources. Who do you trust and where do I fit? I love groups like the A100, which includes entrepreneurs and coaches. You have an equivalent in Ontario and Quebec. Entrepreneurs need people who are willing to help coach young entrepreneurs] and help them find their way through this web. 

“Our core education system needs a major transformation to really enhance students’ creativity, openness, and curiosity of life.” 

We also have post-secondary institutions where some focus on entrepreneurship, which helps. Entrepreneurs are getting it younger, but our core education system needs a major transformation to really enhance students’ creativity, openness, and curiosity of life. This tends to get a little bit squished for some reason. We try to funnel people into consensus, compliance, and streams. We ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For the kids who do not know, that should be celebrated.  


What are the global opportunities for Canadian entrepreneurs?  

I have a sweet spot for agtech, agfood, and feeding the world, so  there is that. Canada is also a powerhouse in energy. We need to make sure that the policies and government philosophies support industries while at the same time find the right balance between environmental concerns and everything else. We have some of the most innovative energy companies in the world and we have the best standards for safety, health, environment, climate, and greenhouse gas emissions. We are innovative and creative as a group, and we could have so much impact on the world, solving big problems like hunger.  

Canada has great resources, entrepreneurs, and innovation, but we struggle to tell our story. I do not know why voices that have a little story get amplified more. There is a place for that and we need our boundaries, but our great core story gets lost. People do not seem to want to listen or believe how good Canada is as a whole and how great we could be on a larger scale to help solve world problems. 


Who needs to do what in order to help Canadian companies grow? 

My personal philosophy is always that change starts with each one of us. It is too easy to ask what others should do about our problems. I am always reflective of what I can do about it. First of all, getting to participate in this is awesome because anytime entrepreneurs can have a voice or even a little impact, we do not know what kind of ripple effects that can have.  

First, what am I doing about it? I did a pitch session for entrepreneurs at the University of Alberta two weekends ago, and I am involved with CBGF and AVAC where people can make a difference, and help entrepreneurs. We are all really trying to help this system be informed. 

There is still the question of what other entities can do. We talk about high-level government politics and policies, and we need to make sure the right stories are heard by the right people. We need to determine who the influencers are and how to get the ear of people who can have a significant impact on policies to, for example, make sure the energy sector is supported.  

There has to be balance. When it comes to the web of the ecosystem or any organization I am involved with, I always ask how we are going to knit these pieces together and what resources can be put out there. I love listening to podcasts and interviews, but everybody has limited time. Again, the willing student has to be ready to hear the information and so the challenge is always what more we could be doing.  

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Colette Miller
Partner - Wilde & Company

Bio: Colette Miller is a Partner at Wilde and Company. Additionally, she is also currently Director at both the Canadian Business Growth Fund (CGBF) and AVAC, and is involved with Belongify as a Team Advisor. Previously, she has served as a Director at ATB Financial, Governor at Athabasca University, and Council Member at CPA Alberta. She has over 35 years of experience in municipal and non-profit organization audit and consulting.  

 

Organization Profile: Wilde and Company is an accounting firm that provides tax and assurance services. They seek to provide exceptional business advisory services through a collaborative approach, serving a broad range of industries and clients. They are based in Vegreville, Alberta, where the company was founded by Jerry Wilde.