Custom Search

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lay Down Your Swords For A Startup Nation

Lay Down Your Swords For A Startup Nation

Published on Thursday September 27, 2012
Victoria Lennox, co-founder of Startup Canada, blogging on the road from the Cross-Country Tour
“Can I comment off-camera?” is a phrase that we heard on nearly every stop of the Startup Canada Tour. Across more than 20 communities, no one wanted to go on the record about the fragmentation of the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem.

It’s one of the greatest barriers to the advancement of Canadian entrepreneurship, but we are too polite to talk about it. But the enterprise support community has seen the Startup Canada Tour and Town Halls as an opportunity to air their concerns. This entry is a summary of what we have heard from those on the inside and on the ground.

The enterprise support landscape across Canada is highly fragmented and siloed in terms of region, sector, industry and generation. To survive, enterprise support organizations rely on funding – most of which comes from government. These organizations are often measured by the number of clients they have, the number of “bums on seats,” and the number of jobs created, rather than the actual quality of service provided to their clients – Canadian entrepreneurs – collaboration with other actors in the ecosystem, and support of new initiatives and ideas.

In their efforts to meet metrics, remain relevant and carve out territory to justify their continued funding, the raison d’être of many organizations has gone somewhat by the wayside. Territorial politicking, heresy rumours and egoism are distracting organizations from adding greater value to our entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is a highly social activity. It requires trust, cooperation, collaboration in a spirit of abundance and opportunity rather than scarcity and fear. Entrepreneurs need different types of support at different stages of their entrepreneurial journey. But without question, the loudest message coming out of the tour to date, from thousands of entrepreneurs, is that the enterprise support ecosystem needs to get its act together, collaborate, and provide a more seamless process for helping entrepreneurs.

A healthy enterprise ecosystem has the potential to accelerate the growth of entrepreneurs; however, a broken-one where organizations are unwilling to work collaboratively for fear of losing ground, has the opposite effect.

Entrepreneurship is not a win/lose sport. It is a win-win-win sport where a commitment to collaboration will empower and enable everyone to be more successful.

Startup Canada, as much as it is a campaign and a conversation, is also an anthropological experiment in creating a more entrepreneurial Canada through bringing together the Canadian business community with a common vision and spirit. As part of the methodology, communities self-organize to host the Startup Canada Tour as it moves throughout the country. We learn just as much from the process as we do the conversation – which communities work well or not so well together, which organizations have a cohesive vision and culture, which national HQs are detached from reality, and which organizations actually ‘get’ the community they serve.

In all provinces, there are a number of enterprise organizations that support entrepreneurs at many stages; nevertheless, entrepreneurs continue to be unaware of the diverse help available. Enterprise support professionals do not have the necessary communications budgets to “get the word out” about their availability, which results in useful knowledge and learning sessions going to waste — many have only 25 percent attendance.

The enterprise support community also desires greater coordination, cohesion and collaboration, so as to prevent entrepreneurial events from taking place simultaneously. Organizations need to come together, align, distinguish their mandates and coordinate their offerings to add greater value to entrepreneurs in their communities. Further, they need to think like entrepreneurs and be sensitive to the demanding schedules that business owners have to manage – e.g. scheduling value-added sessions during meals, evenings and weekends rather during the day when most people are running their businesses.

Startup Canada has now been through half of Canada’s great provinces and we have seen both a deep desire to create greater alignment, as well as some excellent progress in moving toward that end.

The OCE / ONE / Regional Innovation Centre structure in Ontario creates a single point of access for entrepreneurs to access the support they need. Of course these structures focus primarily on the tech community, and there is still room for improvement in connecting with the chambers, social innovators and more general business owners. Nevertheless, this framework has the potential to do more in supporting all types of entrepreneurs in Ontario.

In New Brunswick, the vision of a number of the key individuals on the New Brunswick Business Council is leading industry to align more concertedly with academia. Efforts are spearheaded by some of the province’s leading entrepreneurs, and this is fuelling the development of programs and centers of excellence to provide business owners in New Brunswick with a central point of contact support, and entrepreneurial networks.

Manitoba has recently pressed the reset button. After a decade of relatively little coordination in the innovation community, the provincial government has mandated a new non-profit organization called Innovate Manitoba. It’s spearheaded by industry leaders and meant to begin the difficult but essential role of bringing together the enterprise and innovation support communities.

In Saskatoon, community leaders are developing Kolo Saskatchewan, a 24-month initiative to launch in November 2012 that will bring together the enterprise support community with a number of clear objectives and activities. Whilst the drivers of Kolo are deeply passionate about collaboration, they choose to be involved in the project on an anonymous basis. They’re well aware organizational politicking means the community will only come together through anonymous, volunteer-based efforts – positioning well-known local entrepreneurs as the face of the organization.

So, to close, enterprise support organizations need to be entrepreneurial, avoid operating in silos and perpetuating territorial politicking, and leverage their resources to do more.

No comments:

Post a Comment