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Five key takeaways from Startup Day on the Hill, which took place in Ottawa at the end of November (Startup Canada)
Five key takeaways from Startup Day on the Hill, which took place in Ottawa at the end of November (Startup Canada)

Guest Column

What entrepreneurs need to succeed in Canada Add to ...

Last week, I was honoured to attend and speak at the second annual Startup Day on the Hill. The sense of optimism from being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded government and business leaders who support the dreams and aspirations of Canadian entrepreneurs is incredibly motivating – and contagious. Events such as these are indispensable, as they provide opportunities for entrepreneurs, and those who support and champion Canada’s startup ecosystem, to gain invaluable insights that will help us build a more entrepreneurial Canada.

As I reflect on the last week, here are my key takeaways:

Entrepreneurism requires incredible optimism, but education is essential. Advice provided by entrepreneurs usually stresses the importance of conviction, learning from mistakes, and overcoming challenges – but ‘staying the course’ and ‘giving it everything you have’ isn’t enough – and hope is not a business strategy.

Entrepreneurs need to educate themselves on the fundamentals, especially when it comes to financial literacy, marketing and business planning. By accessing the tools and resources available both online and in their communities, they increase their chances of long-term success. In this way, they will know how to mange their business in the prosperous times, and what to do when challenges arise.

Think big and seek out support. At Startup Day on the Hill, Yona Shtern, co-founder and CEO of Beyond the Rack, encouraged entrepreneurs to think bigger, and develop their businesses with the aim of succeeding globally. Schtern also echoed something that I feel passionately about: seek guidance from a trusted adviser.

Schtern explained that his success was cultivated through his relationship with an international venture capitalist, who took him under his wing and not only funded the development of what is now a wildly successful e-commerce site, but also championed him and provided invaluable advice for achieving – and exceeding – his dreams.

We need to take bigger bets. Canada’s entrepreneurs need swifter access to capital and bolder bets made on new ventures by investors and VCs. Together, we need to transform the startup experience in Canada by removing barriers to success, and expediting the onerous funding process. We should take some lessons from the U.S., where startups with a great idea on the back of a napkin can secure VC funding. Of course, we need to strike the right balance, but right now we are limiting Canadian success through our collective conservatism.

Uniting for a successful future. One challenge frequently cited by Canadian entrepreneurs is finding homegrown support – be it finance, education or mentorship. As organizations that support entrepreneurism, we need to unite. We often try to reinvent the wheel, and independently develop entrepreneurial best practices and programs. By working collectively, we can move faster, be more efficient, and make an enduring impact.

We need to evangelize government support. I’m thrilled to see the Canadian government focusing on small business success through their efforts to cut red tape, support organizations like Startup Canada, and develop their Financial Literacy Database and Concierge Service. Government and private industry want to achieve the same goal of fostering small business success, so it must be our mission to find more effective ways to work together. I believe private industry needs to help government at all levels by educating and amplifying the good work they are doing. As such, a smart starting point, as mentioned above, is focusing on supporting and improving government programs already in place, and less on creating new programs, which might promote separate agendas.

Jeff Cates is the CEO of Intuit Canada (@jeff_cates1) a provider of business and accounting software.

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