New group of seed investors 'having a blast'
Successful business people in Canada are often criticized for not giving back to the entrepreneurial community, and a new U.S.-based venture fund might provide some north-of-the-border inspiration.
Launched in May, 2013, IncWell is a seed-stage venture fund founded in Birmingham, Mich., by Tom LaSorda, former CEO of Chrysler, and 13 associates. The Windsor-born businessman recently spoke to Communitech's Anthony Reinhart, in advance of Mr. LaSorda's visit to the innovation hub, about his motivation for starting the fund.
"It's not about us needing money, we're doing it to have fun," Mr. LaSorda later said during a panel discussion Tuesday at Communitech.
IncWell invests $50,000 to $250,000 (U.S.) in tech startups it chooses to fund and it is especially keen on companies focused on the clean energy, health care, medical and transportation sectors. Part of the group of industry titans, including Penske Corp. founder Roger Penske and Wayne Sales, former CEO of Canadian Tire, came to Communitech for a series of private pitch sessions by local entrepreneurs, but also to field questions during the lunch-hour panel.
Here are some of the highlights from that Q&A:
• IncWell doesn't do a lot of due diligence, and it doesn't field pitches exclusively from startups. One company approached the group with $1-million in sales and more than $400,000 in profit, but it needed funding to fuel growth.
• The personality styles of the owners don't matter. They do, however, need to know their numbers, customers and markets, and they must come across well from a business standpoint.
• "When you have great technology you have to prove it, not just show it, prove it," Mr. LaSorda said. "Don't B.S. Either your product is ready or it's not. I can make the connection but it better be what you told us."
• IncWell aims for 10-times return on its investments within 10 years. It decides within 48 hours of meeting an entrepreneur whether it's in or out of further investment discussions. The fastest investment it made happened in 12 days.
• Do you think IncWell would be a strategic fit for your startup? Its no-nonsense selection process includes four steps: an online screening, a live pitch, due diligence and the term sheet. Contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Female P2P network has first meeting
Dozens of women from Kitchener-Waterloo gathered at Communitech for the inaugural 'Women and Technology' Peer2Peer network meeting. The closed-door session was set up as part of the 36-month, $300,000 project funded by the federal government, with a focus on fostering female talent and retention in the tech sector.
Moderated by Alayne Hynes, talent program manager at Communitech, a panel of six women with a variety of work experiences discussed the following:
•Representation of women in the workplace. It's difficult being only one of a handful of women at an organization, and it's frustrating when the people who make the hiring decisions are primarily men. This helps perpetuates the male-dominated work force in technology.
• Starting a family. The notion of taking a break to have children and potentially missing out on milestones, including a company being acquired, 'terrifies' some women.
• The small things. While it's acknowledged that barriers still exist for women working in the technology sector, some see the problems as less like mountains to climb and more like 'pebbles in the shoe:' small but consistent issues they must confront day in, day out, whether it be presenting in front of 20 men or finding the confidence to speak up.
• What skills does the company value? Advanced social skills or soft skills, which are often associated as female strengths, are often under-valued or overlooked by upper management
• The importance of education. The need to speak the language of developers (such as learning to code) was emphasized, with a number of women suggesting that additional education is a requirement for any woman who wants to rise in the ranks of her organization.
• Striking the elusive work-life balance. Women especially must learn when to shut it off and when to turn it on – it's about trying to maintain your own personal balance, and everyone's case is different.
• Going above and beyond. If you're a twentysomething female marketer at a tech firm, there's a sense of having to 'prove yourself' in a culture dominated by young male developers. To defy this stereotype and feel valued, women must constantly surpass expectations, including working longer hours.
This was the first step in a series of programs Communitech will be running as part of the project, including mentoring, networking, skills development and a boot camp for female entrepreneurs in conjunction with Google this summer.
Girl Geek Dinners KW & Women Who Code
Two evening events on Tuesday focused on raising the profile of women in tech. The first was Girl Geek Dinners WR (Waterloo Region), which has a stated goal to provide fun, welcoming events for all types of people in tech – from students to those with well-established careers. The events were founded in London, England in 2005. Today there are 64 chapters in 23 countries. Melanie Baker and PJ Lowe-Silivestru run the Waterloo Region chapter.
Women Who Code is another global organization dedicated to educating and inspiring women to pursue and excel in technology careers. It started in San Francisco, and this was the first meet-up for the Waterloo chapter, co-founded by six women. The event is open to both beginner and expert programmers, with the aim to have people of all abilities collaborate and work together.