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Spin Master gives back through innovation fund

Driven by its three entrepreneurial founders, Anton Rabie, Ronnen Harary, and Ben Varadi, Spin Master Ltd. is one of Canada's fastest-growing companies, having established itself as a leading player in the children's entertainment market.

As the Toronto-based company became more successful, Mr. Rabie, Mr. Harary and Mr. Varadi started to think about how they could start to give back by supporting Canadian entrepreneurs.

"When we started our business, a lot of people gave us time and advice, which is the most valuable part of getting the business going – the mentoring and advice from buyers and sellers," Mr. Harary said during a recent interview.

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"My partner, Ben, was a good friend with one of the Irwin Toy founders. They opened their doors to us and gave us a lot of advice on the toy business, relationships and factories. It is the information part that makes the journey that much easier."

As the trio explored different ideas, they were introduced to the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, which provides 18-to-34-year-old entrepreneurs with advice and financial support for ideas and businesses.

After brainstorming about how Spin Master could work with the CYBF, they created the Spin Master Innovation Fund last year, which provides up to $50,000 in startup financing. Entrepreneurs who participate in the program do not require collateral to receive a low-interest loan.

Just as important, the program's participants are placed in CYBF's mentoring program. They also get to attend a two-day "innovation launch pad workshop," during which they get to meet one-on-one with Spin Master senior executives in legal, licensing, sales and operations.

"Entrepreneurs get to spend an hour with each subject matter's experts, and ask them questions about their business," Mr. Harary said. "It was two phenomenal days – we got phenomenal feedback from our staff. Iit was one of the best days they had all year."

Mr. Harary said the workshop was such a success last year that, instead of a single session, there will be two workshops this year – one at the beginning of the program and another in the middle.

At the end of the day, there are two aspects to helping entrepreneurs – money, and mentoring and human capital, Mr. Harary said.

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"One of the things I learned from the first year [is that]the human capital is worth just as much as the money, if not more."

Mr. Harary said Spin Master's support of the program does not involve taking an equity stake in any of the companies involved.

"The program is really about people who have a good idea, who are passionate and have a good vision, who are dedicated to that space," he said.

Mr. Harary said Canada's entrepreneurial effort is headed in the right direction, highlighted by organizations such as Next36, Ryerson University and MaRS that are helping to support young entrepreneurs.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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