Joseph Donia is a 20-something psychology and marketing graduate of Ryerson University in Toronto, Ont. He runs a business called Connect, specializing in social media marketing. And his career path goes from graduation to "start-up".
Joseph is a member of the start-up generation, and they offer immense wealth generating potential. Industry Canada is seeking ways to tap into their resourcefulness, and has determined that at least 4.4 million Canadians are innovating and inventing in their basements, garages or at kitchen tables.
They're not just in their 20s. Innovation spans generations. I'm currently assisting a family business to commercialize its first patented product after 50 years in business. The inventor, my brother, is in his 40's and he faces many of the same challenges as Joseph:
1) Building connections from scratch,
2) learning how to brand, market and sell, and
3) the feast-or-famine aspect of being in business.
To help my brother address some of these challenges, we implemented 6 critical actions to turn his invention into a business:
1. Establish proof of commercial concept: Are there customers? Will users adopt our innovation? How soon? Can we produce cash flow? Can we make sufficient profit to make this venture worthwhile?
2. Establish proof of technical concept: Will the innovation do what we promise it will do?
3. Establish proof of manufacturability: Can we produce this innovation repeatably, reliably and cost effectively?
4. Protect your intellectual property (IP): Ensure others don't steal your ideas.
5. Recruit your team: Gather the best people to succeed, and keep disrupters out.
6. Raise capital: You need SOME money to get started.
Although my brother's invention is a manufactured product, these same steps are crucial foundation stones for introducing services or launching a successful app.
But business is a human activity. You cannot build success in isolation. To sell you must attract and tend to customers and talent: in a word -- people. How do you build vital connections from scratch?
In their book Start up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle, authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer describe how Israel has seeded a culture of innovation. A key strength is Israel's social DNA. "The whole country is one degree of separation. It's all word-of-mouth. Everybody knows everybody."
A variety of factors unique to Israel create this inter-connectedness. But it's a significant advantage. Israeli entrepreneurs launch their start ups with a support network in place. Citing a U.S. example, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg reportedly met his future COO, Sheryl Sandberg, at a Christmas Party in 2007. Ms. Sandberg already had a substantial resume, and presumably contacts, having worked for McKinsey & Co., the U.S. Treasury as Chief of Staff to Larry Summers during the Clinton administration and Google. Facebook found its winning advantage over rivals MySpace and Plaxo.
If you need to build connections from scratch, be fearless. Pick up the phone. Write the letter or email. At conferences and social events, approach people and be approachable. Be clear about your value proposition and needs. Ask how you may help them, and ask for support. What's the worst that can happen? They politely decline. But you may meet your best supporter, ally, patron or customer. I've developed relationships with major political figures, chatted with presidents of the largest corporations, and spent quality time with well known -- and very busy -- authors.
We can support our Start up Generation by instructing and coaching them through the 6 critical actions. We also need to emulate Israel's culture of inter - connectedness, though adapting it to be uniquely Canadian. We need to ask ourselves: Do we value our entrepreneurs? If so, what are we prepared to do to support them?
If we support this new generation of start up enthusiasts, we can diversify the Canadian economy, instead of relying only on resources, finance, the automotive industry or "star companies" like Nortel and Blackberry. Consider: if even one tenth of 1 per cent of those 4.4 million Canadian innovators succeed, that's 4,400 new ventures. And who knows how many future Blackberry's may emerge from that group.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, how have I been supporting Joseph? I hired his company.