JEDI just wrapped up our February Plenary on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Because we had lots of experts sharing insights and there were plenty of great take-aways, we thought we would summarize some of the sessions. The first session involved discussing what Innovation really means for an entrepreneur.
The members of the panel were (left to right):
- Johannes Larsen, Innovation and Network Advisor for the NRC/ IRAP
- William (Bill) McIver, NSERC Industrial Research Chair on Mobile First Technology at NBCC
- Nicole LeBlanc, Director of Finance at NBIF
- Chet Wesley, Director of Marketing and Communication at NBIF
- Kendal Netmaker, owner of Neechie Gear
- Karina LeBlanc, Executive Director at the Pond-Deshpande Centre
These panel members have various backgrounds but the one thing they share in common is their wealth of knowledge related to entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship and innovation. Their knowledge and experience make them great resources for many aspects of starting a business, including how to find funding, how to turn your idea into a reality, and for providing direction on next steps.
The session was broken into a question/answer format with panelists getting a chance to share their thoughts.
What Does Innovation Mean?
The whole session started out with a general discussion on innovation. Each panelist gave their thoughts on the topic and the discussion evolved into something more than just a standard definition.
“Innovation is a new or better product or a new or better process that saves money,” said Chet Wesley. “Disruptive innovation is when you take something that costs a lot of money and excludes people and then find a way to provide it more cheaply and make it available to more people. There is also a culture to innovation as well. You have to create a culture of innovation within your team.”
Nicole LeBlanc noted that even traditional industries can be innovative, “If you are in a traditional industry, there is always a way to do something different and something new. Lots of people who think they aren’t being innovation really are.”
Innovation is instinctive to rural Canadians. “Rural Canadians are entrepreneurial and innovative by nature,” said Johannes Larsen. “If something breaks, it’s up to you to fix it.”
Bill McIver spoke about how to be innovative and where to find ideas. He explained that many ideas come from examining existing products. He said that you should look for the problems with the product and determine how to solve them. You can also think about what causes you to buy one product over another. Finally, talk to people to learn about their issues with the existing product.
What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur?
Successful entrepreneurs have many attributes, but the ability to network, being open to change, and hard work and perseverance came up repeatedly.
Nicole LeBlanc and Chet Wesley from NBIF stressed the importance of meeting with people, sharing what you are doing and getting input from potential customers on things like R&D and development. They also talked about joining the start-up community in New Brunswick.
“Share your dreams with people who have the same dream,” said Chet. “If you are worried about sharing an idea that is sensitive, start with NBIF, we are in the business of secret keeping. We know the steps to take to protect your intellectual property. NBIF wants to assess the innovativeness of your idea.”
“The only word you should hear in your head when you hear the word ‘NO’ is to hear the word ‘NEXT’,” said Chet. “You could get 100 ‘NOs’ but the 101st time could be a ‘YES’.”
“Customer engagement is key,” said Karina LeBlanc. “I tell people to talk to 100 people about your idea before you come back and talk to me.”
“Starting up a business takes persistence and drive,” said Karina, “but you also have to be open to taking in partners who have complementary expertise and be open to potential change in the direction of your business.”
“I threw myself out there,” said Kendal Netmaker. “The first step is showing up. I continued to get opportunities because I worked hard. I took business people out to coffee and picked their brains. There are so many mentors out there that have so much knowledge and want to help you. Take advantage of every single opportunity that comes your way. Those are the ones that can make or break your idea. As you continue to take advantage of them, more will come up.”
Business Plan Advice
When starting a business, you should always have a plan.
“Develop a business plan that is yours,” said Johannes Larsen. “It should be a living document that you revisit every 2 weeks. Use it to keep yourself on track. You wear 15 hats as an entrepreneur, you can get easily distracted. This will make sure that you accomplish your goals.”
Chet Wesley is a big advocate of telling a story in your business plan. “There are lots of purposes of a business plan, you want to compel the reader to conceive of your vision,” said Chet. “Tell the reader how you thought out some of the risky things, the things that make people nervous, and how you solve them in your business plan. Answer the questions that you think investors will be nervous about. You can use your story to get people excited about your idea.”
All of the panelists agreed on the importance of having a team. Diversity, defined roles and shared values were all important parts of putting together a group to help take your business forward.
“Have a diverse team,” said Bill McIver. “Have people who cover different aspects of the business. Have different perspectives on the team.” Bill recommended a video to solidify his point: The Shopping Cart Project.
“It’s important that the different people in the group each have different strengths,” said Johannes Larsen. “Everybody should have their roles spelled out.”
“Teambuilding is really important when starting a company,” said Nicole LeBlanc. “Make sure everything is clear. Sometimes there has to be a boss in a room. Clarify roles and write them down on paper. Success rates increase with a team.”
“Be honest with yourself,” said Karina LeBlanc. “Take the opportunity to figure out if you complement each other in terms of skills. Do you have the same value system? It’s important to pick your team really well.”
“When I first started I looked for partners,” shared Kendal Netmaker. “I tried to find some teammates to jump on board and help market the product. There was a power struggle and it didn’t work. Then I re-evaluated my process. I looked to see who would share my vision and values. It was my sisters, and I hired all three of them at some point.”
It’s never too early and it’s never too late.
“If you have an idea and are an entrepreneur, don’t be afraid to take that leap,” said Nicole LeBlanc. “Get involved in the community and take advantage of the resources. It’s never too early and it’s never too late. The community is very supportive and there are lots of resources out there in Fredericton and New Brunswick.”
“There is an aspect of culture that has an impact on design and innovation,” said Chet Wesley. “You [Aboriginal people] have a story to tell that a lot of Canadians don’t. Find the ways in your culture and community that can benefit other cultures and communities.”
There are lots of free resources out there when starting a business. You can use them for research, to develop your idea, and to create your business plan. There are also resources like NRC, NBIF and Pond-Deshpande, tap into the community and learn how they can help you.
Lean Canvas – a one page chart for creating a business model. It’s easy to update and revise so you keep re-doing it and it will help figure out if you have a business or product. It is a great starting point for entrepreneurs.
NBCC - launched their new Mobile IdeaSpace; a social environment to meet people and engage in an exploratory process in order to get to the presentation stage of an idea and carry it forward.
NRC – offers funding to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). They also provide technical advice and can refer entrepreneurs to other resources. “I teach entrepreneurs to shake hands,” said Johannes Larsen. “To speak in terms that others can understand.
Pond-Deshpande – serves New Brunswick people who are the idea stage of their business. They host LaunchPads and Startup Weekends which are each two-and-a-half day programs. Start with an idea, build a business idea around that idea and then pitch that idea at the end. These are good ways to connect with others in the start-up ecosystem and to see if you have a valid model.
NBIF – invests in new start-up companies. Part of that investment is professional support that helps guide new businesses to success.