From left to right: Ian Haase, Brian Maxfield, Karen Chalmers, Christine Haas, Asha Parekh
TechAlliance recently brought together four of Southwestern Ontario’s most impressive serial entrepreneurs, Christine Haas Co-Founder & President at Renix Inc., leaders in liquid purification; Ian Haase, Co-Founder of Motif Labs Ltd, innovators in cannabis extracts; Brian Maxfield, President of ODEA, providing educational tools through innovative learning; and Asha Parekh, Founder & CEO of Front Line Medical Technologies Inc., creating novel devices for patients in critical need, in a tell-all fireside chat. Chatting through topics related to product development, product management, sales and marketing, employee retention, and more, these innovators took the conversation by storm as they shared their experiences navigating small and growing companies.
With a focus on finding the common ground between their vastly different industries and experiences, these champions opened up about the real and honest ways entrepreneurship and business ownership have influenced their everyday actions and business decisions. Chatting through the successes, lessons, and everything in between, here’s what some of Southwestern Ontario’s most successful entrepreneurs had to say about their experience in innovation:
Let’s start the conversation by understanding product development from your lens of innovation
“One of the most important things you can get is feedback. As innovators, we can get so wrapped up in our projects, but that piece of feedback is super important in medical technology, and across many fields. From that feedback, you can iterate and do the testing,” said Parekh.
When developing a product, whether it’s for stakeholders, corporations, specialists, or the everyday consumer, it is important to remain flexible and open to change. Testing your hypothesis is important no matter the industry, and ensuring a well-rounded, well-thought out, and well-loved product is the crux of most businesses.
“We’re in an industry where understanding today’s modern learner is very important. Things have changed, and people are growing up with video access to education. In the end, we need to focus on the users of the product and [consider], does it deliver value to that user? Like Asha was saying, reassessing, retesting and going back to study the results derived from it helps us delivering an experience in education,” shared Maxfield.
When we think about developing products, we usually do that through project management. Shifting the conversation, can you talk about what project management looks like in your respective industries, and are there any specific learnings or tools that might have worked for you?
“I wish I had the perfect answer for this. At Motif, we’ve used seven different tools and realized that what it really comes down to is that people manage projects, not software, and it’s up to those individuals managing the projects to think what works best. A lot of our project management is based on touch-point meetings, and our high-functioning teams usually meet in-person on a weekly basis and then use tools that best suit their requirements internally,” said Haase.
Without understanding the nuances and importance of managing projects efficiently and effectively, businesses take big hits. Apps for managing projects are all the rage, but without a vision in mind and a flexibility to make changes when necessary, the apps and trackers won’t make up for project managers or lack of clear direction.
“Ian’s absolutely right! There are so many tools out there that all do similar things, but the bottom line is it’s more about the culture of using project management tools. Great processes are more about the people using and managing them,” added Christine Haas.
We know that each of you have spent years as entrepreneurs learning the ropes at every corner of your individual markets and when it comes to sales and marketing, what do you think is important for entrepreneurs to remember when they are selling or marketing their business or products?
“The two keywords are relationships and patience. In our industry, it takes a year to go through the red tape, but building a relationship and maintaining it is important so clients feel comfortable the whole time. What we’ve found throughout the entire process is that we need to overcommunicate to make sure they’re aware and updated every step of the way. The second big part is that they understand our vision of being highly student-focused, so that they know we’re not just about getting money from them, but we want the students to have an outstanding experience,” said Maxfield.
Sales and Marketing vary by industry with different business models using different sales techniques. With businesses in #hardtech, #edtech, #medtech and more, the variation of sales methods and successes allowed for these industry representatives to spark conversation about how sales and marketing looks different for everyone.
“Sales are also relationship-based for us, but we have a two-fold sales model where we sell to the provincial government and our consumers. For us, everyone at an organization should be able to tell your sales story, even if they aren’t part of the sales team. They need to understand and believe in the company’s story and think about selling holistically, making sure there is a commitment to our culture and product,” said Haase.
There’s a long overdue shift in thinking about intentional focus on human resources and culture building, seeing and knowing your people. Especially with regards to recruitment and retention, share your thoughts on any practices, programs, incentives or even accommodations that you have in place when it comes to human resources and company culture.
“We are a smaller and leaner team, where we have outsourced talent to bring expertise into the team. I am sure you all have heard that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. Be it outsourced talent or our employees, they are all our human resources, and you still want to manage and accommodate them. In terms of culture, we needed to be a little creative being a remote team. We have our weekly meetings, but we also have meetings to catch up with each other, which helps in giving personal touchpoints,” shared Parekh.
The four innovators shared the same notion that people are important assets to their businesses. Although spread across many industries with different team sizes and types of employees, they all aligned in the importance of keeping company culture at the forefront of business development.
“The big thing for us is flexibility, transparency, table stakes, and conversation. At times, you cannot compete with the big companies on salary, but you need to know what the table stakes are and figure out a creative way to give your people what they really want. Encouraging an environment of new ideas and innovation, especially for our engineers, also goes a long way,” said Haas.
Processes, people, and innovators with big ideas are what run a prosperous business. Although these four innovation champions come from different spaces in the tech world, they found commonalities in their beliefs and systems that have made their businesses so successful in the first place. Whether you’re a small business, a new venture, or on your way to being a million-dollar company, as these innovation champions have shown, an innovation focus and having a tight grasp on your entrepreneurial spirit will take you far.