My TechAlliance career is off to a flying start! Last week our StartUp Services team had the opportunity to attend Techtoberfest, a two day event in Kitchener-Waterloo’s great start up ecosystem that brought together entrepreneurs and venture capitalists during the world’s second largest Oktoberfest.
The event was hosted by Communitech, Kitchener-Waterloo’s regional innovation centre, at their awesome startup collaboration space, the Communitech Hub. Our team was lucky enough to get a tour of the Hub and were blown away by the space. Communitech has fostered impressive corporate relationships, partnering with corporations to create areas like the TD lab, which will work with startups to explore innovation in customer service using advanced technology. Another highlight was Velocity Garage, a free space where startups, led by University of Waterloo students and grads, can work and receive mentoring for their businesses. The tour really underscored what could be built in London, and energized the entire team to continue our work in contributing to the startup ecosystem locally.
In addition to the inspiration we garnered from the Hub, there were also many great speakers and panellists at the conference. Michael Serbinis, Founder and former CEO of Kobo, keynoted the conference and spoke to the challenge of building up the Kobo brand to 20 million customers worldwide in the face of intense competition from Amazon’s Kindle. He’s now building a digital health company, seeing a big opportunity in the healthcare sector over the next 20-30 years, especially in chronic and preventative illnesses. This is good news for London, given the community’s expertise in life sciences.
The whole team learned a lot over the two days of the conference. Personally, my five key takeaways were:
- PLAY TO WIN: Using a hockey analogy (this is Canada after all) the speakers noted that Canadian startups need to play to win. Too often we’re content with just “making the playoffs” but we need to start thinking about creating companies to be number one globally.
- EXECUTION IS STRATEGY: If you have an idea, chances are somebody else has the same idea. The way to build a successful start up is through the execution of your business.
- BE CUSTOMER CENTRIC: The conference hammered home a couple points on the customer relationship. Listen to your customers, they are where the revenue comes from and you generally need cash flow to sustain your startup. Knowing your customer and marketplace is important as well. Michael Serbinis had a great story on how Kobo survived versus Amazon’s large marketing dollars by focusing on the 10% of customers who drove 90% of industry profits.
- BE FAIR ON VALUATION AND SUPER TOUGH ON TERMS: When seeking investors, be more flexible on your company’s valuation and get more favourable terms. It’s better to have greater control of your company in the long run rather than have a higher valuation and have more people at the table telling you what do to.
- SRED: One benefit that building a company in Canada has is access to the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program to help companies fund R&D in Canada.
Apart from the conference, we had a fantastic time Thursday night at the Concordia Club, one of Kitchener’s best spots to take in Oktoberfest. I’d encourage everyone who hasn’t been to go enjoy Oktoberfest, and while you’re there, check out the Communitech Hub. I know we’ll definitely be back next year!
Here’s a link to the conference website: http://techtoberfest.ca/