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Seize the Opportunity: How Canada is Empowering Start-ups to Scale Globally

September 27, 2018

By: Dennis Ensing

Speaker: Dennis Kavelman at iNovia Capital

"Seize the Opportunity: How Canada is Empowering Start-ups to Scale Globally" – Dennis Kavelman

SWO Angel CEO, Dennis Ensing has been venturing back and forth across York & Adelaide streets in Toronto yesterday getting sessions in at both NACO's Summit and Elevate's Educate Scale-up track.

This morning my first Scale-up session was a presentation from Dennis Kavelman, former C-suite member of RIM/Blackberry and D2L, now a General Partner with iNovia Capital. 

Here are some key thoughts from Dennis about the prospects for Canadian start-ups to scale.

We now have a strong historical foundation of many Canadian Tech Titans including: Shopify, Constellation Software & ATI (RIM/Blackberry too of course).

What's really good in our ecosystem right now?

  • Availability of Canadian seed / start-up capital, including sophisticated angels and very good VCs
  • Government and University support
  • Mentorship, incubators and accelerators

As a result there is a significant cohort of emerging Titans. Companies like Top Hat, Youi.TV, Hootsuite, Diply, Knixwear, Hopper, and many more!

What do we need to expand this list?

  • Wise growth capital
  • Access to battle-tested executive talent
  • Supportive tech ecosystem including continuation of the ease of immigration for top talent (currently it can be 2 days into Canada but 10 months for temp status into US!)

Other notable items that Dennis touched on from his experiences included these observations:

  1. Maintaining a start-up culture at scale requires the founder and team to assess whether they are leaders who foster an environment where no one doubts.
  2. Dennis shared that Jim (Balsillie) & Mike (Lazaridis) established an "Indiana Jones" culture at RIM/Blackberry in the early days - no one believed that they would never make it!
  3. A "Canadian" unicorn should be considered a company with $1 billion in revenue.
  4. Get help when going global and executing a growth-oriented M&A strategy because it can be complex!
  5. Never stop but keep iterating - "push through the wall" (from NACO Summit keynote this morning). There will always be opportunities to rethink and redirect.

I'll finish where Dennis started his talk. He shared the story of a friend who was a NYC bike courier. This friend started every day knowing that every day he would have at least one brush with death. He couldn't stop because of the rush this gave him. Dennis said that our founder teams need the same sensation about the ventures they start and grow!