I’ve always had this mental image of an entrepreneur as a bit of a lone wolf.
A smarter-than-me individual — or small team — with a killer idea, a new technology, doggedly slaving away until they can get it to market.
But the more I see in the business world, the more I realize that entrepreneurial success is as much about community effort as it is individual effort.
Last week I attended a ceremony where three companies were graduating from the Genesis Centre’s three-year Enterprise program.
HeyOrca!, Empowered Homes and Avalon Holographics are now all well past their adolescent start-up phases and reaching into national and international markets.
In listening to the speeches and chatting with some of the players, it was clear that there are a lot of different people who help companies like these find their feet.
As an incubator, the Genesis Centre’s job is to give its client companies whatever help they need, or introduce them to someone who can provide that help.
“It’s anywhere from (providing office) space to mentorship programs, support services, making connections and solving problems. It’s talking to companies and if they have a specific problem, it’s going in and finding an answer or resource that can help them,” said Andrew Simmons, account manager for the Enterprise program.
The Enterprise program is the flagship program at Genesis. Companies have to convince a selection committee that they warrant being a part of it before being accepted for the next three years.
“Usually when they come into the program they have a minimum viable product. It’s a working prototype, it proves that ‘yes, we can build this product and it does what we want it to do,’” Simmons said. “Then, through the three years of the program, we want to provide them with all the business development support, marketing, technology support to get that into a commercially ready product, as well as support to get them talking to different customers, different companies, doing that business development to grow their pipeline so that when they have it developed and they’re ready to be commercialized they have people who are waiting in line to buy it.”
The program isn’t about helping entrepreneurs to perfect their product, it’s about giving them the knowledge to become a company capable of successfully taking that product to market.
“The purpose of an incubator, which Genesis does exceptionally well, is they provide the support system and the knowledge to allow people who have an idea, a concept but aren’t totally sure what to do or how to start a business,” Wally Haas, president of Avalon Holographics told me.
“Young companies, that’s by far the most fragile stage. They are the ones that need to be nurtured. They are the ones that need to have the path paved for them. After your three years (in the program), after you have a customer product you are kind of on your way. But when you first start out, you have an idea, you think something is there but you really don’t know what to do. That’s what Genesis is for.”
For the Green brothers, Joshua and Zachary (co-founders and CEO and COO, respectively, of Empowered Homes, applying to Genesis wasn’t about helping them develop their smart thermostats, it was about what to do with them next.
“Me and Josh are both engineers with no business expertise at all, and we didn’t know anyone who did (have that expertise), so we wanted to be connected to people who’d already been through it,” Zach Green said. “That was the No. 1 reason why we applied.”
A huge part of the program is networking.
“It’s definitely the connections to people with government, connections to private investors, connections to professional services,” Joshua Green said. “We wouldn’t have known where to start but Genesis has all those connections, that network is already built. So, once you’re part of the Genesis network, you’re a part of that entire network and everything that I just mentioned, from government assistance, private investors, all the services you need are at your fingertips.”
Being international students, the support HeyOrca! co-founders Joe Teo (CEO) and Sahand Seifi (CTO) found as Genesis clients was particularly important.
“We’re not Canadians and that drove a lot of the decision-making process, because we needed a support network that was embedded within the local community,” Teo said. “At that time, to be honest, we needed to build more credibility, because we were two immigrants that were trying to start a business and there were no programs for that.”
“It gave us that credibility, it gave us offices to work out of. We were two students. We could barely manage our rent, so we couldn’t rent an office to work out of…,” Seifi added. “So (Genesis) connected us to a lot of our mentors who are still mentoring us today.”
Having been a journalist for more than 25 years, I can be a little cynical. But Isn’t the business world supposed to be, well, meaner? Aren’t there a whole slew of sayings about business being a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog, shark-infested survival-of-the-fittest fest?
That may be so, but at Genesis’s graduation ceremony, it was refreshing to feel a real sense of community support.
It’s nice to know that Newfoundland and Labrador entrepreneurs looking to get their feet under them can get by with a little help from their friends.
Mark Vaughan-Jackson is The Telegram’s business editor. Email him at email@example.com