The contrast between black suits and Jedi robes at the venue was unusual, to say the least.
In addition to the Toronto ComicCon and the Yu-Gi-Oh! Convention regional competition, this weekend the Metro Toronto Convention Centre played host to Nspire’s annual entrepreneurship and technology event National Business Technology Conference (NBTC). The NBTC gathers some of the country’s most interesting and exciting business veterans to share knowledge with budding business leaders.
It hosted a series of informal talks, keynote addresses, and fascinating panel discussions. One in particular stood out.
The Women in Entrepreneurship Panel was moderated by Magnify Your Marketability’s Diana Chan, and led by TalentEgg’s Lauren Friese, Kira Talent’s Emilie Cushman, HackerYou’s and Ladies Learning Code’s Heather Payne, and OMX’s Nicole Verkindt. These four entrepreneurs dove deep into their stories, and turning points, challenges, and when they’d realized they were destined to become entrepreneurs.
Both Friese and Verkindt are the sole founders of their ventures, which is unique in today’s generally shared advice to start with 2-3 cofounders. Friese says the reason behind the decision is because knows herself well enough and understands her own decision making process. She also recognizes her strengths in being productive on her own. Instead of centralizing, she empowers her team with autonomy and trusts them to make decisions.
She cites Collins’ Good to Great as one principle she advises her team to guide their choices: unlimited spending on activities core to your business, and nothing on everything else. If team members think it’s part of the core, the budget’s whatever they need; otherwise, cut it.
Verkindt’s journey as a solo founder meant that she faced difficult in some meetings with venture capitalists that would prefer 2-3 founders. However, she discovered in an article that co-founder implosion was a major reason behind the failures of many startups. While having a co-founder can be extremely empowering, it also introduces a factor that could potentially jeopardize your company.
On the flip side, Cushman was part of four co-founders when Kira Talent first started. This amount of co-founders also caused friction for the team in various venture capitalist meetings. Now, she works primarily with a tech co-founder, and the decision making process (and division of functional expertise) is much clearer.
Cushman shared another piece of advice that really made an impact on her: “Everybody loves a comeback.” Despite the inevitable string of mistakes awaiting entrepreneurs that could disappoint stakeholders and supporters, none are too severe to recover from in their eyes. Persisting onwards is the key to success.
While many foundering teams spend a lot of time talking about ownership division and the such, HackerYou’s Payne suggested prioritizing validation of the business idea before that conversation. After all, should the business idea be invalid or require some tweaking, all the work spent on the details of ownership will have been for naught.
Payne also shared a bit of personal advice: choose something that you have a competitive advantage in. Leverage pieces of unusual expertise or previous experiences in order to ensure your business’ strength.
One of the most interesting themes were the universality of many challenges that they’d faced; despite it being a female entrepreneurs’ panel, the panelists pointed out that many of these same obstacles apply to every entrepreneur, not just women. Also, the factor of young age played a greater factor in meetings than the factor of gender.
With that said, there were still challenges specific to women that were addressed, such as one of identity and finding balance between “Acting as if” and “Being yourself."
There were a ton of other activities at the conference: the Next 36’s Bridgit took the grand prize in the entrepreneurship competition, and the team from Wilfrid Laurier won the Capital One case competition featuring case partner Toronto startup Loose Button.
Nspire’s NBTC offered a unique, broad set of insights into many different facets of business leadership. That’s far from their only offering: Nspire regularly organizes monthly Discovery Series and the NspireTV video series (which should be blowing up with a ton of video footage from NBTC soon).