Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurs’ Category

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The Student Entrepreneur

October 5, 2008

[updated: Oct 7, 2008]

The following is a great post from fellow entrepreneur, Harley Finkelstein, on being an entrepreneur while in school. Harley makes a number of great points and shares his lessons with us below:

“Textbook to Checkbook”

In 2001 I moved from Boca Raton, Florida, to Montreal to study business at McGill University. Within a few weeks of my freshman year it became clear that my parents were no longer able to offer me financial support and that I needed to find a job. I cringed at the idea of working nights and weekends, between classes, and felt that my passion for business would be wasted serving coffee at the local meeting place. Instead I decided to launch a company in my spare time.

Many cautioned me from “juggling” a business while in school, but I was determined to find a strong balance between my academic life and my entrepreneurial ventures. My first company started making promotional products and apparel for local-Montreal schools and universities. We (the company) found this to be an ideal market segment for a number of reasons. We knew that regardless of the economy’s condition every school “required” new-student orientation gear (think hats, bags, pens, and coffee mugs), and that each and every year these collegiate clients were being given million dollar budgets to fulfill the institutions clothing needs. In our first 18 months we were able to secure 3 universities, and 5 years later we are currently the supplier of choice to some of the largest faculties across Canada. In 2007, with the success of my collegiate apparel company I launched Innoventure Capital (with a friend I met in law school), which provides seed funding and strong mentoring to students and recent graduates (age 18-25) looking to launch a start-up just like I did years ago.

In hind-sight, launching this company while studying full-time was a catalyst for our success, and it allowed me to take risks that most full-time entrepreneurs can’t afford. I knew that if the business didn’t work out I could either start again from scratch or fall back on my education. As it turns out, since 2001 I’ve launched a number of successful companies while concurrently completing my undergraduate, then law school, and more recently while I work on my MBA this year. Being able to balance my scholastic responsibilities with the needs of my company provided me with time management skills, and still necessitate that I remain as productive as possible. Moreover, being able to apply the theoretical lessons of a classroom to real life and practical issues facing my business has helped put school lectures to work.

A wonderful benefit of being a student business owner is one’s access to other talented students. Time and time again I use the student community to help carry out many of the company’s functions, from graphic design to web development to social networking integration. Not only are student contractors often more in tune with modern technology and online strategies than larger companies, but students are often in need of real-world experience and so companies like mine can negotiate favorable terms.

Beyond the benefit of working with other students to help grow a business, as a freshman at McGill I was able to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the school engaged in its purchasing. For our company, we realized that suppliers had only to meet with a student representative, and not a university employee, which gave us the advantage of making a pitch to people who were of our own vintage.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, used a similar strategy while studying at Harvard. As a student himself, he found it difficult to communicate and connect with every student in his class, and seeking to fill a void he started writing the Facebook code between classes. Zuckerberg moved to Palo Alto, CA, in the summer of 2004 with 3 Harvard classmates to land financing and give the company a corporate office. He employed classmates and dorm friends to help get the site up and running, and much of the sites success can still be attributed to the company’s initial grass roots / student oriented platform.

Final thought: GO THROW SOME ‘S#&T’ ON THE WALL, AND SEE WHAT STICKS. In business it doesn’t matter how many times you fail, all that matters is the time you succeed. Perseverance is key.

Thanks,

Harley.

My Lessons Learned:

Balance is everything, you need to give 100% to both your education and your business, and this is a skill set that I continue to work on daily

Use what you know best; your student community or the way your school carries out its own business

Don’t be afraid to fail; there is something respectable about a student who is trying to build something, even if it takes a few attempts and regardless if your motivation is paying your bills or trying something new

Most cities have student-business funding from the municipality, take all the free money you can get

Tap into your network of friends and classmates, whether for advice or as potential customers

Feel free to email me if you have questions about this article.

Harley Finkelstein, Harley@Finkinc.ca

NEWS: Innoventure’s most recent investment went to a student-run business called www.smoofer.com, and the site will be launching within 3 weeks time.

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University of Ottawa – Startup Hub

June 15, 2008

These days web startups don’t need too many resources to get started. An internet connection, a place to work, some basic capital, and a motivated team may be the beginning. I am writing this post from the University of Ottawa where I’m sitting amongst 2 other groups who are working on their own startups.

The University of Ottawa happens to keep alumni credentials (i.e. usernames/passwords) active and this is why a lot of already-graduated students come back to where they spent 4(+) years of their lives studying. I’m sitting amongst 2 groups right now but happen to know of another 3 that work out of this University. I’m sure that the situation is similar in Carleton, Algonquin, and other colleges and Universities.

These are groups that you won’t typically meet at a BarCamp/DemoCamp. These are the groups that prefer to stay stealth for a long time. I typically argue with them that there is a lot of benefit that they can seek from the community, yet, it’s difficult to get the message to sink in.

As far as I’m concerned, Ottawa is a startup town. We have a huge student population (probably close to 70,000) and a lot of very experienced senior executives. If we could connect these disparate groups, I think we’d have amazing results.

Aydin.

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Buddy, Keep Your Million :)

May 26, 2008

snowman vc

This Thursday night should be lots of fun. I’ve been invited to present as part of a round-table of local CEOs, VCs, and Angel investors  about what it takes to start a company without significant outside investment. It should be quite entertaining so if you’re free this Thursday night make sure to drop by.

This is one of the better attended events in town that happens once a year and usually has ~200 professionals in the local tech scene attending… here are the details of the event:

Date: Thursday May 29, 2008
Time: 5:30pm – 8:30pm
Location: The Marshes, 320 Terry Fox Drive
Registration: No-charge, but please RSVP to kdaize@ocri.ca

Ottawa’s technology clusters, OCRI Global Marketing and The Ottawa Network present the 3rd annual “Buddy Keep your Million” funding focused event.  In light of the almost non-existent VC money filtering into the city, the theme of this year’s event is based around how innovative people get their companies off the ground without the traditional financing options. The panel will be made up of experienced veterans and energetic start-up entrepreneurs.

Panel Participants:

  • Moderator, Bruce Lazenby, Chair Ottawa Software Cluster
  • Wael Aggan, TradeMerit Corp.
  • Richard Charlebois, GrowthWorks Capital
  • Rob Lane, Overlay.TV
  • Scott Lake, Jaded Pixel
  • Aydin Mirzaee, bOK Systems Corp. and Chide.it
  • Karen Letain, CMI International
  • Paul Slaby, Kaben Wireless Silicon Inc
  • Kareem Sultan, RaceDV
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Ottawa DemoCamp9 on Monday!

May 24, 2008

Its that time again. Ottawa DemoCamp9 is on Monday at a new location. The big news is that Ottawa’s top blogger, Alec Saunders, will be our MC. Should be lots of fun.

For those of you that don’t know, DemoCamp is an amazing event where some of Ottawa’s Up and Coming Tech Stars present the latest products that they’ve been working on. Its alway impressive to see how much goes on in Ottawa. If you’ve never been to one of these events, this is the time to start! If you’re gonna be there, message me on Twitter (@aydin) or on Facebook…

Here are the details for the event:

  • Stockify – Investing Software
  • SIMtone – Virtual PC, http://www.simtonecdu.com
  • picsphere – complete workflow solution for event and studio photographers
  • SCAN – Transforming community media into community property.
  • OurAirports – a community site for pilots and travelers.
  • What: Ottawa DemoCamp 9
    Six demos by members of the Ottawa high tech community. * Stockify – Investing Software * SIMtone – Virtual PC, http://www.simtonecdu.com * picsphere – complete workflow solution for event and studio photographers * SCAN – Transforming community media into community property. * OurAirports – a community site for pilots and travelers.
    When: Monday, May 26, 2008 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
    Where: The Velvet Room

    62 1/2 York Street
    Ottawa, ON K1N 1T5 Canada
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    Ottawa Tech Sector is Live and Kicking!

    May 19, 2008

    The following is a guest post by good friend Harley Finkelstein in response to an article from reportonbusiness.com entitled: A tech saviour’s manifesto:

    Harley Finkelstein

    Mr. Macdonald,

    I recently read your manifesto article in the globe and mail.

    To be honest, and as a 24 year old Law/MBA grad student and concurrently the founder of a tech venture firm, I think you may be out of touch with what’s really going on in the Canadian tech scene.

    Silicon Valley wasn’t built because of companies like Cognos, it achieved its real success because of garage startups like Google and Paypal (which you mentioned in the article).

    Cognos and ATI are NOT the current Canadian tech scene, the real tech scene are these amazing young startups that will eventually become the next RIMs and Skypes, and many of these guys have yet to even bring their ideas to market (which is when I prefer to invest in them).

    The main reason I moved to Ottawa at 21 years old was to take advantage of the amazing grass roots entrepreneurial climate in Ottawa’s tech community.

    And thus far it seems the Canadian startup tech scene is alive and well, albeit most VCs wouldn’t know it.

    With a fund that is probably smaller than your daily payroll, my shop, Innoventure Capital, invests in local talent and their startups and in the last 3 years we have been inundated with amazing opportunities. Young tech wizards cringe at the idea of pitching an idea to a grey haired VC committee, and when we meet with them they seem relieved to see we are young, ambitious, and just like them. There is a real dichotomy and gap between the next great tech startup and the Canadian VC community, yet WE are getting more pitches and great ideas than we can even read.

    I recently had the opportunity to meet some of the gents from Sequoia in California, and what immediately struck me was that they were the antithesis of the VCs we work with in Canada (Bay street and in Kanata).

    The real problem in Canada is that conventional VC is a dinosaur, yet the Canadian shops are still cherry picking for homeruns and mandating overly restrictive covenants (which in itself is a dinosaur of a contractual concept).

    Innoventure’s key to success has been investing small (5-10k) amounts of funding into strong people, and NOT strong businesses. We let the entrepreneurs focus on what they know best, and often we even pay their living expenses while they are doing so, while my partner and I focus on finding ways to make their ideas profitable. Most of the guys we invest in would never consider putting on a suit and heading into First Canadian Place (and neither did Jobs, Gates or Dell in the 80s), but once we show them that together we can make money most of these entrepreneurs always come back for their 2.0 idea.

    The solution in Canada may be that the VCs need to recalibrate, and if we are so concerned with achieving success like in S.Valley than why aren’t we acting more like them.

    I can show you 3 to 5 online businesses based in ottawa alone who are right now in need of financing, and whose companies have the potential to be market leaders. Innoventure prides itself not on our ability to fund even the smallest businesses, but rather on the mentorship and guidance that comes along with being our partners, and we look for these types of people.

    I would love to continue this conversation if you’d like.

    I mean no disrespect from my email, and in fact am somewhat in awe of you and your company’s success…I hope to one day enjoy even half of your good fortune.

    Thank you in advance, and I hope you will respond.

    Best regards,

    Harley

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    Sixent.com – your online personal profile

    May 3, 2008

    I met Simon Chen at the last DemoCamp in Ottawa and he mentioned his new project called Sixent.com. I just tried out the service and created my own personal profile here: http://sixent.com/aydin/Public

    Here is a screenshot:

    aydin sixent

    I like Sixent since it gives me LOTS of privacy options… I get to determine who sees what and what is publicly displayed… I’d love for this profile to appear when people are searching for me… I definitely recommend everyone create one of these profiles for themselves!

    Aydin.

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    Ottawa Web Weekend is Next Week

    May 3, 2008

    ottawa web weekend

    The Web Weekend is the first weekend being organized (May 9-11). Motivated professionals and amateurs work together in order to create a company and launch a web product in a weekend. Make sure to sign up here: http://www.ottawaw.com/

    Ottawa Web Weekend is being organized by Marc-Andre Plouffe and hosted by Ian Graham’s CodeFactory.

    Aydin.