Archive for the ‘Ottawa’ Category


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.



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,

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


Come See Us Present Tonight!

September 29, 2008

As some of you may know, I’ve recently started working on a startup company called I’ll write more about and what we’re up to in some future blog posts; but, if you want to be amongst the first to see a demo of our first 2 products and you happen to live in Ottawa, you’re in luck!

Tonight is DemoCampOttawa10!. DemoCamp Ottawa is a grass root tech event where a few startups get together to show to the local community what they’ve been working on. We are participating in tonight’s event and it should be lots of fun.

If you are in town tonight, make sure to attend this event. You’re sure to have a great time!

Here are the details:


Here are the presentations:

  1. Sixent – multi-profile social networking platform for sharing your life differently online
  2. FixIt Ottawa – upcoming local problem reporting tool
  3. Thinteknix – Communication / Computing solutions for SMB
  4. GiftMyList – A private gift exchange (a demo login will be available soon!)
  5. – Will be showing two products: andReviewRoom
  6. Gazaro – Find the biggest sales!

Here is the location information:

  • Date: Monday, September 29, 2008 from 6pm to 9pm
  • Location: The Velvet Room 62 1/2 York Street
  • Format for 6 demos: 2 minute introduction, 8 minute demo, 5 minutes for Q&A and discussion

My Talk for IEEE Ottawa tonight

June 26, 2008

Tonight I am doing an informal presentation for the IEEE Ottawa section at the Urban Well @ 7pm. The title of the presentation is “Untangling the Web”… Here are some of the things I’ll be talking about:

a) What is Web2.0 and what is Web3.0?

b) What are the most popular Web Services in use today?

c) How do these companies make money?

d) What are some of the more famous success stories (both in Canada and the US)?

e) How do you start a web-business in Ottawa?

The event is free to attend and you can find more information here:


CIPPIC privacy complaint against Facebook

June 15, 2008

Harley Finkelstein sent me a message informing me of an initiative that he was involved in. Harley is lead investor at Innoventure Capital. The following is the media release:


The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), based at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, has asked the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to investigate alleged violations of Canadian privacy law by the popular social networking site, Facebook.

CIPPIC’s 35-page complaint alleges 22 separate violations by Facebook, including its failure to inform Facebook members of how their personal information is disclosed to third parties for advertising and other profit-making activities and its failure to obtain permission from Facebook members to such uses and disclosures of their personal information.
A team of law students, some of whom are dedicated Facebook users, analysed the company’s policies and practices as part of a clinic course this past winter and identified specific practices that appear to violate the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”).

“Social networking online is growing phenomenon,” said Clinic Director Philippa Lawson. “It is proving to be a tremendous tool for community-building and social change, but at the same time, a minefield of privacy invasion. We chose to focus on Facebook because it is the most popular social networking site in Canada and because it appeals to young teens who may not appreciate the risks involved in exposing their personal details online.”

Facebook has more than seven million Canadian members, with more joining every day. This makes Canada the third largest user base, after the U.S.A. and the U.K. “Facebook purports to provide users with a high level of control over their data,” said Harley Finkelstein, one of the law students who lodged the complaint. “But our investigation found that this is not entirely true – for example, even if you select the strongest privacy settings, your information may be shared more widely if your Facebook Friends have lower privacy settings.
As well, if you add a third party application offered on Facebook, you have no choice but to let the application developer access all your information even if they don’t need it”.

Jordan Plener, another law student who worked on the complaint, noted that “although Facebook has taken steps to allow for more control over sharing one’s information on the site, its default settings are for sharing in most cases. Changing those settings requires a high level of aptitude and experience with the site. We believe that many Facebook Users, especially young people, don’t appreciate the extent to which their often sensitive personal information is being shared beyond their social circle.”

“We’re concerned that Facebook is deceiving its users,” said Lisa Feinberg, another law student behind the Complaint. “Facebook promotes itself as a social utility, but it’s also involved in commercial activities like targeted advertising. Facebook users need to know that when they’re signing up to Facebook, they’re signing up to share their information with advertisers.” Under PIPEDA, the Privacy Commissioner has up to a year to investigate and render her findings on the complaint.

For a copy of the complaint and more information, see under “CIPPIC News” and “Projects – Privacy – PIPEDA complaints”.


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.



Third Tuesday Ottawa & Freshbooks

June 8, 2008

Mike McNulty contacted me the other day to remind me of a great event that is coming up on Monday, June 16th – by Third Tuesday Ottawa.

Michael McDerment and Sault Colt from  Freshbooks will be talking about how Social Media helped spread the word about their company (which is doing quite well). It should be an entertaining and informative presentation )

Here are the details:

What: Freshbooks’ Michael McDerment and Saul Colt

Monday, June 16, 6:00 PM

Where: Click the link below to find out!

Meeting Description: We’re ending the 2007-8 Third Tuesday Ottawa
season on a real high.

Learn more here:


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

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
  • Karen Letain, CMI International
  • Paul Slaby, Kaben Wireless Silicon Inc
  • Kareem Sultan, RaceDV