Yesterday at the annual Digital Transformation conference, IT World Canada’s chief information officer, Jim Love, sat down with Matt Skynner, chief operating officer of Markham, Ont.-based innovation hub ventureLAB to discuss the challenges that startups face.
Skynner explained that it takes a long time for startups, especially hardware companies, which have been ventureLAB’s main focus over the past four years, to commercialize their technologies as they struggle with access to funding, equipment, software, and talent.
BluMind is, for instance, a local semiconductor startup that took part in VentureLAB’s Hardware Catalyst Initiative, which gave them free access to expensive software, test equipment and servers that are essential to developing their technology. This initiative, Skynner said, helps them bring their products to market much faster.
In regards to funding, ventureLAB matches startups and venture capitalists (VC) through its Capital Investment Program, with the aim that the companies are able to create a relationship with the VC and secure funding opportunities.
The key is to “be prepared”, Skynner told attendees, “have your story or your pitch together,” including information about your products and finances, when approaching VCs.
Attracting and retaining talent is also a big challenge for startups, especially in this competitive space, Skynner noted. ventureLAB either connects startups with the diverse talent base in York Region, or it attracts companies into that region.
Diversity, he said, brings innovation and can push a company forward, and that feeds into the culture that a startup can create to retain talent. A strong, attractive culture is one that is authentic and reflects what the founders truly believe in.
“I always say, the enemy of culture is hypocrisy. If the leadership doesn’t walk the talk, it’s going to fail,” he observed. “So helping those startups to develop that culture is really key for them to be successful going forward.”
Over the years, ventureLAB has worked with over 3500 companies, which jointly raised more than C$300 million and hired about 5000 workers, Skynner stated.
He advised startups to “be innovative, to be nimble, to be resourceful and find ways to get things done, because startups seek out programs like this where they can get the advantage in order to get their time to market.”
See all ventureLAB’s programs here.
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