Hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors and mentors made their way to the sold-out AccelerateOTT conference on Wednesday hoping to make new connections, pick up some valuable insights or perhaps just find a bit of inspiration.
Alongside Megan Cornell from sponsor Momentum Law, Techopia Live was your backstage pass, interviewing Ottawa’s business leaders and visiting startup gurus. Saalim Chowdhury, partner at 500 Startups, told Techopia Live that the conference could be the show of excellence that local entrepreneurs need to reach the next level.
“We’re helping show Ottawa, not what Ottawa-good is like, what global-good is like. And if Ottawa gets global-good, it then becomes a world-class place to build and grow and thrive,” he said.
Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay echoed Chowdhury’s sentiments and championed the value of networking at the economic development agency’s annual conference.
“AccelerateOTT brings some great minds together, so tap into it,” he said.
The day of events featured numerous keynote speakers, investor panels and an expo of local startups showing off their solutions to some 500 attendees.
Janice McDonald, founder of Ottawa’s Beacon Agency and a speaker on the female founders and funders panel, told Techopia Live that environments like this are especially important for women in business.
“We know that networks are incredibly important for women entrepreneurs,” she said.
“Coming to a place like this, you’re going to sit down beside somebody and have a fantastic conversation, and then who knows where it leads.”
Scale without fail
The star of AccelerateOTT on the Ottawa side was Assent Compliance CEO Andrew Waitman. With $60 million in venture capital funding to date, the self-proclaimed “intense” leader told Techopia Live about the challenges facing the local firm as it attempts to scale globally.
Waitman contrasted Assent Compliance with another Ottawa juggernaut, Kinaxis. While the latter has built out a solid enterprise-focused product over some 20 years in business, Assent is trying to reach the same standards in just three years time.
“The demands from our customers are enormous,” Waitman said. Taking on such a large amount of capital, he added, was critical to being able to achieve the rapid scale the market wanted.
“Money is time,” he told Techopia Live. “We could not be where we are today without that large round.”
That doesn’t mean money is the solution to every startup’s problems. Techstars entrepreneur-in-residence Chris Heivly told Techopia Live that the biggest mistake he sees companies make after receiving early-stage funding is hiring a huge number of people before they’re ready.
“Just because you have the money doesn’t mean you should spend it,” he said.
Chowdhury said that firms attempting to scale require a sense of maturity. Startups obsessed with the CEO’s vision will fail, he suggested, due to a lack of empathy with their customers. Understanding the customer’s pain points is a continual process, but companies that want to stick around as they scale will always put consumer need at the core of the business.
“The biggest challenge in scaling, actually … is, ‘How do I be a good servant?’” he said.
Startup ‘secret power’
Even with a clear vision of growth, the process of landing investment is rarely straightforward. The investors visiting AccelerateOTT had a few tips for startups seeking early stage funding.
“I think it always comes down to the team, especially at the early stages,” said Code Cubitt, managing director of Ottawa-based Mistral Venture Partners.
Heivly agreed. He told Techopia Live that if a startup is going to take money from an investor, they’re going to have to take advice, too. Even if the pitch is a home run, if the minds at the table aren’t really connecting, there’s no point in working together.
Cubitt added that being able to acknowledge what you don’t know is, perhaps counterintuitively, an important characteristic for a founder team to have.
“The secret power of a good startup is to surround themselves with advisers who have expertise in areas that they lack,” he added.
The investors joining Techopia Live also pointed to a recent change in the capital winds. Elizabeth Yin, co-founder of San Francisco’s Hustle Fund, said many U.S. venture capitalists are beginning to turn north for investment opportunities.
“As a vast generalization, the Canadian startup ecosystem is an overlooked gem; that’s why I’m here,” she told Techopia Live.
Cubitt concurred. With U.S. investors putting more money into Canada, he believes Ottawa is poised to reap the capital rewards. The city has strengths in a variety of industries, he told Techopia Live, and punches “above its weight class,” a line echoed by Tremblay during his own interview.
“There’s no question that we’re very well positioned,” Cubitt said.
You can check out the whole playlist of Techopia Live’s backstage pass at AccelerateOTT here.