Resilience is a word that pops up everywhere these days, but for good reason given the times.
It was the theme that anchored the TiECON Canada 2022 conference hosted this week by TiE Ottawa for startups, entrepreneurs, investors and other members of the business community.
The sold-out, two-day event, ending tonight, is bringing together roughly 500 attendees, some from far and wide, to the Brookstreet Hotel for group panels, keynote speakers, workshops, fireside chats, startup pitch competitions, and networking opportunities.
February is Heart Month and the University of Ottawa Health Institute Foundation is back with its annual campaign. Get ready to #LightTheTownRed
TiE (The Indus Entrepreneur) was started 30 years ago by a group of entrepreneurs, executives and professionals of South Asian origin in Silicon Valley. It’s gone on to become the largest entrepreneurship network in the world. Today, it has 58 chapters in 12 countries, 13,000 members and 3,200 charter members. This year, the Ottawa chapter is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
“It’s about giving back to the community,” TiE Ottawa president Bharat Rudra, VP of 123worx, told OBJ of the volunteer-driven organization’s mission to foster entrepreneurship and advance the virtuous cycle of wealth creation.
On Thursday, David Gaylord, CEO of Bushbalm Skincare, took to the stage with Pierce Ujjainwalla, co-founder and CEO of Knak, Noibu co-founder and president Kailin Noivo, Trexity CEO and co-founder Alok Ahuja and Fellow.app CEO and co-founder Aydin Mirzaee to participate in the Top Ottawa Startups to Watch discussion, moderated by Rick Norland, CEO of Malaika Vx Inc.
The conversation inevitably turned to the conference theme: “In It To Win It: Resilient Entrepreneurship”, providing panelists with an opportunity to touch on their own challenging times.
“When I think ‘resilience’ I think ‘rejection’, and lots of it,” said Ahuja, who had the tough job of trying to raise capital during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I had to do it through a (computer) screen. They couldn’t see my body language. They couldn’t feel the emotion behind what we were building.
“I reached out to over 1,300 VCs and got rejected every single day by multiple VCs. It was tough, and there were days when I didn’t want to keep going.”
“When I think ‘resilience’, it was pushing through all of that noise, all of that rejection,” said Ahuja. “As a company, we believed in what we were doing. We were listening to the impact we were having on the local economies that we were servicing across Canada.”
Trexity, founded in 2019, is a same-day on demand local delivery platform. Earlier this year, it successfully completed a $5M seed round led by TELUS Ventures.
Noivo recalled the sense of excitement that he had when he initially became an entrepreneur. “Six months later, you still don’t have revenue and then you’re a ‘wantrepreneur’.
“You start to see some friends or family saying, ‘Maybe it’s time to start looking for a job’, and that starts creeping into your head. You’re kind of in that ‘trough of sorrow’ at that point. I think that’s when you have to dig deep and kind of go against the grain.”
The graduate of uOttawa’s Telfer School of Management co-founded Noibu in 2017 with two of his best friends. The bug-detection platform for e-commerce businesses is now considered one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies.
Ujjainwalla shared with the audience the advice of another CEO, who told him to avoid riding the emotional roller coaster. It’s better to stay level-headed.
“I’ve kind of developed that over time,” said Ujjainwalla, who launched Knak in 2015 as a platform designed to help marketers simplify email creation. “I have to be like that because I can’t get super down every time a customer cancels or someone quits or we lose out on a candidate. There are a million things that can go wrong with a company. It’s more about keeping it even-keeled. It’s a marathon. You don’t want to do too many sprints.”
The subject of entrepreneurial passion was also a hot topic.
“People think one day you’re going to wake up and you’re going to find this thing that you’re passionate about and it’s going to be the thing that’s going to drive you and it’s going to get you to do the hours and do all those things,” said Mirzaee.
“One of the philosophies that I have is that I can become passionate about anything. I think that has served me well. My last company was in the online survey space (SurveyMonkey). I was never passionate about surveys; not in the beginning and not in the end when we sold the company.”
Fellow.app is a meeting productivity platform that helps organizations have fewer, better meetings. It was founded in 2017. “I never used to be passionate about meetings. I’m passionate about meetings today. I think it’s a worldwide problem. Everyone complains about them, and someone’s got to solve that problem, so here we are.”
Gaylord acknowledged that he was more fired up initially about the marketing end of things than he was about the Bushbalm products. The e-commerce company, launched in 2016, specializes in the beauty and cosmetic sector, selling a wide range of body oils, exfoliators, body cleansers and creams, including products that target the bikini line. He still loves the marketing part but has come to believe strongly in the skincare products, as well, the room heard. “I am now really passionate about it because I think we’re honestly giving confidence to so many people.”
The room also heard from Solon Angel, founder of MindBridge Ai, and keynote speaker Patrick Lor, managing partner of Panache Ventures and co-founder of iStockphoto. He weaved in several messages of advice, including: “You cannot control the world, you can only control your response.”
Other featured speakers include Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and CTO of HubSpot, Kanwal Rekhi, who was was the first Silicon Valley Indo-American founder and CEO to take a venture-backed company public on the NASDAQ, and Dakin Campbell, chief finance correspondent for Insider.