Invest Ottawa’s new peer groups giving entrepreneurs business – and personal – support

Invest Ottawa’s newest resources to support local entrepreneurs are, in fact, the entrepreneurs themselves.

The economic development agency recently launched its IO Peer Groups, a setting for up to 15 local entrepreneurs to join together on a monthly basis to discuss issues affecting their businesses – and how their businesses are affecting their own lives.

Each group will have a facilitator on hand to help guide the conversation. The first IO Peer Group launched earlier this fall with serial entrepreneur Karla Briones, and a second iteration will be run by broadcaster and long-time Ottawa businessperson Mark Sutcliffe.

Founders in the groups all come from non-competing businesses earning annual sales of between $50,000 and $750,000. The group isn’t limited to tech entrepreneurs, either: Briones says her group includes founders from sectors such as health and wellness, education and digital economies.

“It's super rich and super different from what you would get if you were only talking to people in your same industry and in the same environment that you've been marinating yourself in,” she says.”

karla brionnes
Karla Brionnes is a facilitator for IO Peer Groups. Photo provided.

The IO Peer Group concept is similar to groups run by The Executive Committee (TEC) or the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), but is targeted at individuals in early stage companies. TEC or EO can cost thousands of dollars for annual memberships, with IO Peer Group participants paying $250 per month.

Briones, who has participated with EO in the past and is a current member of a TEC group, says she wishes she had a circle like IO Peer Groups when she was just starting out in business.

“I wish I had … a community of other people that would have my back and would have my best interests at heart and would push me to get to that first million (dollars) quicker,” she says.

The IO Peer Groups format sees participants bring their business issues to each meeting to dissect each problem and share best practices. Guest speakers also make appearances to talk about common hurdles for entrepreneurs, such as imposter syndrome – that feeling of self-doubt that tells a founder they don’t belong.

Addressing personal concerns like these are a significant portion of the peer groups. Each session starts with entrepreneurs going around the circle to provide updates on not just their businesses, but their health and state of mind.

While there are plenty of mentorship resources around for companies looking for advice on raising capital and landing new customers, Briones says the chance to step back and manage the psychological side of entrepreneurship is a unique benefit of the peer groups.

“It's just nice to be able to not feel alone, because being an entrepreneur is a pretty lonely endeavour, especially when you're just starting out,” she says. “They're creating a safe environment to talk about their vulnerabilities.”

Along with the group sessions, each participant in the IO Peer Groups receives set hours of one-on-one business coaching with their facilitator. Briones says she uses this time to push entrepreneurs on their practices in hopes of getting them to the next level. She says she has a couple founders in her group that are on the cusp of hitting the $1-million revenue milestone, and while she’d love to keep her group in tact, she’s keen to “graduate” them to the larger scale of TEC or EO groups.

“I would love to keep them in my group. But I would be doing a disservice if I don't move them along,” she says.