Victoria Lennox: Building a Startup Nation

Paper.li is proud to be a media partner of Startup Canada — a huge on- and offline movement starting today in an effort to put Canadian entrepreneurs on the world map.

Startup Canada is a coast-to-coast tour of the country, a campaign to put entrepreneurship in the limelight, and a national conversation between entrepreneurs, industry, education and government. It will celebrate entrepreneurship, build community, uncover innovative ideas and end with a clear, collective vision for the future.

Victoria Lennox, a social entrepreneur who founded Startup Canada with media tech entrepreneur Cyprian Szalankiewicz, gave us a preview of six months of activity beginning with the launch of the Startup Canada website on March 1.

Follow the news daily from across the Canadian entrepreneurship community on the Daily WiRE or catch up on the latest town halls, activities, interviews and findings coming out of the Startup Canada Tour with the Weekly Update. A Startup Canada app is coming too!

Tell us about Startup Canada and its ambitions.

From March 19 to September, Startup Canada will fuel a groundswell movement of the Canadian entrepreneurship community. There is a national tour and online social media campaign to engage more than 25,000 Canadians to celebrate and support our country’s one million entrepreneurs to start, grow and succeed.

From coast to coast, Startup Canada and the entrepreneurs community will uncover innovative ideas and solutions to challenges faced by entrepreneurs. There will be more than 30 town halls, 100 fringe events, meetings and interviews — all spread, shared and discussed on the Startup Canada website, social media channels, Speaker’s Corner, ideasWiki, Blog, as well as the Daily WiRE and Weekly Update on Paper.li.

The activity will culminate in late 2012 with the launch of a clear collective vision and strategy for the future and a call to action that will empower everyone.

We are determined to become the centerpiece of Canada’s entrepreneurship community driving entrepreneurship nationwide.

Why is it so important for Canada to develop its entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurs and small businesses are the backbone of the economy. There are over one million small businesses in Canada — they employ 48% of Canada’s workforce, account for 25% of exports, and make up 30% of GDP.

Just under 5% are high-growth and create almost half of new jobs. These kinds of ventures create new markets and disruptive innovations that can transform the economies of communities and regions.

What makes a successful entrepreneur?

I believe it takes passion, perseverance and a facility to work very hard. Great entrepreneurs have exceptional teams and understand the value of relationships and communication in achieving success.

Can you share some Canadian success stories?

Cirque du Soleil by Focka for Startup Canada

The big: Cirque du Soleil.
The recently acquired: Radian6 acquired by Salesforce.com.
The up-and-coming: Shopify acquires and expands.

Where did the idea come from?

It was inspired by Startup America and Startup Britian, but it really came about when a former colleague who was at Startup Britain suggested it might be useful for Canada and connected me with the Kauffman Foundation in the US.

I was inspired by the concept but I knew Canada was very different in its entrepreneurial landscape and culture. I was able to learn from the successes and lessons of the initiatives in other countries. I saw that if we were to have a meaningful impact the movement would need to come from the grassroots and that the entire entrepreneurial community would need to be engaged.

Why now?

While Canadians like to think of themselves as great collaborators, the entrepreneurship community hasn’t come together around a shared vision or purpose.

There are useful, world-class programs and organizations that support entrepreneurs, yet they still confront challenges of navigating the complex entrepreneurship ecosystem. It is highly fragmented across regional, sectoral, industry, stage-based, and even demographic silos. Entrepreneurs face challenges in identifying and accessing support, and building and leveraging national and global networks. The capacity to share knowledge and best practices across regions and sectors is limited.

There is also a lack of adequate risk capital and a shortage of those management and business skills that are learned from past startup failures and trying again. Then there is the pace of technological change, global competition, the strength of the Canadian dollar, early retirements, difficulties attracting young workers and changing skills requirements.

I think we need to further cultivate a true entrepreneurial culture — the confidence, thirst and determination of entrepreneurs to grow bigger and compete globally.

All of this points to the importance of industry, education and government coming together to change our DNA. We urgently need a national strategy to bring together efforts to create more favorable conditions for startups and “gazelles” to emerge.

Startup CanadaStartup Canada is an idea whose time has come.

What made you choose Paper.li as a media partner?

Paper.li provides Startup Canada with an unparalleled way to showcase the daily news coming out of the Canadian entrepreneurship community through our Daily WiRE. It enables the entire community to get onto the same page and feel the pulse of development.

For our Weekly Update, we see the Paper.li platform as an inspired substitute to the tired e-newsletter — it is a dynamic way to capture and share the tour from coast to coast.

What will come next?

Action. We will also be submitting a white paper to the Prime Minister toward a national entrepreneurship strategy and releasing a documentary, covering the stories, issues, and entrepreneurs coming out of the tour. I am looking forward to bringing the ideas of the entrepreneurship community to life — I am looking forward to taking action.

What really excites you most about entrepreneurship?

For me entrepreneurship is a philosophy. It’s a way of living, a mindset, a lifestyle choice.

Entrepreneurship is a powerful force for driving prosperity, innovation, productivity, job creation, economic growth, and fueling healthy and sustainable communities. Beyond enterprise creation, cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset — particularly among the next generation and disadvantaged populations — has been championed by the World Economic Forum and UNCTAD as critical to lifting the confidence and aspirations of entire populations. New models of micro-enterprise, crowdfunding and social entrepreneurship have emerged as sustainable social solutions to some of today’s greatest challenges.

What will you be doing once the tour ends?

Working with our team and board on our 2013 strategy… and perhaps a little break :)

Are you involved with a startup in Canada or elsewhere? We love startups! Share it with us.

Photo credit: Cirque du Soleil by Focka

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  • http://www.lizwilson.me/ Liz Wilson

    Thanks Elsie — keep us posted on how the tour and campaign go.

  • http://www.beyondparalleldesign.com/ Elsie

    Great interview. I had the pleasure of working with Victoria on this initiative and find her to be an exceptional leader, very collaborative and very business savvy. I am looking forward to continuing to work with her and Startup Canada and helping our country stay competitive, provide suppport for entrepreneurs where/when they need it.