Startups, Eh

Feb 01, 2019 | Sam Rook


Notes from a VC talk

I know, I know- not another blog on startups! This week is different because I want to take you on a trip into the world of startups and Venture Capital (VC) here in Canada. The genesis of this came from a “Fireside Chat” I was invited to yesterday at The Biomedical Zone; a collaboration between Ryerson University and St. Michael’s hospital. A man by the name of Charles Plant was being interviewed and he has a resume in venture capital that is as long as my arm. Currently he is a Senior Fellow at the U of T’s Impact Centre.

Here are some of the important points from yesterday’s talk.

Canadian startups should be spending half of their money and effort on sales and marketing right from the start.

This was the comment that elicited the most interest from the crowd- all startups in Medical devices and medical tech-because he hit them hard for spending all their time on R and D to build a product first and then trying to sell it to an unknown market afterwards. This was really an eye-opener for me because we are conditioned to buy the finished product but we don’t know how the finished product got finished in the first place. To paraphrase Plant, you need to find the market during the build in order to make the product that will sell. He emphasized this applied to ANY industry and not to the assembled horde of healthcare tech companies.

Canadian VC is terrible because it is organized by geography NOT by sector

Plant argued that our system of having Toronto money support Toronto startups was pointless because they invested in too many different industries and thus were not focused and specialized to help any one sector. He made a point of highlighting that US VC Firms tend to run on a thesis (AI or Fluid dynamics) rather than based on a geography. Though that is probably true about a lot of different things in our country not just VC.

Government programs are a mess of inefficiency

Plant’s biggest salvo of ire was saved for the myriad different government programs designed to help support startups. He was in favour of the idea but railed against the lack of coordination between different government departments or even the complete absence of any sort of plan for their invested money. The founders in attendance enjoyed this one and I sat amazed when one told how he had to spend 2 weeks filling out papers to receive $30,000 in grant money.

Find your market, no matter where it is

The talk started out on this interesting point. Because of Canada’s healthcare model it was extremely difficult to penetrate the procurement system. He told the attendees to build it here but to sell it elsewhere. Europe, America, Asia or South America. He reminded everyone that Canada is a great and wonderful country to live but that we were still only 2% of the global economy and that the true opportunity existed outside our borders.

It was a great chat and I even got to see some of the new technologies being developed here in the city. People from around the world are here in Toronto because places like Ryerson University and U of T have built fantastic places for new startups to learn and grow. I hope the founders in attendance heard some of Charles’ points clearly. They are taking some incredible ideas and trying to build their future and ours out of these ideas. We will all be much better off if they started to think globally and less locally.

Thanks to Tamara and the Biomedical Zone team for the invite. If you are a person with an interesting idea in medical technology and don’t know where to go, give them a call or contact me and I will make the connection. I will include links to both the Biomedical Zone and Charles Plant and Impact Centre below.

Ryerson U- Biomedical Zone:

Impact Centre at U of T: