Friday, August 22, 2014

Regina Report: The lowdown on Based in Business

(Originally published on
REGINA — If you read my Financial Post column on Tuesday, you will know that I am reporting from the University of Regina, which is hosting Based in Business, an innovative week-long bootcamp that is helping 19 Canadian military veterans become smarter, savvier entrepreneurs.
As a business journalist in Toronto specializing in entrepreneurship for 25 years, I have had limited exposure to military personnel or veterans. After two busy days of classes and conversation, it’s clear to me Canada’s veterans are incredibly intelligent, engaged people who are deeply concerned with the world around them and still anxious — whether they’re 39 or 59 — to make their mark on it.
For this update, a few observations about my classmates and the program:
Stereotypes aside You can’t stereotype veterans. There’s a wide range of personality types here, from grim, results-first types to class clowns and process-oriented intellectuals. In general, however, they are eager to learn, they ask great questions, and they’re quick to respond whenever an instructor asks for volunteers. If there’s a new experience to be had — even if it’s exposing your nascent business plan to the scrutiny of the entire group — they are quick to grab it.
Pride and patriotism They’re proud of their military careers and fierce patriots. They believe in the Canadian Forces as the home of high-performing specialists who continually form and reform teams based on shared values, trust, and willingness to sacrifice their individuality for the sake of the mission. They’ll kid each other mercilessly, but watch out for each other like brothers and sisters.
Equality in the classroom I’ve been very impressed by the absence of rank. At this camp, majors and corporals and warrant officers work and socialize with each other as equals. In their heads, they have probably all figured out the approximate ranks of all their colleagues, but they know this is a new world where everyone can learn from each other.
Shared Values The veterans at Based in Business Regina — many of whom are still on active military duty, for one more week, six months, or up to two years — miss their military experience, but are excited about the business adventures on which they’re embarking. They worry, however, that the culture of shared values and trust will not be present in the business world. I have tried to convince several of them that in most industries and markets, trust plays a huge role in business. Indeed, we could barely make agreements, collaborate or buy from each other without a strong sense of mutual trust. They’ll believe it when they see it.
(On Tuesday evening, the veterans met nine Regina entrepreneurs for speed networking: a series of 10-minute get-to-know-you sessions. Many seemed blown away that so many successful local entrepreneurs would take the time to meet with them, and show so much interest in their business plans. I tried to tell them that they will find caring and supportive business networks wherever they go in Canada. They’ll believe it when they see it.)
No sympathy expected In general, these veterans think the Canadian public is indifferent to their military experiences and their sacrifices. But they don’t really expect anyone to care; “the man on the wall” does it out of a sense of duty, not for other people’s appreciation. Several of these vets have suffered injuries, both mental and physical, but they have worked hard to overcome them and expect no sympathy. Just a fair shake.
Competitive, confident Yes, they’re competitive. And they have no doubt their business ideas are going to succeed.
Slowly, however, these veterans are realizing confidence is not enough, and that in business, overconfidence can kill. So far, the instructors from the University of Regina have managed to sow some healthy self-doubt. They’ve demonstrated that the first job of any startup — selecting a promising market and the most appropriate business model for it — is more complex than these budding entrepreneurs thought.
That’s a good thing. These veterans know every successful mission begins with an objective assessment of its threats and opportunities.
The participants’ resilience has been seen again and again. Between Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon, many changed the way they described their business objectives. Some who arrived with a dram of pursuing two or three business ideas at once have winnowed them down to one — the most promising opportunity they can see. Others learned to finesse their plan, narrowing down their addressable target market or resetting their expectations of how long it would take to succeed.
Based in Business has a difficult mission: Improve the prospects of its confident, capable participants while showing them how much they don’t yet know. Without that kind of tough love, how can they learn to put in the huge effort required to succeed?
But so far, the process seems to be working. Probability of mission success: almost certain.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Business, life and 3D printing

I wrote a few years ago that 3D printing changes everything. Here's a phenomenal example. 

TurboRoo, a tiny Chihuahua, was born without front legs, an innocent victim of random genetic dysfunction.

Every critter on the planet wants to be mobile, to roam, to explore. TurboRoo's owner asked for help on the Internet - and got it.

According to a story on TechCrunch, "Mark Deadrick, president of 3dyn, saw TurboRoo’s call for wheels on the Internet and designed a small wheeled cart, estimating the size from online photos. He printed the card in bright orange, slapped on some Rollerblade wheels, and sent the cart to TurboRoo’s owner. Now the wee doggie is scooting along on a free, fully hackable set of super-legs."

Before now, notes writer John Biggs, "TurboRoo’s owners would have had to build something out of ready-made pipes, cloth, and other materials at great cost. Now, however, the cart can be custom-fit to TR’s body, reprinted at will, and even modified by other designers. Best of all, they can make multiple carts for almost nothing and in almost no time."

This is the miracle of 3D printing. With a little design help - and the number of freely available templates for 3D printed objects is growing every day - it's now possible for the consumer (or entrepreneur) to manufacture virtually anything they can dream of - out of almost any substance. (Chocolate is becoming an increasingly popular building material.)  

The business implications are staggering. Sell designs. Create and sell works of art. Scan in and reproduce spare parts. Medical devices. Sculptured foods. Customized bobbleheads. 

Remember Star Trek's transporter? We still can't actually teleport, but you can now download the plans for almost any device to your home or office, and reproduce it on a 3D printer costing less than $1,000. (20 years ago,we paid more than that for a fax machine.)

How can 3D printing enhance your business or industry? 
How can you get ahead of the trend?

Youth entrepreneurship, making a difference, and trying to smash an iPhone

All this and more was on the agenda Thursday, Aug. 7 when Rick appeared on Global's "Morning Show" with 20-year-old entrepreneur Richard Waters, founder of Toronto-based Phantom Glass. The company produces an amazing glass cover for smartphones that is scratch-proof and highly protective.
I had seen a video on Richard's website that depicted someone striking an iPhone with a hammer to prove how tough Phantom Glass really is, so I asked if he had brought a hammer to the studio. He hadn't, so we borrowed one from the production crew. 
It was, of course, the highlight of the segment.
Take six minutes and bask in the new frontier of youth entrepreneurship.
What happens when the hammer strikes?

Monday, August 04, 2014

"We had no business plan, just an idea"

You can help our veterans start stronger businesses and make more successful returns to civilian life.
Through my Indiegogo crowd-funding project, serving military personnel and veterans alike will be able to access a free startup eBook geared to their specific needs.
Startups for Heroes (tentative title) will offer the best business information and startup guidance from “Based in Business,” a one-week business bootcamp being held for Canadian Forces veterans later this month in Regina. I’ll be there to cover the lessons learned and tell some of the participants' stories.
Why do veterans need this help? Because while the Forces and Veterans Affairs offer military retirees lots of advice on how to find a job, they don't do such a good job on starting your own business. Given today’s economy, many veterans are eager to start a business – but don't know what to do first.
Help them start their new lives on the right foot. Please visit “Startup for Heroes” and support one of my funding levels.
How can a startup bootcamp change people’s lives? Here’s a new story by Amanda Moore of Niagara This Week on a veteran who retired this month and just completed a “Based in Business” course in St. John’s. Leendert Bolle served one tour in Bosnia and two tours in Afghanistan. He and his wife Annemarie now own Hero Dog Treats in Beamsville, Ont.
"We had no business plan, just an idea that we put into action," says Leendert. Based in Business "made a difference in my business, taking it from surviving to thriving."
Besides creating a living for the couple, the business employs veterans who may be struggling with their own return to civilian life. "The struggles of veterans became apparent to me two years ago," Leendert told Niagara This Week. "I told my wife we had to do something to help them."
With the information he learned at Based in Business, Leendert hopes the company will grow to the point where it can employ 20 to 30 veterans. "The program has given me the tools to make it happen," he says. "It has given me the opportunity and support to go out into the world and give it all I've got."
This is the power of a smart business: the ability to create confidence for individual entrepreneurs, value for customers, and jobs for those who need them.
But “Based in Business” is an expensive program. It can only help a few dozen veterans a year. Please support my eBook project so we can get this information into the hands of every veteran – and every Forces member – who wants it.
Click here to visit the “Startups for Heroes” page on Indiegogo.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New video added in "Startups for Heroes" campaign

My proposed "Startup for Heroes" eBook campaign is gaining traction on Indiegogo.
To provide more information about this project, I have uploaded a video to YouTube that explains what I'm doing and why.
(To recap, I am crowdfunding a book on starting a business, based on the curriculum of the "Based in Business" bootcamp in Regina in August. I hope to raise $5,000 to cover costs in order to give the book away free to all veterans and military personnel, to  help smooth their return to civilian life.)

You can watch the video below.

And please visit my crowdfunding project here:
Thanks for your support.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Startups for Heroes: Help crowd-fund my book!

One of the most important stories I've covered in recent years is the work being done by a number of amazing associations, including Enactus at Memorial University, Futurepreneur and the Prince’s Charities Canada to train armed forces veterans to become more effective entrepreneurs.

You’ve read the stories. You know that members of Canada’s armed forces are retiring and returning to civilian life at a rate unmatched in 60 years. You know the unemployment rate of veterans is unacceptably high. Many face traumatic stress issues in returning to “normal” life and finding a conventional job. For many, the best answer is entrepreneurship: starting a business that allows them to leverage the talents, skills and discipline they’ve learned in their years serving on Canada’s front lines.

“Based in Business” is an amazing week-long bootcamp for entrepreneurially-minded veterans. This summer there are three cohorts – in Quebec City, St. John’s., and Regina. But these programs, with their emphasis on personal help and one-to-one mentoring, can only help a few of the thousands who need this information and motivation.

I want to write a book about the Based in Business program. It will cover the entrepreneurial basics of the course, as well as tell the stories of some of the amazing people who are rebuilding their lives after a career of public service. 

The working title of this ebook is "Startups for Heroes." And I want it to go to every veteran or military member who wants it – for free.

That’s why I'm asking for your help. Through crowdfunding, people who believe in worthwhile, pro-social activities can step up and support programs they believe in. In return for your support, you can get a free copy of the ebook, a hard copy, or even your name in the book. Or even two months’ coaching from me at an deep-discount price. Because I believe in this cause and want to finish this book – yet pay the mortgage, too.

You can access my crowdfunding campaign at Click here to read more about this project, scan the contribution levels and "perks," and please contribute what you can.

I have dedicated my career to small business and entrepreneurs because entrepreneurship is the most powerful tool we have for self-improvement, personal empowerment and economic development.  With this project, entrepreneurship also becomes a much-needed solution for Canada’s greatest heroes: the men and women of the military who now want to start over and make their own way in civilian life and business.

They need our support. Please help me help them.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Young Entrepreneurs Changing the World

A fun infographic that's also inspiring. 
Don't tell today's young people that previous generations thought "changing the world" was an impossible dream. Kids today just do it!
young entrepreneurs

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rick's Rules of Writin'

Story-telling is the foundation of great businesses.
Whether you're writing a business plan, mission statement, marketing pitch or social media article, the secrets of story-telling are similar. Understand who you're writing for, and know what you want to say. Tell a good story. Stop when you're done.
For a client, I recently put together my favourite rules of writing. While I had in mind magazine/newsletter articles, most of these rules apply to every type of writing you need to do. 
Never presume you can't write well. You just need to care about good writing, and to take the time to get better. Your pains will pay off. I learned to write well through the patient tutoring of many masters of the craft. I happily pass on to you what I have learned from them. 
1.  A story written without enthusiasm will be read without interest.
2. The secret weapon of great writing is rhythm.
3. Simple is better than complex. Fewer words are better than more.
4. Readers are busy people. If you don't tell them in the first minute why they should be reading your story, they're gone.
5. Opening a story in the middle of the action is overdone. But it’s still the best way to pull in reluctant readers.
6. A boring headline is worse than no headline at all.
7. One of the best entry points into any story is an exciting photo caption. So why are they always so dull?
8. Don't fuss over the first sentence or two. Get deep in the story as quickly as you can. Once you know your full story better, the first lines will rewrite themselves.
9. To a skilled writer, the rules of grammar are just suggestions.
10. Call one more source. Conflict tests our ideas and produces better stories.
11. The secret of great writing is rewriting. The second time, throw out everything that isn’t great.
12. It was said of Winston Churchill that “he never wrote a boring sentence.” Make that your goal, too.

Feel free to add a comment with your own writing tips. More is merrier! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Meet the new PROFIT 500!

Congrats to the hard-working entrepreneurs who made the 2014 PROFIT 500 list of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies, just announced.
Here's the top 20, based on five-year revenue growth. To find out more about any of these fast-growth hotshots, click on any company name.

You can read more about them and the rest of the P500 here.

Consumer Staples
Consumer Discretionary
Information Technology
Consumer Staples
Information Technology
Information Technology
Consumer Staples

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Steve Blank on the Big Screen

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing startup legend Steve Blank, live via satellite, on the big stage at the Discovery conference hosted by Ontario Centres of Excellence.

Steve is a California-based entrepreneur who originated the concept of the Lean Startup, an influential framework for rethinking the role and objectives of startups. You can read more about that in next Tuesday’s Post. (Link to come. here:

In keeping with the concept of “Lean,” I got to sit on a stool by myself on a huge but sparse stage while interviewing Steve. He’s very articulate and very funny, but he had a tendency to answer questions he wanted to answer, rather than the ones I asked, so he required a bit of wrangling. But on the whole it was a fun and eye-opening presentation that a lot of people told me they found fascinating.

Below, some pictures from the set, as snapped by members of the audience and posted on Twitter.

Or you can read more about Steve Blank on his website.

Startup Canada Awards - Ontario

Last week I was honoured to MC the Startup Canada Awards for Ontario held at the delightfully scruffy Hacker Studios, a startup space in London, Ont.

The awards were created to recognize the many hard-working and dedicated individuals and organizations that are helping to grow Canada’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In London, Startup Canada handed out awards to organizations such as Ryerson University, Microsoft, MaRS, Communitech and Ernst & Young. Individuals recognized included mentor of the year Sean Wise from Ryerson, “ecosystem builder” Joel Adams of London, academic of the year Howard Armitage from University of Waterloo, “Lifetime Achievement” winner Gary Will of Communitech and many other organizations, and, umm, me. Presumably for writing endlessly about entrepreneurs for 25 years.

Enjoy some photos of the event. The names of all the winners appear below.
Rick interviewing event hosts Amanda Stratton and Quinn Lawson

With Jame Bowen and winner Helen Braiter from CBIP 
Sean Wise is way too happy with his Mentor of the Year award! 
Rick and his shiny new hardware, with James Bowen and Startup founder Victoria Lennox  
All the winners....

Entrepreneurial Effect Award
Awarded to the individual, group, community, network or organization that has developed and produced a program, tool, research project or event that has had the greatest impact in advancing entrepreneurship in Canada.
Runner-Up: TIM Program
Runner-Up: Humber Launch
Winner: Launch Party
Runner-Up: Fundica
Winner: Grow Conference
Runner-Up: New Ventures BC

Startup Community of the Year
Awarded to the official Startup Canada Community that has most successfully advanced their local entrepreneur community through both strengthening their local entrepreneurship ecosystem and culture as well as advancing Canada’s entrepreneurship ecosystem through active engagement and contribution nationally.
Winner: Startup Waterloo
Winner: Quebec Startup
Winner: Startup Winnipeg (RampUp Manitoba / AssentWorks)
Runner-Up: Startup Calgary 
Winner: Startup PG

Most Entrepreneurial Post-Secondary Institution of the Year
Awarded to the college or university that demonstrates the largest commitment and impact in advancing entrepreneurship.
Runner-Up: Seneca College

Professional Services Company of the Year
Awarded to a professional services firm – e.g. banking, legal, accounting, strategic consulting, etc. – that demonstrates the largest commitment and impact in supporting and investing in entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities locally and nation-wide.
Winner: Ernst & Young
Runner-Up: Deloitte
Winner: McInnes Cooper
Winner: Boast Capital

Incubator/ Accelerator of the Year
Awarded to a Canadian incubator or accelerator that demonstrates both innovative approaches and the largest impact in advancing the success of entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities locally and nation-wide.
Winner: Communitech
Runner-Up: Invest Ottawa
Winner: Launch 36
Winner: FounderFuel
Runner-Up: TEC Edmonton
Winner: Growlab
Runner-Up: Wavefront

Government Organization of the Year
Awarded to a municipal, provincial or federal government program, department, office, agency or entity that demonstrates both innovative approaches and the largest impact in advancing the success of entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities locally and nation-wide.

Non-Profit Support Organization of the Year
Awarded to a non-profit organization that demonstrates both innovative approaches and the largest impact in advancing the success of entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities locally and nation-wide.
Winner: Hub Halifax
Winner: CYBF BC
Runner-Up: Launch Academy

Anchor Company of the Year
Awarded to a large private sector firm that demonstrates the largest commitment and impact in supporting and investing in entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities within their community and nation-wide
Winner: Microsoft
Runner-Up: Shopify
Winner: Videotron
Winner: Hootsuite

Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builder of the Year
Awarded to a Canadian who has demonstrated the greatest impact in advancing the success of entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities locally, regionally and / or nationally and who has been a leading evangelist and champion of entrepreneurship, demonstrably contributing to more entrepreneurial attitudes, behaviours and activities.
Winner: Joel Adams
Runner-Up: Reza Satchu
Winner: Robert Pelley
Runner-Up: Phil Telio
Winner: Chris Johnson
Runner-Up: Joelle Foster
Winner: Dan Gunn
Runner-Up: Jeff Keen

Entrepreneur Mentor of the Year
Awarded to a Canadian entrepreneur mentor who has demonstrated the greatest impact in advancing the success of entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities locally, regionally and / or nationally through no-cost mentorship of entrepreneurs as evidenced by their rate of growth.
Winner: Sean Wise
Runner-Up: Jeff Dennis
Winner: Robert Zed
Winner: LP Maurice
Winner: Randy Yatscoff
Runner-Up: Stephen King 
Winner: Ray Walia
Runner-Up: Cathy Kuzel

Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year
Awarded to a Canadian educator who has:
  • Demonstrated excellence in educating, empowering and equipping entrepreneurship students with the attitudes, skills, experiential learning opportunities and networks needed to pursue successful entrepreneurial ventures; 
  • Made a significant impact in both fostering student-led entrepreneurship initiatives and motivating senior campus leadership to adopt entrepreneurial policies and priorities; and / or, 
  • Engaged actively in the local startup community through bringing strudents into the community and bringing the community onto the campus.
Winner: Howard Armitage
Runner-Up: Ajay Agrawal
Winner: Scott MacAulay
Winner: Brent Mainprize

Media Person of the Year
Awarded to a Canadian media person who has:
  • Demonstrated the greatest impact in advancing public awareness about entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurial issues and / or 
  • Leveraged their public voice to champion entrepreneurship through the media and through their community service.
Winner: Rick Spence
Runner-Up: Ian Hardy of Betakit
Winner: Peter Moreira
Winner: Martin Cash
Winner: Rob Lewis

Young Entrepreneur of the Year
The Young Entrepreneur Award is a celebration of youth entrepreneurship – reminding us of the importance of cultivating entrepreneurial awareness and acumen both at home and through early education to fuel the next generation of Canada’s great entrepreneurs.
Runner-Up: William Zhou
Winner: Mandy Balak

Wolf Blass Lifetime Achievement Award
Awarded to a Canadian who has demonstrated the greatest impact in advancing the success of entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities locally, regionally and / or nationally throughout their lifetime.
Winner: Gary Will
Winner: Gerry Pond
Winner: John Dobson (Foundation)
Winner: Allan Scott

Investor of the Year
Awarded to a Canadian investor who has demonstrated the greatest impact in advancing the success of entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities locally, regionally and / or nationally through a blend of monetary investment and mentorship.
Winner: Randy Thompson
Runner-Up: Dan Park