By Alexandra Reid
At her core, Victoria is a social entrepreneur, and you could say her relationship with the startup ecosystem approaches the romantic. She is excited about the opportunities that come from starting new businesses, not only from an economic standpoint, but for their potential to empower individuals with the motivation to think bigger, rediscover their dreams and be creative.
“Entrepreneurship is a mindset, a lifestyle, a way of thinking. That’s why I’m part of this movement in Canada,” said Victoria. “It isn’t just about creating entrepreneurs, but inspiring Canadians to think in entrepreneurial ways. I’ve seen entrepreneurship transform people. It’s about a personal experience, and if that leads to healthier communities, that’s a great byproduct.”
The conviction that entrepreneurship should be nationally celebrated for these reasons is central to the Startup Canada movement. Over the coming months, Startup Canada will harness the collective energies of Canadian entrepreneurs and enterprise support communities from coast to coast with the goals of providing the entrepreneurship community with a strong voice, promoting a vibrant entrepreneurial culture and creating a unified brand that Canadians can rally around.
In just one short month since its tour began, the Startup Canada movement has engaged 25,000 Canadians and 250 partner organizations across the country. The tour, which runs from March to September, offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to participate in more than 30 Town Halls and 100 Fringe Events and connect through a social media groundswell campaign. The movement will not only identify key challenges facing Canadian entrepreneurs, it will bring them together in a way that they never have been before.
Victoria said Startup Canada couldn’t have come at a better time. With a struggling economy, fragmented support system and a relative lack of national culture, vision and strategy to support entrepreneurship, starting a business in Canada can be a lonely and daunting experience.
“I think that especially with the recent global downturn of the economy and rise of global superpowers that are different than those that came before, there is an impetus on countries to reprioritize what is important. Developed and developing countries are placing a bigger emphasis on entrepreneurs for creating social capital and building strong businesses. For Canada to be competitive in this technology-driven, interconnected world, we need to look at our entrepreneurs and invest in them and create a strategy to move this forward.
“Canada is a great place to start a new company. We simply can’t afford to be complacent. We need to be fueled by the global competition. We need to move our mindset away from being acquired and exiting to building big, opportunistic companies at home.”
But encouraging entrepreneurs to start and build companies at home requires united support locally, provincially and nationally.
“To keep entrepreneurs here, we need to support them, celebrate them and help them grow bigger. What we lack is cohesion, a unified vision that brings all of our fragmented initiatives together.
“Entrepreneurs focus on one thing – their business. They operate in silos. But entrepreneurship is a social activity. We need our key players – business incubators, university research parks, angels, VCs – to grow bigger teeth and work together.”
But unification and growing support is a complex process, explains Victoria.
“To unify Canadians to celebrate entrepreneurship, we need to identify a common denominator, and that is to generate a culture of entrepreneurship in Canada. As celebrating entrepreneurship is something we can all agree upon, it forms the foundation upon which the Startup Canada movement can grow.
“Startup Canada is a methodology, an exercise in community building. It’s about having deep conversations across the country, asking people what the challenges of entrepreneurship are and how they would solve them. The stress is on the solution. It’s also about impassioning communities, championing new ideas and generating awareness that entrepreneurship is a viable career choice. As we move across the country, we hope entrepreneurs will be proud to celebrate themselves and their successes.
“Out of all the conversations will flow a community-backed action plan, which will set the agenda for Startup Canada over the coming years. We will use that information to advise governments, organizations and individuals on key steps they should take to support entrepreneurship in Canada.”
While the tour has already begun, the official launch of Startup Canada is scheduled to take place May 2, from 6-8pm at the University of Ottawa. You are invited to join Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, and serial entrepreneur, community leader and Startup Canada chairman Dr. Adam Chowaniec, along with event partners Invest Ottawa and the University of Ottawa, for an evening of celebration, inspiration and idea sharing. The event will also feature a special address from serial entrepreneur Sir Terry Matthews and a young entrepreneurs panel chaired by Victoria herself.
Victoria Lennox is an entrepreneur, policy advisor and network builder. As the executive director of Startup Canada, a non-profit grassroots initiative with the goal to become the centerpiece of Canada’s entrepreneurship community, Victoria has stimulated public discourse and developed meaningful political and policy inroads to further Canada’s entrepreneurship agenda nationally and abroad.