No better time to start a company

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By Francis Moran

There is no better time than now to start a technology company in Canada, Montreal-based serial entrepreneur Austin Hill told a sold-out crowd at last night’s inaugural Ottawa Founders and Funders dinner.

Hill told the entrepreneurs and various investors gathered at the Velvet Room how he raised US$25 million on a US$100-million pre-revenue valuation of his company Zero-Knowledge Systems Inc. (now called RadialPoint) just as the whole tech sector was going kaflooie at the beginning of this decade. The tough times that followed taught him very difficult lessons about being an entrepreneur as he was obliged to lay off employees he had personally recruited and induced to move to Montreal.

RadialPoint emerged from the meltdown as a much stronger company, Hill said, because of this focus on creating value. And the same opportunity exists today, he insisted.

“People who understand technology and people who have money and know how to make it work effectively have never existed together in Canada like they do today,” he said, making this “a great time for Canadian startups.”

Hill got chuckles from at least the founders in the room when he asked what you get when “you cross a lemming with a sheep?” The answer, of course, is a venture capitalist, and the current economic meltdown means only the truly committed risk-takers will be left standing. Tough times have a way of “washing out some of the people who weren’t serious about our sector in the first place,” he said.

I managed a brief aside with Hill that I used to ask him about his latest venture, Akoha. I have been curious ever since I signed on to the game whether it was purely a philanthropic undertaking or whether there was a revenue model behind it somewhere. “A very powerful revenue model,” Hill assured me before going into some fascinating details I won’t spill here since I neglected to get his permission to do so. But go take a look at the site for yourself.

Curiously, I was just this morning able to personally experience a sharp contradiction to one of Hill’s contentions, although I suspect he’d be happy to hear about it. Ottawa and other tech-heavy Canadians cities lack the kind of meeting places, like coffee shops, where you can wander in and be sure to run into people you need to meet, he suggested, saying that was his common experience in California. Well, for what it’s worth, I wandered into my friendly neighbourhood Bridgehead this morning only to run into Scott Lake. We spent a good 40 minutes chatting about his newest venture, ThinkSM. While we were doing so, I pointed out the head of one of Ottawa’s largest integrated communications agencies who wandered in while Scott recognised some major investor who was also at Bridgehead having a meeting over coffee. So maybe we do have some of that gravitational pull Hill was pining for.

The dinner itself was a good room and full kudos need to go to Allan Isfan of FaveQuest who pulled it together.

/// COMMENTS

No Comments »
  • Sean Power

    November 16, 2008 1:23 pm

    Thanks for the kind mention, Francis. It’s great to hear that there are a few places in Ottawa that have the gravitational pull that you can find in San Francisco. As you know, even on a smaller scale, these types of meeting places go a long way in helping form and strengthen business bonds.

    I’m glad that you’re enjoying Akoha. Thanks again!

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