To have Victoria Lennox from Startup Canada participate on this platform is such a gift!
A serial entrepreneur, who works with start-ups, and has a background in Political Science, Governance and Public Policy, she is the all-encompassing, ideal interviewee for such a platform, which is meant to inspire, educate and hopefully, be some catalyst for taking action.
Mentor-ship covers a lot of things, but at its core, it is meant to inspire the student. And although we can’t all have a mentor by our sides like Victoria, I hope you soak in all the advice and wisdom from this interview; it is quite insightful!
Mission of the organization:
“Startup Canada is Canada’s Entrepreneurs’ Organization”, Victoria tells me. It is a grassroots network for building Canada’s entrepreneurship environment, its local culture, and to see Canada succeed by supporting entrepreneurs and their missions. It was founded in May 2012.
It has many areas of expertise to aid entrepreneurs through their journeys, various initiatives, including working with government to create a more favorable environment for small businesses, as well, it holds various events, and its reach is from coast, to coast, to coast.
It hosts, also, an annual awards program, currently the 6th annual Startup Canada Awards , to celebrate outstanding achievements by Canadian entrepreneurs and innovations – where you can still submit your own entry or nominate an entrepreneur/company to participate, with deadline, March 24! (This paragraph was updated to mention the current 2019 Startup Canada Awards.)
'Start-up Canada' is a unique concept and organization. How did that come about?
Victoria tells me she’s a serial social entrepreneur. She started her own charity when she was in the UK called NACUE. When she came back to Canada, she soon realized we needed a cultural change [in the entrepreneurship ecosystem], and that it had to happen from the bottom-up.
“Startup Britain”, “Startup Chile”, and “Startup America” had been launched, so she thought it was time for “Startup Canada”, but it had to be done our own way. She tells me that, “Startup Canada was born from a need to create a culture of entrepreneurship through grassroots mobilization of entrepreneurs across the country”.
Victoria never knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur; her background is in Political Science, Governance and Public Policy, after all. But when she attended Oxford, she joined an entrepreneurs club, “Oxford Entrepreneurs”. That is when for the first time, she was exposed to entrepreneurship and people who were pursuing their ideas.
But, she tells me, what motivated her most about entrepreneurship is that you can take all that’s unique about you, your interests, your passions, your reason to be, and you can manifest that in the world through entrepreneurship in a way that creates opportunities for yourself and to your family, community, and ultimately, the growth of your country, and by providing solutions to humanity in many cases.
And so, what she really loves about entrepreneurship: how it helps individuals express their passions and personalities to the world. And that has become her big passion.
What led you to believe in yourself, a young individual/woman, to build such a venture; why this specific career path (instead of starting a business/startup of your own)?
In terms of confidence, Victoria describes herself as “a quiet leader” who tends to lead from behind. She adds that confidence to her comes through the empowerment of her team and other people.
She never thought that Startup Canada would have worked, but it was an idea that had traction, and support. She says that she feels that if something is really needed in the market, it takes off – and timing is also a big piece to the success of any venture.
Startup Canada continues to grow. Currently there are 50 start-up communities across the nation, supporting a quarter million entrepreneurs.
Her personal goal within the organization is to build Startup Canada into a household name where every Canadian, as they think of starting a new venture, can think to reach out to Startup Canada and its community, and know there’s a whole nation of support rallying behind their success!
Top lessons: Surround yourself with amazing mentors; people who can support you along your journeys, and have chore expertise and specializations.
Victoria has many mentors, and Startup Canada, she tells me, wouldn’t be where it is today without these advisors, board directors, all “hands on deck” who helped her and the organization.
2nd lesson: Whatever you do, it should be connected to your purpose and why you live.
Her personal goal is to support people and allow them to discover what’s unique about them, and to help them unleash that on the world through entrepreneurship to create a macro of economic change.
She adds that it took a while to refine this specific personal goal, but that’s what gets her up every day (and she says that with a big smile on her face).
But in summary, whatever one chooses to take-on, is much easier if it is done with purpose and passion.
Advice: Perhaps a cliché, but “Just Start”!
The biggest factor in anyone’s success is time. The earlier you start the better, because when you start, you fail fast (and hence learn soon in the journey about the various lessons).
You need to be very passionate about the problems you’re seeking to solve, or solutions to provide, and the end-result change you’re seeking to develop, but not be too rigid about how you get there; your business, product or service will take so many twists and turns along the way.
So you need to have an end state-of-mind but be very flexible about how to get there – starting as soon as you can, learn from the failures, and pivot accordingly toward your ultimate goal.
A frequent scenario Victoria sees is where a company or technology is “stuck”, but its founders have invested-in many years, and don’t want to give it up, and continue to invest precious resources the same way – but one of the main factors of failure is being rigid with your solutions; sometimes it really is a bad product or solution or has no market-fill.
Hence, it’s important to co-build your company with your clients, to insure sustainability, and that it’s an actual business. And if not, realizing it’s time to pivot or fold-up – and try again.
That’s what entrepreneurship is all about, after all; it’s about trying new things every day and working with your customers to create better products and services that will benefit people.
5) As a woman in this field, what (if any) difficulties/challenges did you encounter?
Victoria can’t really say that she faced any issues specific about her gender. (She, however, adds more with the comments below specific about entrepreneurship.)
Anything else you’d like to add?
Entrepreneurship is very hard; “it’s a 24/7 contact sport, really”.
Entrepreneurship requires a lot of interaction with other people, and can be a roller coaster with every given day: you can have highest of highs and lowest of lows, and as you grow your company or organization there are new challenges and learning that arise through that too.
Therefore, taking the experience as a learning journey and seeing it as an opportunity for personal growth along business growth, and rise to the occasion simultaneously, is how you can navigate through the journey.
It is very important, she adds, as you’re building your business, that it doesn’t become all-consuming. Theoretically, the more time you put in, the more rewards you’ll reap, but it’s really important to invest in yourself as an entrepreneur: constantly learn, network, take care of your health, and your well-being.
Time and again, Victoria says, she sees how an organization tends to be quite the reflection of its founders or its leadership – so the lesson here, is making sure that you nurture yourself as you nurture your company.
I would like to thank Victoria for writing back to me, long after I initially reached out to her (due to some email confusion...), and then taking the time to participate on this platform so promptly once connected again.