Innovation Saskatchewan is responsible for implementing the province’s innovation priorities and helping grow Saskatchewan’s tech sector. Effective April 2022, this includes operation of the Innovation Place technology parks in Saskatoon and Regina.

About Last Night: Co.Labs' Co.mmunity Event Reveals the Dos and Don'ts for Startups

Co.Labs, Saskatchewan’s first incubator and a tenant at Innovation Place in Saskatoon, continued its monthly Co.mmunity Night series last night with a panel on venture funds’ insights, but with a twist! Panel moderator Jacqueline Cook from Vendasta decided to shake things up by flipping the focus from startups pitching investors to investors pitching startups, focusing on exactly what startups need to do (and not do!) in order to get that investment.

The panel included an array of investors from the most established firms, or “old guys,” as was thrown around: Wanda Hunchak from WestCap and Sean O’Connor from Conexus Credit Union, which powers Innovation Place Regina tenant Cultivator, to the relatively new guys Jesse Ross from Lex Capital, Michael Mclean from Tribune Capital, and Trevor Phenix from Broad Street Bulls. While it was interesting to note the range of investments from each -- from $25,000 all the way to $3 million -- the most instructive advice came from what these investors are really looking for in a startup. The number one answer? The people.

“We’d rather work with an A team with a B product, than a B team with an A product,” Ross said. Most of his firm’s failures had come from teams that just weren’t quite right and couldn’t make the intense journey that’s demanded of a successful startup. “This [journey] is really tough,” Hunchak agreed. Her firm looks for people who are committed to the product and process and are willing to work hard, keep at it, and adapt as necessary. All firms echoed that they want to work with great teams and help them at each stage of the process in order to achieve success.

And while the right teams are important, it’s obviously a little bit about the product, right! So, what should you do if you’re a startup with a great team and great product and looking for investment?

DO: Develop and layout your business plan with key financial markers

DO: Provide the reasons why and how your company will hit those projections

DO: Think beyond the first year or first $1 million and really think about how to sustain your company and projections

DON’T: Rely on going public as your means to success (psst: the entire panel said “We want to IPO!” is an immediate no-go!)

DON’T: Freak out if you miss a quarterly projection. Remain calm.

And then the real talk set in.

“I’ll be blunt,” Phenix said. “We’re not seeing the best ideas right now.” He consoled the crowd by encouraging them to really think about what people need right now and to think about the gaps in service and be adaptable. Saskatchewan has recently seen a lot of success with companies like 7Shifts, Vendasta, and of course Coconut, an Innovation Place Saskatoon tenant, so it will take some time, and potentially some failures, before we see the next Big Thing. “Resurgence takes time,” said Phenix.

“I don’t want to bring down the room tonight,” Hunchak warned, “but Saskatchewan’s tech sector [is in early stages]. There are going to be some big failures eventually,” Hunchak said, noting the most important thing for the community is to stay connected and champion our successes and learn from our failures. "The media will focus on our failures," she said.

“I’m going to take what I’m most nervous about and frame it as what I’m most excited about,” O’Connor joked and flagged the pending talent shortage as a key area for trouble-shooting. Saskatchewan, and Saskatoon specifically, has definitely created an environment where top talent wants to come, but with the sheer amount of innovation happening, it’s important that established companies invest in the future of Saskatchewan tech by training the next round and next level of talent to keep us on this upward trajectory. And with that, the panel wrapped up its impressive discussion.

Through the realness though, a glint of the charm and hard-working nature of the prairie community shone through. At the end of the night, the mood seemed not sombre, but excited, buoyed by the hope and excitement to get to work and create something great, and to do it for and in Saskatchewan.

For future Co.mmunity events, check out Co.Labs' Facebook page.

- January 31, 2020