Richard Branson was in the limelight at the recent Canada2020 Conference in Ottawa. Once again, the topic of insufficient early stage venture funding was on the table, and discussions took place around how to close this gap.
We at the MaRS Catalyst Fund take Branson’s mantra of “using business as a force for good” literally and aim to help close that gap by providing early stage capital to Canadian ventures.
According to a recent report produced by the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative, 80 per cent of aspiring Canadian entrepreneurs who doubt their chances of success site “poor access to capital” as their main barrier.
The MaRS Catalyst Fund addresses this gap and focuses on investing in ventures that address social and environmental issues by using business to build and scale their positive impacts.
As the Fund continues to invest across Canada, we hope to educate the Canadian financial marketplace to copy this new investment model and support more programs — such as Amplify. As you may have heard elsewhere, some segments of capital are more difficult for women to access and currently women led businesses receive less capital than their male counterparts. Amplify — as you’ll read below — presents an opportunity for early stage businesses, led by women, to access capital. Let’s work together to get the right capital to the right leaders to build Canada’s next generation of great businesses.
Celebrating entrepreneurs and dancing on tables in Ottawa – by Richard Branson
Note: This post originally appeared on Richard Branson’s blog.
After my whirlwind trip to London, I woke yesterday to a beautiful sunrise in Ottawa, ready to spend the day supporting the launch of the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative (CEI).
After an early morning walk to get my steps in for the Virgin Pulse Global Challenge, I headed into a series of meetings with Canadian Ministers about climate change, new technology, innovation and the power of entrepreneurship.
We talked about the need for entrepreneurial solutions for renewable power, space travel and how to inspire the next generation of Canadian businesses.
CEI’s study – which coincides with Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations – is aimed at accelerating support for entrepreneurs and highlighting the changing face of business in Canada. The report identifies that while many people think that the country is a great place to do business, few think they truly can succeed – concerned by access to finance, a fear of failure, and a perceived lack of local role models.
When I was invited to help launch the report, I suggested that they should consider setting up a loan programme (based on the UK’s StartUp loan programme) to make a practical point about the need for more access to finance.
We already have an investment in Canada’s MaRS Catalyst fund – providing early-stage capital to impact ventures with a social or environmental mission – but I wanted to see if we could bring even more finance into play in the market.
Ruma Bose, the dynamo behind the CEI, and Michelle Romanow, a serial entrepreneur and a Dragon on Canada’s Dragons Den, took me up on the challenge. In less than six weeks they put together a financing programme to help grow existing businesses – tackling the much-needed ‘follow-on’ finance gap.
Their pilot programme, Amplify, will be aimed at female business builders and look to provide up to C$25,000 of finance to help expand businesses both online and internationally. I was thrilled to meet these inspiring women at Canada 2020, and share stories of how we got started, as well as how we have been able to overcome failure and bounce back.
Whenever I speak at events, I always try to instil key lessons for aspiring founders in the room. These include: first, find an idea or service that will make people’s lives better; second, find great people to delegate to and effectively put yourself out of a job; and third, make sure you have fun doing it – we spend too much time working not to feel fulfilled.
With my third point in mind, as our talk was ending, I kicked off my shoes and encouraged Michelle to do the same, and soon we were dancing on the table to cheers from the audience.
It was a spur-of-the-moment move and a light way to end our session, but it had a serious point: too often business people go into autopilot when communicating with their customers and staff. This moment of levity caused a stir in the conference room but also went a long way to creating a connection with the audience and a great morale within the group.
By the end of our day promoting the report and Canadian entrepreneurs, we finished with an event at Shopify where we had the whole panel up on stage dancing and smiling. It was music to my ears.