Investor, PME Board Member & Entrepreneur: Sylvie Tendler

promontreal entrepreneursSylvie Tendler relationship with PME (ProMontreal Entrepreneurs) started back in 2002 when her business, The Tendler Group, was funded. After many years of success and selling her company, she now sits at our Board of Directors. Sylvie has some valuable insight to share about the Montreal eco-system. Also, if you ever wondered what investors are looking for in a 15 minute pitch, this interview will give you great perspective.

Q: You’ve had a very long relationship with PME. What are some of the changes you’ve noticed in the program then and now?

A: I’ve sat on both sides of the fence. I was part of the program back in 2002 when I was a recipient. In those days once you were funded, you made your monthly payments to the PME and that was it. Now, there are so many things offered by the program. It is a one stop shop for the entrepreneur, whether it’s mentoring, coaching  or financial support. When you start a business finances can be lean limiting your access to an accountant, lawyer or a strategic advisor. Today’s program assigns you a mentor  in your field, that’s going to sit with you and work with you for free. They have no self-interest other than to see you succeed. The program also helps you find additional capital elsewhere, be it in provincial contests, or VC funding or grants.  When you first start a business money can be tight. You’re also trying to make decisions without too much financial pressure. PME really gives the entrepreneur that extra financial cushion.

Q: How has PME contributed to the Montreal start-up eco-system then and now?

When the program started in 2001, the purpose was to keep young Jewish adults in Montreal during the so called ‘Brain Drain’. The ‘Brain Drain’ was when young Jewish predominantly English speakers, were leaving Montreal and heading to Toronto, Vancouver and the States. If I look at my graduating class from Herzliah High School, 75%, if not 80%, of my classmates are not in Montreal anymore. When these people leave they take their money, skills and know-how. So when Stephen Bronfman and Jimmy Alexander got together initially, the purpose was to give Jewish young adults the opportunity to create their own destiny and business so that they would remain in the province.

Secondary to that, was also to have the entrepreneurs create jobs. For example, when I started my company I was 1 person. By the time I sold it we were over 12 or 15 people. So there is a ripple effect to what happens here.  Initially it was about keeping the young adults in Montreal, then it became about building successful businesses because the extent to which people were leaving in the later years was not as high. It’s about creating an environment where people can thrive. Politics aside, Quebec has its nuances. If we don’t create our jobs it’s a problem. When companies sit in boardrooms and decide where to place their headquarters, we (Quebec) rarely make the shortlist. We have to create our own jobs and luckily, the Quebec government is very entrepreneurial friendly.

Q: When you first founded your company, what surprised you most about Quebec’s entrepreneurial environment?

A: In my case, from concept to actually having a registered company only took 2 weeks. In other countries it can take years. In 2 weeks I was officially in business. The environment in Quebec is right, the support for the young people is amazing, and PME has done an incredible job.

Q: As a board member and investor you’ve seen many entrepreneurs pitch their ideas. What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when pitching?

A: People waste time. You are given an allotted time to pitch your business. You’re given 15 minutes. I’ve watched  people spend 5 minutes telling us how they met their partner, how they came up with the business name, how they met someone in the past that helped them come up with the idea…You have 15 minutes! Spend it wisely. You have to convince people why there is a need for your product and service, how you’re going to fill the need, and how you’re going to execute your plan.

Q: How do you recommend people prepare for a pitch? Any advice?

A: People have to stand with a timer, time themselves and practice. Find the most critical aspect that will convince people to invest in your business. That’s what you need to talk about.  How can I  advocate on that business’ behalf and tell my peers to fund this business, if i haven’t learned anything from the pitch?  A lot of people watch Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank and we get a lot of those presentations. They have to understand that that’s for TV. There are a lot YouTube videos of pitch presentations. Look at the presentations, how they speak, and what issues they focus on and how they don’t waste time.

Q: Looking back, you’ve seen many entrepreneurs succeed and others not so well. If you can give one piece of advice or a golden rule for an entrepreneur starting out what would it be?

A: Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Instinct cannot be taught. Successful entrepreneurs have the instinct. I can teach you everything, but I can’t teach you instinct. That is my opinion, maybe people will argue this, but I stand firmly behind this statement.

Sylvie definitely says it like it is. If you are entrepreneur contemplating starting a business in Montreal this interview will share some valuable perspective. As an accomplished businesswoman mentor and investor, who has seen much success, sold her business, and has seen countless entrepreneurs pitch, she is definitely one to take advice from.

Pro-Montreal Entrepreneurs (PME) is a social business model created to help young entrepreneurs build and strengthen their business roots in Montreal. PME offers business plan feedback, a network of mentors, and access to sources of funding. Entrepreneurs between the ages of 18-40 can also get access to capital of up to $50,000. Don’t hesitate to contact us for any questions that you may have.

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