Investing in a sustainable future: CoPower

CoPowerCoPower is a company that is bringing new innovative solutions to the clean energy market. The planet that we call home is dying at an exponential rate and we need more people coming together to bring solutions to create a better, cleaner world. Copower is doing just that by providing financing to clean energy projects across Canada. We sat down with the co-founder of Copower David Berliner to discuss clean energy and building a business.

  1. What does CoPower do?

CoPower provides financing to clean energy and energy efficiency projects across Canada. We do that by raising green bonds from individuals and other investors to make investments on the environment. We put the planet in our portfolio and we do that by using a digital platform. So far, we have raised over 25 million dollars in loans to go towards community projects.

  1. What inspired you to start CoPower?

I have always had an interest in the environment. When I finished my masters, it was almost a natural course for me to continue working in clean energy. I wanted to bring new innovative solutions to the clean energy market so we can create a cleaner, more sustainable and better world to live in for the future generations ahead of us.

  1. What was your goal when you created CoPower?

When we first started CoPower we had two goals in mind. The first one being to grow the company as big as we possibly can and raise the most amount of loans for clean energy. The second thing we aimed to do was grow the clean energy efficiency market by bringing new solutions to the table. We wanted to show people that they could easily have a positive impact on the environment while also getting a return. We wanted to grow the business but also grow the market to raise awareness and inspire others to do the same.

  1. Were there any major changes the company had to go through?

We were constantly making changes in the beginning. Our first business plan talked about connecting clean energy products with investors via a platform. Over time, we had different iterations of what the right product would look like. We had one main idea in mind and that stayed the same throughout the vetting process. What was constantly changing was how we approached that main idea. It was constantly evolving.

  1. What was the deciding factor that pushed you to starting CoPower?

It was not one moment, it was a series of decisions that lead up to this point. We first had the idea and I then discussed it with my family and other entrepreneurs I knew. I tried to share my idea with as many people as possible to get their perspective on it and to validate it. I was nervous at first because I did not know if this was a good idea or not. Its scary trying something you have never done before because there is a constant fear of failing. Organizations like PME were there to encourage us and be our early on supporters. PME was the first place we submitted a business plan too because we had to meet a deadline. This was extremely valuable because we were then able to get feedback and constantly evolve our ideas to grow it into the business it is today.

  1. What is the number one advice you would give to other entrepreneurs like yourself?

Surround yourself with the right people. Wither it be mentors, advisors, coworkers, family etc. There is only so much you can accomplish by yourself. You need to have the right people around you to help you through challenging decisions or personal conflicts you might face. You should not try to deal with everything by yourself because it’s going to be overwhelming. Having the right people around you that will support you but also challenge your ideas will allow you to grow your business and evolve your ideas. Make sure your team is consisted of people you trust and get along with. These are the people who you will be spending a tremendous amount of time with and the people who are going to be responsible for building your vision.

 

  1. What kind of risks did you need to take

As a founder, you always need to take calculated risks. The first biggest risk we took was joining PME. In the early stages of developing your business the uncertainty of wither,  the business will succeed, or fail is one of the scariest things. Once you get past this and take the big step forward everything else will follow. After that, we started taking one small risk after another. It’s not about taking huge leaps but small steps and taking one tasks at a time in order to move forward.

  1. What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you over come them?

The biggest challenge I faced starting out as a founder was not feeling confident in what I was doing. I was new at this and it was a scary feeling. It was more of a self-reflecting one but having a network of people you can share your ideas with helped a lot in boosting my confidence and pushing me in the right direction to start CoPower. Discussing your ideas and gaining insight from different perspective is extremely beneficial because it will help you validate your ideas and give you that push you need to start your own business.

Starting your own business is not easy. It’s very scary trying to create something all by yourself. Getting past this fear of failure is a big step that every founder needs to make in order to get things moving. Getting feedback and asking for help from the right people will help you evolve and ignite your ideas giving you the push you need to start your own business.

What’s next once you have your million dollar idea?

business ideaEither you have been racking your brain for weeks trying to come up with a business idea or a struck of genius just came to you. Regardless of how it came to you, you believe that this is the business idea that is going to make you an entrepreneur! Great, now what?  You are probably very excited to get the ball rolling and you have so many different thoughts going through your mind. It becomes little overwhelming as you don’t know where to start or how to start. How do you start taking action in order to create your dream into a reality? Here’s how! Read carefully as we will give you some guidelines that will help push you in the right direction.

  1. Tell people about it

There is a common myth that you should not tell your business idea to anyone. This is false. The first thing you need to do is reach out to your network and share this business idea with as many people as possible. Now, we didn’t say give away your IP or secret sauce, we said talk about it with people who you think would have the same type of problem like you. Getting insight on your business idea from a different perspective will be very informative. By sharing your idea and getting the opinion of other people you will be able to see if what you’re doing has any depth and does it even make sense. Ideally, it would be great to find a mentor or someone with relevant experience but you can also share your business idea with just about anyone. You can share it with perspective customers and see if they would be interested in using your product/ service. Any form of constructive information helps. Talking about your business idea will be extremely beneficial and can easily be done to take you one step closer.

  1. Research

Do your market research. What need does your product or service meet? How is that need currently being serviced? Who are your competitors? Find out what competitors exists and who they are. Research each one of them and find out how your business idea differentiates from theirs. Why would your product or service be superior form everyone else on the market? You need to be better than the rest in order to make it. If your business idea is something that is not even on the market yet, you should research why. Figure out if other people have attempted this or why nobody else is doing this. Is there is a reason for this? It’s also important to research if this something people will buy or need? There is no point in creating something that people will not use.  Who is your customer? What are the demographics of your customer?  Why would they buy from you? Do you have any evidence that they will purchase your product/service? What differentiates your product/service from the competition? What are the strengths or weaknesses of your product/service?

  1. Draft a business plan

Once your market research is complete and you have validated the need, it’s time to write your business plan. A business plan is a written description of your business’s future. In essence, it is a document describes what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. This might seem like a long boring task to do however, it will prove to be very beneficial. At the beginning, it does not need to be elaborate it’s just a good idea to write everything down to organize your thought process. Writing everything down will allow you to see the big picture and put things into perspective. This will enable you to ask yourself the important questions. It is also good to have when you need to refer back to it. It’s hard to keep track of everything when you don’t write it down. Creating a business plan will also help you when you decide to start pitching later on to investors or even just too potential business associates to gain their help in your project.

  1. Prototype

Start building/ designing as soon as possible! Start making sketches, templates, designs. The quicker you start putting something together, the faster you can start getting feedback to improve your original design. Your original idea is never going to be perfect, there will always need to be improvements made and this can only be done once you start actually putting it together. Building a prototype will put your idea to the test. The faster you can get it out, the faster you can bring this idea to market. Today’s world moves quickly, so you want to be able to be the first to do it before any one has a chance. The more feedback and criticism you get, more improvements can be made to obtain a better product outcome.

5. Funds

Start saving your money! In the beginning, it’s best to invest your own money into your project or use money from friends and family. When you are just at the idea/prototyping stage you still have a lot to do and adding in investors will only cause you more stress and pressure. You might underestimate how much money you will need to pour into this project so save and spend wisely.

I hope that this guide has given you some structure on where and how to start once you have your million dollar idea. Taking action on an idea is the most challenging and intimidating part. However, if you really believe in the business idea and your capabilities then the possibilities are endless. Start by taking small steps in the right direction and slowly things will come together. If you have the passion and drive to keep you going then nothing else will stop you in creating your dream into a reality!

 

 

 

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

intelligence, emotional In a room full of equally smart people the one who stands out is the one who appears as most interested. Emotional intelligence is probably one of the most underrated entrepreneurial skills. It was brought to mainstream attention by Daniel Goleman, in his book, Emotional Intelligence. It is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and diffuse conflict. Technical skills and expertise is  the foundation of the product development stages. Conversely, a high degree of emotional intelligence is what will keep an entrepreneur’s company afloat. Networking, presenting, pitching, and working with others, all require a high level of emotional intelligence. Here are 3 important reasons why emotional intelligence is arguably just as important, if not more, than IQ.

  1. Building better relationships:

    The relationships you build will be the reason for profitable present and future opportunities. Relationships with business partners, employees, customers, and investors will drive the quality of work created, the workplace environment, and the appeal you have to potential investors and stakeholders. Building healthy relationships in the workplace means understanding the diversity in people’s behaviours, and adapting accordingly.

  2. Stress management:

    Emotional intelligence is said to moderate the relationship between mental health and stress. Being an entrepreneur isn’t the most stable of jobs, and the unexpectedness of it all can cause a tremendous amount of stress. People with high emotional intelligence can better reduce stress because of self-awareness. Goleman explains that self-awareness allows for people to identify the moment when stress is likely, and therefore calm-down before their stress becomes unmanageable. As well, empathy and social skills allows emotionally intelligent people to better communicate how it is that they are feeling and find solutions to such problems.

  3. Understanding your brand:

    Emotional intelligence is crucial for successful marketing. This is two-fold. For one, a marketer must be able to empathize with his target market. A person with high emotional intelligence will ask the right questions in order to understand the needs of customers. these questions relate to customer expectations, emotional factors that drive the need for the product at hand, and satisfaction that customers receive from the product. At the same time understand that your brand, must too, have its own emotional intelligence. In this day and age people define themselves based on the clothes they wear, cars they drive, the jobs they have, etc. It is the responsibility of the brand to represent its customers and adapt to the customers’ changing phases and behaviors.

Some can develop higher emotional intelligence through exercises and training. Google has even started giving emotional intelligence courses to employees. But let’s be realistic. For some it is just not that simple, and that’s perfectly fine. In such a case, entrepreneurs can benefit from partnering with individuals who have what they lack. It is important however to acknowledge that your IQ will only take you so far. At the end of the day, once you’ve developed a great product, what will draw investors, employees, and customers to your company is your emotional intelligence. You will have to communicate effectively with investors, overcome challenges and diffuse conflict in the workplace, and empathize with customers, all while managing your emotions, stress and other responsibilities. As the old saying goes, it takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.

5 Must-See TED Talks for Entrepreneurs

TED Talks have a unique way of inspiring people to follow their dreams. TED Talks entail more than just watching people speak about their experiences. Viewers get a boost in creativity, and more importantly, exposure to perspective on a matter they hold near and dear. The words of another fellow entrepreneur that has gone through your struggles can introduce you to new strategies that you may not have thought of. Here are the 5 TED TALKS that every entrepreneur must take the time to watch. Take a gander, hopefully they will provide quality insight!

  1. Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

This TEDTalk by Simon Sinek explores the idea of leadership and why some people are better at inspiring action than others. Starting with examples from Martin Luther King’s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement to Apple’s leadership in the business world, Sinek examines patterns that seemingly predict the success rates of various leaders.

 

  1. Navi Radjou: Creative Problem Solving in the Face of Extreme Limits

This TED Talk by Navi Radjou is about how to make something extraordinary out of very little (or nothing, in some cases). It’s a good one if you’re running short on runway. It’s also insightful if you don’t know how you’re going to do this while keeping your day job.

    3. Seth Godin: How to get your Ideas to Spread
This TEDTalk by Seth Godin spells out why, when it comes to getting our attention, bad or bizarre ideas are more successful than boring ones.

  1. Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity

This TEDTalk by Linda Hill is perfect for entrepreneurs trying to maximize the creative potential of their top teams. Exploring different tactics as they are used by some of the world’s most respected and most created companies, Hill examines the root causes for creative greatness.

     5. Bill Gross: The single biggest reason why startups succeed. 
Bill Gross attempts to quantify all the reasons why one startup might be more successful than another. As a serial entrepreneur and a mentor for other startups, Gross has had much experience in the business world. He’s seen great businesses fail and questionable businesses succeed. This experience drove him to quantify exactly why these differences exist.

Daniel Blumer Co-Founder Revols

Why Investors Like Startups Focused on Solving Social Problems

The social impact of businesses has been held to the highest of regards in the past decade. Part of the reason for that is millennials have grown up with a more socially responsible mindset than previous generations. Though this has now become today’s norm, many entrepreneurs have gone the extra mile by making solving social problems their main focus. Companies such as Thread International, TOMS, Belu Water, and CellInk are just a few example. With unfortunate social problems making news headlines, one thing is for certain, solving social problems has become what the corporate world would refer to as “good business”.

An uneasy relationship has always existed between investors and entrepreneurs when social problems were in question. If you planned on utilizing socially friendly practices the hope was that it did not excessively affect your profit margins, and if you’re main focus was solving a particular social problem the worry was that you wouldn’t be making enough revenue. All this to say that many investors were hesitant to put too much focus in such businesses. However, with changing societal climates, we are in the midst of a shift. What we see today is that investors no longer have to choose between money, and their values. Hence, the rise of sustainable investing. The reason for its rise in popularity amongst interested investors is simple. People want to make a difference, and figuring out which companies are truthful to their social initiatives has become easier to monitor.

Sustainable investing is a term for investment approaches that consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and their impact. Point in fact, after the controversial era of banking secrecy, sustainable investing has come to the forefront and become one of the fastest growing segments in finance. It is an opportunity to make money and make a difference in the world. By acknowledging its importance and popularity, organizations have further facilitated and incentivized investments in companies focused on solving social problems. For instance, PME funded company Co-Power, identifies energy efficiency projects that generate, or are expected to generate steady, predictable revenue streams by either selling clean power or by reducing energy consumption.

With societal consciousness becoming of increased importance in today’s corporate culture, investors have begun to fish out companies promoting such agenda simply for positive PR. Genuine social impact companies integrate doing good into everything they do. Successful social impact ventures balance for-profit work with community-oriented resources. Failing to do so diminishes credibility and increases customer mistrust. Therefore, entrepreneurs should make a habit of working with institutions and platforms that help verify and certify social impact, examine their supply chain, look for like-minded investors, and build a team that understand the importance of its principles. Act on your beliefs instead of just talking about them.

Making the world a better place and making money can go together. Startups focused on solving social problems endure many challenges that other businesses might not. However, it is important to remember that this is a better time than ever before to appeal to investors. Assuming millennials continue to make social responsibility a priority when it comes to where they work, what they buy, and whom they support, it is safe to say that many investors out there are open and willing to contribute to a greater good.

PME Mentor: Nancy Cleman

Mentorship is at the heart of PME’s success. On this 18th anniversary, it would only be appropriate to give thanks to our mentors. Our mentors spend countless hours helping our entrepreneurs reach their full potential. We recently got the chance to catch up with our longtime mentor, Me Nancy Cleman. Nancy is a member of the Quebec Bar and the law society of Upper Canada. Over her years of experience, she has provided legal advice to a variety of corporate and commercial clients, including a range of industries such as software, fashion, film and services for the elderly. Nancy is also an accomplished speaker and author. Here are her thoughts on mentorship, and why it matters.

Q: What aspects of mentorship do you enjoy most?

A: What I enjoy most about mentorship is being introduced to entrepreneurs and learning about their visions. Speaking to them and offering guidance businesses they are seeking to build is an essential part of being a mentor. I enjoy offering perspective and working collaboratively with entrepreneurs.

 

Q: How can an entrepreneur make the best out of their relationship with their mentor?

A: The entrepreneur can make the best of the relationship by respecting the relationship that is being built with a mentor. As mentors, we get many calls, however often times there is no follow up. The relationship of mentor and mentee is one of respect and trust. Mutual trust and respect is the only way of getting the work done in an efficient manner.

 

Q: What advice would you give an entrepreneur thinking of working with a mentor?

A: It is important to listen and to be clear with the facts. Thank the mentor for his or her time. If you have an appointment then keep it or tell the mentor, you cannot make it. Mentorship is a rewarding relationship for both parties. As a mentor, I benefit from the opportunity to learn new things and share my experiences.

Our mentors are passionate people dedicated to helping others. With their help, entrepreneurs have been able to reach great heights. Thanks to the efforts and unwavering dedication of professionals like Nancy, we look forward to what the next 18 years have in store for PME.

Businesses You Didn’t Know PME Helped Propel

Over the past 18 years PME has helped guide many diverse businesses to success. Often, entrepreneurs come to us with just an outline of what they aim to achieve. With added assistance from our program leaders, mentors, and committee members, we are able to turn this vision into reality. Here are just a few notable mentions of companies that have been able to turn ideas into lucrative business opportunities with help from PME.

Budge Studios
Not only do they have millions of downloads for their games, they have become members of the PME committee. The mission of Budge Studios is to thrill, educate, and entertain children around the world through creative and innovative apps. They have won numerous notable awards for their accomplishments. This includes the Google Play ‘Best of 2016’ App Selection Award for their app, My Little Pony: Harmony Quest. Additionally, they won the Apple Store Best of 2016 for Miss Hollywood Vacation Canada. Budge Studios may be in the business of creating games but their business strategy and objective is rigid and direct. It’s all about being family friendly and universally playable.

Naked and Famous Denim
Naked and Famous Jeans has come a long way since we first met Brandon Svarc. Simply put, the company focuses on one thing only. As they so eloquently state: “No marketing, no washes, no pre-distressing, no nonsense. Just excellent denim at a reasonable price.” Naked and Famous Jeans uses Japanese selvedge denim which is woven slowly and painstakingly on old shuttle looms. Svarc travels to Japan numerous times a year to find new fabrics, and denim mills. Nicknamed the Willy Wonka of denim, he has been interviewed by popular publications such as GQ to share knowledge about his expertise. With all their products made and sewn in Canada,their sole purpose is to sell the highest level of quality to their end-user.

Copower
CoPower is where impact investment meets Wall Street. We met founders David Berliner, Larry Markowitz and Raphael Bouskila in 2013. Since then, CoPower has continued to strive and make the world a greener and more sustainable place. CoPower’s team works with clean energy firms to identify clean energy and energy efficient projects that generate steady and predictable revenue streams. CoPower is all about impact investing. For those of you who are unsure of what this is, impact investing is a strategy that involves the investing in companies and projects with the intention of generating measurable, positive, and environmental benefits alongside financial returns.

Revols
Not only are Navi and Daniel kick-ass entrepreneurs, but did you know they had the biggest kickstarter campaign in Canadian history? Revols has come a long way since its founding in 2014. Navi and Daniel were endlessly frustrated with finding the perfect pair of earphones. While they understood that ears are as unique as fingerprints, all custom-fit earphones came with a high price-point and long wait times. The dynamic duo decided to take matters into their own hands and create Revols: a pair of wireless customized earphones that provide the same comfort and sound benefits as traditional custom-fits, at a fraction of the cost and time.

All in all, PME has had some pretty driven, and ambitious entrepreneurs come through its doors. This is just a glimpse of many of our success stories. We provide them with the most essential tools entrepreneurs need in order to succeed.

PME Co-Founder, Jimmy Alexander

We got the opportunity to have a quick chat with PME co-founder, Jimmy Alexander. Since 1999 he has been an essential part of PME’s success. He had some insight to share about the program, entrepreneurship, the lessons he’s learned along the way, and what he anticipates for the future.

Q: PME has been around for quite some time now. Why did you believe it was necessary to start PME?

A: Back in the days of the potential referendum, or the potential loss of the referendum, PME was founded in order to help young Jewish people stay in Montreal. We went out and we asked a set of Jewish people what it would take for them to stay in the city. They all said job prospects and career opportunities. We figured, what better way to do that than to take on the Jewish adage “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” We wanted to give young people an opportunity to learn business. We wanted entrepreneurs and community leaders to have exponential growth within the community, and provide them with great potential.

Q: What has kept you motivated to continue after 18 years?

A: Our success! It’s so gratifying. I’ve participated in many community projects and, by far, the PME has been the most rewarding. Creating something from nothing, and enjoying the success we have, is for sure the motivation behind PME. It’s not just about the company’s we’ve funded. Just the mere fact that PME exists sparks people’s interest in starting businesses.

Q: What have been some of the highlights as part of the PME Committee? Do any moments stand out to you?

A: How we define success would be that more people who have been recipients of funding will eventually join our board, donate to PME and community and help us perpetuate the fund.  Over the years, that is exactly what has happened. Right now, we thankfully have about four previous PME recipients sit on the board. That is by far, the most outstanding highlight to me! In a way it’s like meeting your grandchildren or great grandchildren!

Q: What is it about a particular business that makes it deserving of PME funding?

A: I think it’s two things. One, is the credibility of the plan. At its base, the idea, and where it fits in the shelf is crucial. In other words, how it is positioned within the industry it wants to be in is very important. The second aspect is the entrepreneur. The tenacity of the individual, their charm, charisma, and how they can explain the profitability of their business is equally as important. If they can’t convince a group like ours, who is really pushing for them to be successful, how are they going to convince others?

Q: Where do you see PME 18 years from now?

A: First of all, from a self-serving point of view I’d like to see my children or Stephen’s participate in the PME program. That would be great. We also actually started the plan for PME 2.0. I’d really like to see that grow into the next stage of PME. It’s a whole different ballgame, but we have a good plan set in place, and so continuing to build it and figuring out different ways of helping entrepreneurs is the goal.

Q: What do you believe is the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years?

A: One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned, and taught many of our recipients, is that you show up day one with your plan and idea. However, you may have to adapt and change and deviate from what you originally set out to do. Making changes, while progressing is what keeps us successful. We’ve learned a lot, and more importantly, we’ve been very fortunate to have a very engaged board that has helped us along the way.

It is because of the dedication of community leaders like Jimmy Alexander that PME has seen great success. Starting and leading such a program comes with its set of challenges. However, with passionate people leading PME, the obstacles and challenges make for great lessons and brighter futures.

ProMontreal Entrepreneurs(PME) Support