Make It Montreal

PME co-founder Stephen Bronfman, CEO of Claridge, weighs in on what we’re learning from this pandemic, and the mindset needed to get us through:

We’re gonna have to bounce back, like a lot of people have. I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy; I believe in people. I believe in resiliency and strength. I know we’re gonna get through this, and we’re all gonna have learned a lot. A lot about the basics of life, about ourselves, about our environment, about health, about family, about unity, about teamwork. And about pride. And I think we Canadians, Quebecers, Montrealers, deep down have a lot of pride.

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.

How to get and test start up ideas

startup

Entrepreneurs are constantly searching for the big idea that is going to make them successful. There is a misconception that in order to start a business you initially need a great idea to start with. Rather than looking for ideas, you should be looking for problems and coming up with solutions. Stop brainstorming for weeks for an idea and start identifying problems that already exists. Brainstorming for solutions is so much more valuable and an efficient way to get a startup going. What is even more valuable is if you have a personal connection to this problem. Is this a problem that you, your family, your peers or even your community faces? Having this personal connection to the problem will be extremely advantageous to you. It will give you that drive and motivation that every entrepreneur needs to get a startup going and you’re more likely to offer a unique perspective. By having a personal connection, you will be able to identify if the solution you propose something that is somewhat viable.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming with friends is the perfect opportunity for you to start thinking about cofounders you might want to bring on. Finding people you can effectively trade and build ideas off is the perfect step to finding a cofounder. You will be able to identify how you work with them and if you get along well right away. Ideally, your cofounder should be someone you get along with and share the same values and goals. Brainstorming together will give you a taste of how you can work and build with them. Sharing ideas with friends is not just a good way to find cofounders but also an efficient way to find a problem, hear their thoughts, and get some validation.

Research

Once you have found a problem, try to think what kind of unique perspective you can bring to the table. It is helpful to research what other solutions exists and compare them to any ideas you might have had.  Identify the failures in the solutions that already exist by competitors. Evaluating what possible competitors are out there and determining how their solution can differ from yours can allow you to bring new ideas to the table that nobody else has done. How can you offer a unique perspective from the solutions that are already out there.

If a solution to your problem does not exist, then you should ask yourself why there is not already a solution. It might mean that your problem is not something that affects a big enough market meaning you will have to go back to brainstorming.  This is where having a personal connection can give you another advantage because it might help you look at the problem in a way that nobody else has seen it. What can you bring to the table that somebody else has not tried?

Don’t get Attached

It is important to remember the first solution you come up with or prototype you build is only the first step. Never become attached to your first idea as changes and adjustments are bound to be made, it’s part of the process. Never fall in love with the idea but fall in love with problem and the customers. Know that there is always room for improvement and do not treat your solution as the final product.

 

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 Ultimate Startup Gift Guide


Hello,

Are you looking to kick-start your startup? PME wants to ensure you are equipped for the startup life. We have compiled the ultimate guide for you and all of your ambitious friends this holiday season.

We all have that friend who is anxiously planning for the future and foresees his startup making millions of dollars. In order to get the ball rolling, check out Ted Talks and partake in all of their wisdom. With enough information, you will surely conquer all the VC’s in Montreal. However, when you are at that big meeting, ensure that your pitch makes the cut by reading our guide to creating a perfect pitch deck beforehand. For all you data junkie out there, ensure you understand your metrics and watch your e-commerce soar!

We will be taking a holiday break at ProMontreal Entrepreneurs and will return with more exciting events and news in January. Wishing you a relaxing and restful holiday.

P.S. Please refrain from using plastic straws in your eggnog

Main and Local: Souvenirs that don’t suck

main and local, souvenirsIf you have ever been on vacation, you will notice that most souvenirs available are all the exact same generic product. Not something you would want to bring home to your friends and family. A PME funded business, Main and Local put a stop to these awful souvenirs and created souvenirs that do not suck. Literally, their tagline is “souvenirs that don’t suck”. These souvenirs are made from a local perspective and offer a good laugh by incorporating the culture of the city into their products. Now the company has expanded outside of Montreal and has started selling in popular cities across the country.  Co-founder David Prince shares with us some advice on what he has learnt along the way. He also shares with us how he and his co-founders pivoted their company into Main and local.

  1. What inspired you and your co-founder to start main and local? Why souvenirs?

The idea came when we worked on cruise ships and wanted to bring back souvenirs for friends and family. We realized there really was not much option and we did not want to bring back souvenirs that sucked for our loved ones.

  1. How does main and local differentiate from any other souvenirs?

We like to make fun, clever and unexpected products. Our tagline is “souvenirs that don’t suck” and we stand by that. We try to come up with creative ideas for each product we make. Its not only for tourists, it is actually mainly for locals. We make souvenirs but from a local perspective. For example, for Montreal we make things about construction, poutine, smoke meat etc. Tourists understand as well.

  1. Did your company go through any major changes/Pivot?

We went through so many major changes and pivots. It actually took us about a year of brainstorming until we came up with the perfect business idea. We came up with so many different things and finally we settled on licensing for local businesses. Basically the idea was  we would make a product for a local business, they would sell it in their restaurants, and we would sell it in our stores. We pursued that for about 6-9months until finally we realized there were too many issues around it. It did not seem like a real scalable model. Once we realized that, we decided to pivot. So, instead of creating a product about la banquise why not just do poutine and sell it around Canada. Pivoting was a hard decision to make but we were surrounded by the right people who pointed us in the right direction.

 

  1. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a founder and how did you overcome them?

At first, I was very hesitant to quit my steady job and I had many responsibilities at the time. The biggest challenge was leaving that comfort zone and jumping into something completely new. From a financial perspective its hard to just make that kind of jump so make sure you have some sort of savings before you do take the risk because it will drain your bank account. It is definitely a risk worth taking. Being a founder is the coolest thing in the world. You’re not on the sidelines, your future is in your hands and it’s an unreal experience. It is an experience I would never be able to get working for somebody else. You call the shots and the risk is worth it.

 

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

Everyday is a roller coaster. It is filled with many highs and a lot of lows. What is important is that you don’t get overly excited when your business does hit a high point because things can quickly change and hit a low point. It’s also important to not let the low points get to you either. Be ready for anything. Its mentally exhausting but you need to adapt and expect it to come. Not a lot of people are able to handle this kind of uncertainty, its really tough. However, as long as you stay focused and persevere, you will be able to make through anything.

 

  1. What do you think is the most important thing every founder should be aware of?

Expect that it’s going to be really hard. I think most founders might underestimate how much work and dedication that goes into creating a business but it’s really tough. You wont get very far if you expect being your own boss means you can be doing 10 hour weeks and relaxing at home. By being a founder, I’ve learnt so much its insane. I learn more in a week than I would have normally in a steady job. Not only that but you learn so much about yourself and your capabilities. It allows you to push yourself to limits you did not even know you had. Stop procrastinating taking the leap because the longer you wait the more responsibilities pile up. You just need to go for it.

 

  1. How has PME had an impact on your business?

PME is the best thing we have done in the business easily. I do not say this lightly, we really mean it they have been a tremendous help. From a financial perspective but they also gave us the validation that we were on the right path. I can’t say this enough, the mentors who have been helping us the past 4-5 years have been incredible. They would meet with us every week and help us make really big business decisions. These are entrepreneurs that have built multi million dollar companies and getting their feedback was crucial to our business.

 

Nothing ever goes as planned when starting your own business. There will be bumps in the road and you need to be ready for them. Your ability to deal with the high and the lows is what will allow you to make it to the finish line. The founders of Main and Local never gave up on starting their own business even if it meant they had to pivot. They had the right determination which lead them to creating the successful business they run today.

 

ProMontreal Entrepreneurs

The Right Way to Do a Cold Call

cold call, phone call
Cold calls often come with a negative connotation. However, when done correctly cold calls can successfully turn into lucrative business opportunities. As an entrepreneur you will have to make many cold calls, whether it be to a potential investor, supplier, distributor, etc. The goal of a cold call should not be to close a deal or get an investment. To the contrary, it should always be to open a line of communication with the other party. These 6 tips will teach you about the right way to do a cold call.

  1. Do your research-

Before making the call make sure you know as much about your prospect as you possibly can. If you are looking for an investor check to see if they have invested in other start-ups in the past, their interests, the industry in which they work, etc. In order to appeal to your prospect, this will help you frame your approach for the best outcome. This includes answering questions such as, what is the goal of the call? What can you offer the person at the end of the line? Why should they care? And why is your solution worth their time?
 

  1. Focus on starting a relationship-

Don’t sell anything, other than yourself, on the first call. The first call should be about the early building blocks of a relationship. This means that you should not be trying to get an investment. Making a good impression will be worth it down the road, even if you do not get the investment or partnership you desire. On this first call you should be introducing yourself and your business. Briefly explain why your business is worth the attention of this party, and work towards booking an in-person meeting. Describe your talents, ask questions, and more importantly, carefully listen to what the person on the other line is saying. They may casually mention things about themselves that will allow you to build better rapport down the line.
 

  1. Look for a second-degree connection-

Having a mutual acquaintance will help you with credibility. People are likely to take calls from others when they have been recommended by someone they trust. Prior to conducting a cold call, check your network to see if you know any of the same people. If you are on good terms with your mutual acquaintance, ask them to put in a good word for you. Also, ask people in your network if they know anyone offering what you are looking for. If you get to their voicemail make sure to mention referrals, as it is likely to lead to a call back for you.
 

  1. Get to the point-

Time is money. People are busy and usually have their days planned out. An unexpected cold call may interfere with what they have scheduled. Make sure you are efficient and quick to get to the point. Prepare your talking points beforehand, and address only the matters that will spark enough attention for a second meeting.
 

  1. Get to the second meeting-

Once you’ve shared enough information to pass the introductory stage, ask to book second meeting. If your prospect seems to have a busy schedule offer to email a slide-deck summarizing what you’ve just discussed until you are able to meet again.
 

  1. Keep records-

Document those you’ve called, for what reason, when you called, and how many calls have resulted in scheduled appointments. Doing so will not only keep you organized, it will allow you to keep tabs on cold-calling techniques have worked and which have not. Furthermore, a “no” from a prospect, can simply mean a “no” for the time being. This will let you know which prospects you can follow up with in the future.

 

Cold-calling can seem intimidating. But, if done right, it could lead to a promising partnership. Do not be discouraged with rejection either. Many opportunities can arise in the future with these same prospects, and you’ve also garnered many tools and lessons along the way. Just remember to be informed, quick, and efficient.

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.

The Challenges of Being a Social Entrepreneur

social, entrepreneur
Let’s start off by addressing that being an entrepreneur is difficult. However, being a social entrepreneur brings about its own set of challenges and obstacles. It combines social impact with sustainable business growth. Social entrepreneurs are faced with having to solve or alleviate a real-world issue while also maintaining positive financial performance. . Here are  the two main challenges social entrepreneurs face. Though considered challenges, many have overcome them in the past.

1. Competing on prices while having enough money to make a social impact
In order to remain competitive, social enterprises need to take advantage of creative pricing strategies. Social entrepreneurs need to establish a pricing strategy that will consider price point, allowing for enough revenue to serve their chosen cause, without compromising their customers’ expectation of their product. Though social enterprises have to overcome additional challenges when pricing, they can use original pricing techniques that are not as readily available to other start-ups. Social entrepreneurs should strategically highlight their cause and mission. Socially conscious consumers who agree with this mission will be willing to purchase at a higher price point in order to support the cause. Furthermore, bundling will incentivize sales. Shoe company, Toms, has made great use of this. For every shoe sold, a pair is donated someone in need. In order to build and grow brand equity, social entrepreneurs should also look into certification. For instance, being certified as fair trade, or B Corp will help maintain a positive reputation and better positioning.

2.  Quantifying your impact
Measuring impact for social entrepreneurs can be complex. Not only do you have to establish metrics for your business performance, you have to measure your social impact to prove credibility, as well as attract investors and potential business partners. Impact investments are investments that not only yield financial return, but social and environmental return as well. With the rise of the number of social enterprises, credible organizations have developed frameworks to standardize the calculation of social impact. The IRIS Framework consists of an organization’s description, product description, financial performance, operational impact, and product impact. If your mission is to have impact on a global scale, The Global Impact Investing Ratings System (GIIRS) gathers a range of information with regards to company’s work, size, sector, and region.  These assessments are carried out annually and validated by the GIIRS.
Many resources are available to Montrealers looking to take a step into social enterprise. Luckily, numerous grants, and funding opportunities are available, that do not require giving away equity or paying back an investor. YES Montreal, FuturpreneurQuartier de l’Innovation and  PMEMTL  all offer workshops and/or grant opportunities for social enterprises in the city, just to name a few.

With millennials harnessing the wave of activism and social awareness, social entrepreneurship has risen for the past decade. They are working towards incubating ground-breaking innovations, alleviating life-threatening issues, and pioneering some of the future’s most resourceful projects. While it is true that many obstacles can interfere with business operations, the key is taking advantage of the resources available your given city and finding creative ways of overcoming these challenges.