Crossing the River
Eric Brown - Sep 19, 2019
Let’s all work together to support each other’s projects and collaborate when there is overlap.
Imagine two people standing on the banks of a fast-moving, challenging river, looking across the vast expanse and thinking about how to get across.
One person has the perfect boat for the job – strong, stable and able to handle the treacherous waters. The problem is that there aren’t any paddles, and without any, this person won’t be able to make it to the other side. The other person has the perfect tool for the job – a paddle designed to cross this type of river – however, that person does not have a boat.
Instead of working together, the two people keep saying that they need a paddle or that they need a boat. When they notice that the other person has the missing tool that they need, they tell themselves all kinds of reasons why that’s not exactly the right kind of tool. They could work together to use their tools and find a way for them to cross together, but they don’t. All they do is stare across the river, wishing they had a way to move forward.
This is the story I see and hear when meeting with investors and technology companies in Alberta. I’ve heard many technology companies say there aren’t enough investors in Alberta, and I’ve heard investors say that there aren’t enough good companies to invest in.
Doesn’t it seem like they are trying to solve the same problem? What’s the gap, and why does this happen? In my mind, there are three reasons:
1. Investors and companies don’t know where to find each other. There’s no master list of companies and investors in Alberta. Even if there was, it doesn’t mean they are the right fit (see Point #2). A list wouldn’t necessarily work because it would become outdated very quickly. Where can a company go to find money but not have to spend too much time away from their business? How can an investor find companies that fit their objectives?
2. There is a communication gap between what investors and companies are looking for in partners. Just because a company needs money and an investor has money, it doesn’t mean there’s a fit. How much money does a company need? When do they need it by? What terms and conditions are they willing to offer? What’s the exit look like for the investor? Does the company also want sector expertise and connections from their investors? Does the investor want a board seat or other benefits?
3. A lack of education and understanding in how to be investable and how to understand and manage the risks of investing in technology companies. As a company, how do you make your company attractive to investors? What features are investors looking for? How much money do you need, if you even need money at all? How much time should a company spend on fund‑raising? As an investor, do you fully understand the risks involved? What do you receive in return for your investment? What are your return expectations? How long do you want to hold your investment? What criteria do you use to make your investment decisions? Other than money, can you bring anything else of value to the company?
Identifying the issue is only part of the process. How can we solve this problem together? I know there are people doing these things, and that’s fantastic, but how can more of us do them, and how can we work together to increase the scale and effectiveness of our efforts?
1. Connectivity. This is very important for both investors and companies. It’s very important for companies to have access to resources in the form of capital, employees, mentorship and networks. Often this can come from successful entrepreneurs who have navigated their way through these same challenges and can provide insight or other resources on how it can be done. This requires generosity and a willingness to help our colleagues. This could come in the form of events, places to gather socially, electronic meeting places and other ways to connect. All these things are happening right now but almost in a disjointed, fragmented way. Let’s all work together to support each other’s projects and collaborate when there is overlap. The idea is to have as many places as possible for entrepreneurs to run into each other, as well as other ecosystem partners.
2. Brokering relationships. This is a continuation of the first point but really taking it one step further. When I meet a technology company or an investor, I should be listening to their story and how I can help them. If I think of someone I know that could help them, I should make that introduction. Sometimes there will be a business case for it, and I’ll make some money; in many cases, there won’t be. Imagine the power if every one of us did that and how much more could be accomplished. It’s really exciting to think of the opportunity that we have if these doors opened for all of us. Here’s a question you can ask yourself: Am I open to the idea of making introductions even if I don’t immediately profit? The more people that answer yes, the better we’ll all be.
3. Education. Education is a very important piece that sometimes gets overlooked. Many associations and government organizations do a great job on providing educational opportunities for companies and investors. More can be done from everyone, including investors and successful entrepreneurs. I know that there has been some great progress in this area, but I’ve heard from enough investors and companies, saying that are just blindly pushing forward, to know that we still have a lot of work to do. More educational opportunities might come in the form of seminars, webinars, marquee events and more mentoring groups. Sometimes it can be as simple as investors and entrepreneurs taking that extra moment or two to explain why something needs to be done as opposed to just saying it needs to be done.
I’m excited about what’s happening already and even more excited about what we can all do when we work together. Let’s all bring together the boat and the paddle, so we can cross the river together!
I would love to hear from you (firstname.lastname@example.org, 780-408-1508) about any comments you have, solutions or ways we can work together to make this happen.