5 Lessons Learned from the World’s Number One Incubator - The Newcomers In Business Version
Every incubator or entrepreneur development program has a different mission. Some are early stage and focus on getting your business funding. Some work with mature companies who are ready to scale. Some work with sector specific companies like Agriculture or Food Tech. At the Business Immigrant Essentials program, we focus on expertise translation among our best and brightest newcomer professionals.
I remember when the phrase ‘expertise translation,’ occurred to me. I was sitting across from an experienced Chinese businessman who had recently immigrated to New Brunswick. I could tell by the look on his face that he had no intentions of being taught how to do business by a 28 year old Maritimer. In fact, we were unknowingly on the same page because that was not my intention at all. My goal was, and has always been, to honor the incredible experience and expertise of our newcomer professionals and convert their knowledge to our local market the same way I would have if I wanted to become an entrepreneur in China. I said, “At the Business Immigrant Essentials we’re not going to teach you about your business. You’re the expert of your business. What we want to offer you, and what we’re very good at doing, is the opportunity for you to work with professionals to translate your business experience in China and apply it to New Brunswick. We want to offer you professional expertise translation.”
It worked like a charm and our relationship has been strong ever since.
Every newcomer professional, regardless of their experience and background must find a way to translate their business experience in the same way they’ve translated their language. It is critical that we honor their incredible experience, resources and intelligence, but also that we offer the opportunity to learn from the best so that their international experience becomes valuable and highly sought after in their new home.
Having said that, I wanted to take the time this week to translate one of my favorite start-up articles in recent months. The DMZ incubator at Ryerson University in Toronto is not only the gold-standard university-backed incubator in Canada, it was recently voted the best in the world by UBI Global. (I had the opportunity to attend a seminar at one of the other best in Canada- the Accelerator Center at the University of Waterloo). One of the DMZ’s founders and past board members Sean Wise wrote an article for Inc. outlining ‘8 Lessons From the World’s Number One University Startup Incubator.” For the first 5, I summarized Sean’s lessons and then translated that summary into the Newcomers In Business version.
Enjoy the 5 Lessons from the Business Immigrant Essentials program.
1. It Takes a Village: “Yes, the founders are the driving force, but peer support, access to shared resources, and critical mass all help raise the "startup child."
NIB Version: Your Community is Crucial: Your support network is absolutely crucial to your success in New Brunswick. Get involved early. Connect with community leaders for coffee and approach experts in your field to become your mentors. Attend networking events, support the growth of others and ensure that your name and your face are known and shared. Develop a deep knowledge of your customer and ensure you have close connections with those who will help you get to where you’re going. Your network will make or break your business in New Brunswick.
2. Your Idea Isn’t Perfect: “You must accept the notion that your startup is a dynamic, living, evolving creature.”
NIB: Do you Have an Idea or an Opportunity? In the beginning, you will love your idea. You’ll be passionate about the products you’re importing or the services you’re exporting. You’ll tell us you have a great product at a low price and that’s how you will beat the competition. You’re likely wrong, but that’s okay! You need to work with mentors and coaches that give you the tools and techniques to validate your opportunity in a business culture that may be new to you. Working with best-in-class facilitators like Dan Doiron and Chris Weir in the Business Immigrant Essentials is a great way to prove if you have an idea or an opportunity.
3. Doing Always Trumps Planning: “Launch early and listen intently. Let customer insight guide your development.”
NIB: You Need Boots on the Ground ASAP: There is nothing that will teach you about your opportunity like selling. As soon as you can, practice selling to customers. Sell your products and services proudly but be humble enough to listen to what comes back. Ask questions when customers approach you: ‘What did you like about it?’ ‘Do you currently buy ‘x’?’ ‘How often?’ ‘How much do you spend?” The key is to listen. You may think your business is good, but your customers will teach you how to make your business great. This is especially true in a new market: what worked at home may not work in your new home. We want you to succeed so get out there, sell and listen!
4. Funding Takes Traction: “Today, investors want to see traction.”
NIB: Prove That you can Sell in a New Market: Sure, there is money available to you if you have the right business plan and a promising cash flow. Products like the Impact Loan from Economic Development Greater Saint John (EDGSJ) can and has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs start their journey. But don’t rush into money if you don’t need to. Watch for traps like market sizing mistakes or being too optimistic about how much you can sell in a day, week or month. Try to sell first if you can! If the business has what it takes, the money will be there when you’re ready. When you’re ready, we’d love to help you pitch for the Impact Loan.
5. Experiment, Fail, Learn, Repeat: “Instead of relying on founder assumptions, entrepreneurs now run low-cost experiments to prove assumptions. When those fail (and they often do), modern entrepreneurs see these failures as a powerful learning experience.”
NIB: Start Selling and Then Listen Pt. 2: Pivoting can often cost you time and money. I don’t agree that it’s inevitable, but for our clients, it is uniquely challenging to get it right on the first try. Certain structures and timelines work against them and the result is a business plan that has not been validated as effectively as it could be when working with us and our facilitators. Be prepared for the reality on the ground being different than the one you expected. If you have to run some low-cost experiments to test the viability of the business, do it. If you recognize the need to pivot, we will be with you every step of the way.
If you’re a newcomer professional who wants to take your business to the next level, join the Winter 2020 Cohort of the Business Immigrant Essentials Program.