9 Tips from U of T Entrepreneurs

Don’t waste time on something no one will buy.

Jonathan Keebler, CTO and co-founder of ScribbleLive

Supported by the Department of Computer Science among other U of T programs.

Test your assumptions early so you don’t waste time on something no one will buy; you need to give yourself time to pivot if necessary. Don’t ignore negative feedback; it’s often the most useful and can steer you in the right direction. When you launch a startup, you have about 1/100 chance of being successful. Every year, that gets cut in half. Companies will be crashing and burning around you. If you can survive, you will become stronger and stronger every year.

Take advice from people who have expertise, but be picky about whom to listen to.

Christina Mueller, Insight NanoFluidics

Supported by The Impact Centre’s Technoworkshop among other U of T programs.

Do not start a business unless you believe in the value of your technology. It’s hard work and you’d better make sure you believe in the value. Search out and take advice from people who have expertise, but be picky about whom to listen to. Make sure you have a strong team, because at one point it will be all about the team. Value and trust your team. When it comes to your startup, there is nothing you cannot do, so don’t let people tell you otherwise. Don’t avoid decisions, however big they are. Business is NOT like academia.

With a good team, you can move much faster than the giants.

Darren Anderson of Vive Crop Protection

Supported by the Banting and Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship among other U of T programs.

I wish I’d known to rely on ourselves more. When we first started, we thought that the ‘giants’ in our industry knew everything – they have deep pockets, thousands of incredibly bright people, a long history and experience. Working with them is an obvious option. But with a good team, you can move much faster than the giants. You can’t do more, but you can do more of what’s important.
Make sure you know what you’re getting into! There will be a lot of late nights and early mornings, you’ll have a huge amount of responsibility and there will definitely be a lot of ups and downs. You have to be able to respond and adjust quickly and you have to be looking to continuously learn and improve every day. Know that for every success story that you read online, there are a few dozen failure stories that you don’t end up reading about.

I’ve been amazed at the willingness of top people to help newbies.

Abe Heifets, CEO of Chematria

Supported by The Impact Centre's Techno workshop among other U of T programs.

Get used to feeling unqualified. You’ll feel it all the time and it’s completely normal. The quantity and variety of things that must get done is staggering, and no one person can be an expert in all of them. Figure out what you need help figuring out and go learn from other’s mistakes. U of T has a number of programs through which you can access domain experts, and I’ve been amazed at the willingness of top people to help newbies.
Q: What are you looking for in an exceptional Creative Destruction Lab application?
Teams that are working on science fiction inspired ideas. We really like applications from early stage companies that are based on research coming out of a lab. [A common mistake is] Over-simplifying the technology or science behind their idea which makes us think they are just working on an app.
Q: What advice would you give to those considering applying to UTEST?
1. Build a balanced team. Understand the strengths of your team members and ensure that gaps can be addressed either through internal change or be open to external hires. 2. Be passionate about your idea but also understand it will be a roller coaster of emotions.
Q: What are you looking for in an exceptional UTEST application?
Evidence of a strong and committed team. It’s critical to have standout technology and a great market opportunity but at the end of the day it’s the team that makes these businesses work — it’s about having a balance of amazing technical talent and business leadership and execution skills. When we come across an application that has a really awesome team, it stands out.

Starting a company is difficult, and it is best if you have friends who share your vision and will work with you.

Professor Cynthia Goh, Director of the Impact Centre

Techno is an elite program run by the Impact Centre, for scientists and engineers (“technopreneurs”) who want to create technology-based companies

Q: What advice would you give to those considering applying to Techno?
Form a team. Starting a company is difficult, and it is best if you have friends who share your vision and will work with you.