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Are you standing between your tech start-up and success?

By Francis Moran and Leo Valiquette

“Nothing disheartens me more than meeting an entrepreneur in B.C. who says his ambition is to one day conquer the Ontario market,” Anthony Lee, general partner at Altos Ventures and co-founder of theC100, told us in an interview a few months back.

While building a globally competitive company may not be the right objective for everyone, Lee makes a key point. For any venture to succeed, its founders must have a vision that will stretch the boundaries of what they know and challenge what they believe is attainable.

But there is more to this business of entrepreneurship than being able to see, and seize, opportunity. Once a technology innovation worthy of exploitation has been identified, an entrepreneur’s success or failure will depend largely on how ready they are to take counsel and challenge their own assumptions and deeply held beliefs. In other words, are they coachable?

Later in this series, we will test the stereotype that there are different “cultures of risk” from one country to another – for example, between Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. – that impact entrepreneurial success. But in this installment, we will focus on entrepreneurs themselves. It’s about who they see staring back when they look in the mirror each morning, rather than the environment in which they find themselves operating when they walk out the door.

In a past postJohn Stokes, a partner at Montreal-based Real Ventures, talked about the difference between “convergent” and “divergent” thinking. Research often tends to be about convergence – having a problem to solve or premise to challenge. Divergence, on the other hand, is looking at all the avenues that could be taken to an objective. According to Stokes, a “good” entrepreneur needs a commercial mindset that is a balance of both to create innovative solutions to existing problems.

Entreprenuers should be ready to question their own assumptions and be prepared to welcome counsel from other experts.

“I would much rather work with someone with a good idea who is coachable, than someone with a great idea who is not,” said Iain Klugman, president and CEO of Waterloo’s Communitech.

Getting technology to market, after all, is an exercise in sweating blood. Even the most strategic thinker can become lost in the minutiae of the daily grind, caught up in stomping out one brush-fire or another. But from a marketing and product-development standpoint, successful entrepreneurs and nascent management teams must be able to step back on a regular basis and ask the hard questions to ensure they are still in tune with their target market and getting the timing right.

For Jeff Campbell, CEO of PerspecSys, timing is everything.

“It is always a good time to bring something to market if you time it right,” he said.

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