Over the past few weeks, LavaBlast has been participating in the Lead To Win program in Ottawa. At a high level, people starting high-tech businesses in the region are invited to apply to the program which helps them get to market faster and/or accelerate their growth. After a number of filters, the cream of the crop become a part of an exclusive business ecosystem of local companies. I joined without knowing what I was getting into but truly enjoyed the experience. Since one of my critiques of the program is that the website doesn’t do a good job communicating what the program is or what the benefits are, I thought I’d write a short post on the subject!
Who can apply?
- Anyone who is serious about starting a business than can generate six high-tech jobs over the next three years.
What is the process?
- [filter] You submit a written application
- [filter] You pitch your business idea to a board of reviewers before being let in.
- Phase 1: You attend three consecutive twelve hour days (8am to 8pm) of hands-on presentations on various subjects (business idea, differentiation, sales, marketing, etc.).
- [filter] You pitch to a diverse group (Founders, Funders, Professionals, Education, etc.) and are hopefully invited to Phase 2.
- Phase 2: You attend three more consecutive twelve hour days of hands-on presentations (finances, accounting, legal, cash flow, sources of funding, etc.)
- [filter] You pitch to another group of reviewers and hopefully graduate into Phase 3.
- Phase 3: You’re part of the ecosystem
- [filter] If your business is obviously going nowhere, you get kicked out.
Are the presentations any good?
Definitely. They’re a lot more hands-on than what you’d find in university courses. The 60 to 180 minute presentations are:
- Given by credible individuals in diverse groups (local entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, service providers, academia, lawyers working for “patent trolls” :), etc.)
- Of tons of different subjects (there is more than enough diversity in the material to justify a 6-day commitment)
Why are there so many filters?
- To ensure that only high quality businesses are in the ecosystem.
What are the benefits?
- Strengthening the plan: You get validation that you aren’t crazy and that your plan makes sense.
- Networking: When 30+ businesses are put in a room together for six twelve-hour days, bonds are created between the companies. You get to know like-minded people much faster than at random networking events. One major part of the concept is to build an ecosystem that collaborates and generates leads for each other. Moreover, you meet tons of other experienced individuals that contribute to the community (networking is not limited to other startups).
- Increased credibility: There are dozens of government programs to fund startups and, because they know the value in the program, you’ve already proven yourself to them before starting discussions.
- Joint ventures: Apparently [have yet to live through this], businesses collaborate on larger opportunities brought into the ecosystem.
What I disliked the most about the program are easy fixes and aren’t worth going into details (clarify website message, advance notification of the process & dates, facilities, etc). In general, a few small things could be improved, but the Lead To Win program is built around continuous improvement so these kinks will be worked out with each new session.
I have only good things to say about the concept, the presenters, the quality of the presentations and how good you need to be to get through the filters. The latter was something I was especially worried about, because weak filters would undermine the whole credibility of the program. You don’t need to be a superstar to get through, but I was surprised by some of the talented individuals who did get filtered.
I was also happy to see that most of the program was not tailored for people with dreams of VC funding. They burst that bubble fairly quickly. The program pushes you to reach an appropriate scale but I enjoyed how the focus was on growing your business and not about reaching 100 million in revenue in three years. This is a big thing to me because I like to avoid crowds of dreamers that don’t get anything done.
If you’re serious about starting up a high-tech business in the Ottawa/Gatineau region, consider Lead To Win.