Tag Archives: StartUp Canada

Why PEI Entrepreneurs are so successful

PEI punches way above its weight – Why?

Rocketdog
Few places in Canada could be further away from the main markets of North America. Few places have less resources than PEI.  But I found last week, as I travelled with StartUp Canada around PEI, that our entrepreneurs are doing very well.

Many have operations, such as Marks Work Warehouse and Island Abby Foods, that are amongst the best in class. Many have businesses, such as BioVectra and DME, that have found a niche that makes them unrivaled in the continent. Many are astonishingly novel like Thinking Big and Screenscape.

Why should small businesses in a small place be so competitive?

It’s in the Island DNA

PEI is too small and too far away to attract large mature businesses from away. So business on PEI is naturally always small and owner operated. And because PEI itself is small, PEI business has always had to find a place in the larger markets off Island.  It’s been like this for 200 years.

Duncan2
As Duncan Shaw told me about his family, “Few people ever had a job. We come from a long line of pioneers, farmers, fishers and small business owners.”

Potatoes were run to the Caribbean in exchange for the official cargo of molasses and the unofficial cargo of rum. Fish was run to Boston. Lumber to the UK. Fox fur and lobster to Upper Canada.

Lorraine
So like their forefathers, Lorraine MacAulay had to start her Mosquito repellent business by breaking into the large national stores. Peter Toombs had to sell his brewing equipment all over the world. They had to begin by being very clever and persistent.

So how did they get so smart?

It’s not school – It’s Family and Mentors

We think that having great schools are key to developing smart people. But most of the entrepreneurs I met last week told me that they did not fit into school culture. Some never finished school. Others had to force themselves to finish. Dico Reijers took 7 years to do his BA.

All told me that culture of entrepreneurship was set at home. All told me that they grew up in a family where running your own business was the normal. The dinner table was their classroom.

Some entrepreneurs went to business school. But for most, the best business lessons were taught by mentors. They learned the old fashioned way, like an apprentice, from advice given by a person who lived their life. Entrepreneurs helping Entrepreneurs.

I asked all of them about whether school needed to be changed. None of them dismissed school. They acknowledged that not everyone should be or even could be an entrepreneur. But they hoped that the school system would see that it could help by identifying the characteristics of kids, like Matt below, who were destined to be entrepreneurs. Then the entrepreneurs could help.

Matt
For entrepreneurship on PEI is a personal and individual thing.  All the older PEI entrepreneurs I spoke to want to reach out and offer more of their time as mentors to the young up and coming new class of rebels. What they want is a better way to connect.

If PEI stays true to its business DNA – we will do well

Large bureaucratic structures are dying. Youth unemployment in Canada and the US is over 20% and in Europe is close to 50%. Many middle aged workers are being made redundant. Pensions that many have relied are being diminished. For societies that have more embraced the job and the bureaucracy, the transition will be very hard.

But here on PEI, I see now that we could adjust quite well. The modern PEI entrepreneur is already competing in the new networked global marketplace. They are hiring. They are growing. They are doing what Island business people have always done.

All they need to do now that is different is to work together.

Group

If the PEI entrepreneurs get together and work with each other to boost the local ecosystem.

BioA
If those in government do the same. Then this little Island could do very well.

This insight is the great gift that the visit of StartUp Canada brought. They held up the mirror to who we really are. Now we must not waste this gift. Time to act .

It’s up to us now.

PS Next week I will start a 2 week series on what I have learned from our wonderful entrepreneurs

Why I think Networked Artisanal StartUps are so important to PEI

We on PEI have to have thousands of new young immigrants living here in the next 10 years. So what will pull them here?

There are few jobs. 65% of GDP is government and even that is shrinking. They will only come here if there is a vibrant StartUp economy that is based on Entrepreneurs.

So what do those terms StartUp and Entrepreneur mean for PEI?

When I heard the word “entrepreneur” or “startup”, I used to think of Hi Tech Pioneers. But this never made sense for PEI. For if you want to do that, it is best if you are connected to the Tech Village in the Valley.  We are not close enough to where the real action is in Tech for a Facebook to emerge here.

I also used to think that every Entrepreneur worth her salt would want to grow the business to be very large. Then I thought of who has done this in Atlantic Canada. Sobeys, McCains and Irving. Not exactly a huge field and so not a useful ambition. We are not close enough to the financial centre. And if you make something we are too far away from the markets.

But all of our development is based on these assumptions. So what then will work?

An immigration/development strategy based on supporting the small artisan networking their way to dominance locally and then globally.

Sounds mad? Well here are the underpinning trends that will make this work – for it is working now on a small scale.

  • A New Market Based on Trust that can only be satisfied by the small in a network. More and more people do not trust the products and services of the Big. What is in my food? What is in my shampoo? What is in my drug? Why does my washing machine fail after 2 years? Why can I never get service? What is on my toy … The response to this is a movement towards what can be trusted. Meat raised in small herds where animals live the life they were designed to live by people we know and meet in the street. Soap made by people we know who use real ingredients in small batches. Tech service people who we know. Toys made in a person’s home. Clothes made by someone you know.
  • The Network Provides Scale and Ease of Access These artisans have always existed and have eked out a marginal living. But the new web based network is changing the game. Now we can buy direct and it is easy. Many pasture meat producers in a network = a lot of meat. Many small soap makers in a network = a lot of soap. Small and artisan no longer condemns you to the sidelines.
  • This model has access to the Network Effect and so offers better margins and financing than the traditional. As we have seen for Raymond Loo, Patrick Ledwell and Tim Chaisson, now the community of your customers will finance you. CSA is becoming how the new artisanal farmer gets her working capital. Community Equity, as with Justus Coffee, is how larger sums can be raised from your customers! Customers who now work for you. Customers who market for you and who sell for you.  The network effect also works at the scale of the node. Jen and Derek plant a wide range of plants and sell a basket, so if the tomatoes fail, as they did last year, they are OK. On a pasture farm, the cows help the pigs who help the chickens and vice versa.

This market for Trust is small in total but huge for PEI. It can only be accessed by the small. The large corporates will be shut out of it. It is growing as people wake up and see the risks that they take in buying mass market goods and services. These customers want their suppliers to succeed and will support them in all sorts of ways. It’s a common movement.

Talented people are also waking up to the fact that they cannot trust their future to a job in the old system and in the big cities. We are seeing a trickle now of talented people leaving the old life and coming to Atlantic Canada where they can make a living and where the key cost of a home is in reach.

Just as many Atlantic Canadians go west in search of a well paying job, life is very precarious in the big cities now. A one bedroom condo is about $350,000 in Toronto and more in Vancouver. The young are underemployed and locked out. Or if a couple both have jobs and a home, the loss of one job renders them homeless. The Toronto couple will not come here to get a well paying job, they want to come here and make a decent living. They want to make things themselves and not work for wages.

They want to make things and make a living doing something that is truly them. This is what the new networked artisanal economy offers both sides. This is why customers invest in their suppliers. All want meaning and to be part of getting independence from the corporate grip.

These are people who will set up deep roots here on PEI and like the Back to the Landers make a contribution. They are not here to get a passport but to have  a life and to make a living.

So how to support this?

Stop the vain focus on the big – they will never come and they will never grow here. They never have so why think they will now. But a focus on big misses the real opportunity to network the small into a big network.

Stop the vain focus on Jobs. A smart new company will not employ a lot of people full time. It may never offer a “Job” but it will offer work.  Jobs are not the thing – paid work is the thing. Only a fool will fix their overhead. Most organizations will be family based. If they want marketing, they will reach into the network and find a trusted supplier. If they want book keeping, they will do the same.

Stop the focus on Hi Tech. The real new artisans use a lot of high tech, but they use it to make things not as an end in themselves. The film makers at the Film Factory use it to make big films. The Great Canadian Soap Company use it to sell their products.

Instead help support the networks – support groups that get together – help them make it easy for people to buy local food and anything. Make it easy for people from away to buy artisanal good and services from us.

Instead help families who want to do this come here. Reach out to them.

In the Week of May 7, my pals from Start Up Canada will be here to help us get behind this and to help connect us to the Canadian and the Global Network. At the Queen St Commons on May 7 we will have a get together to talk about how all the artisanal sectors can help each other.

Join Us Please May 8 6pm Queen St Commons 224 Queen – $10 to cover food and drinks costs.

Our ambition to help PEI become as self sufficient and resilient as it was in 1900. Where 80% of what we need is supplied locally.