#WomenInTech: Fostering Canadian Innovation with Startup Canada’s Victoria Lennox
As the Co-Founder and CEO of Startup Canada, Victoria Lennox has worked to create a nation-wide network of small businesses. Earlier this summer we chatted about startup communities, mentorship, and why Canada needs to innovate more urgently.
Menaka: Startup Canada is essentially a network of startups where entrepreneurs can connect – why did you want to create that network?
Victoria: Canada needs to focus on building up an entrepreneurial culture. It’s important to create a culture where entrepreneurship is celebrated, supported and accelerated, and that has to happen at the grassroots level with entrepreneurs helping one another.
It is important to connect everyone into the network nationally. Startup Canada works with entrepreneurs on the ground through Startup Communities – there’s Startup Toronto, Startup Whitehorse, Startup Nanaimo, etc. – and those Communities allow us to foster that culture on the ground through grassroots startup events and hubs. These are all then nationally connected to unite the entire entrepreneurship community.
It also helps ensure that entrepreneurs are aware of the resources available to help them, like accelerators and incubator spaces. Canada has the components of an entrepreneurial nation – and Startup Canada brings it all together for the entrepreneur.
Menaka: How does Canadian entrepreneurship compare to entrepreneurship in other countries?
Victoria: Although Canada is one of the world’s leading innovation nations, other nations are pursuing the growth of their innovation economy with much more urgency than Canada. They will soon lap us, and if we don’t make this our number one priority as a nation, today, then we will be left behind.
Our solid banking system helped weather the 2008 recession, so we didn’t feel the crash as harshly as the rest of the world. And so, while other economies quickly moved to more entrepreneurial-based economic development strategies, Canada still relies significantly on natural resources and other traditional sectors. As a result, we don’t have the urgency that I see in other countries.
Entrepreneurship has become cool in Canada – Dragons’ Den has really helped this. But when it actually comes to creating an economic development strategy that supports entrepreneurs, one that lets us grow our economy through entrepreneurship, we need to step it up. The rest of the world is doubling down on entrepreneurship, and Canada has the opportunity to lead the way in this space and make entrepreneurship our leading export.
Menaka: You’ve spoken previously about the importance of having mentors – what do you look for in a mentorship?
Victoria: It’s about knowing what kind of expertise you want to learn from a mentor. I look for people who’ve done what I want to achieve. I think it’s good to have a few mentors, and you learn different things from each one. When it comes down to it, it’s about learning and building relationships.
I’ve never had a structured relationship with a mentor. It’s just seeing them for a coffee and asking them if they wouldn’t mind you reaching out once in a while. While the relationship may be infrequent, mentors can have a seismic impact on you and your ventures.
And you can get as much from your mentees as you do from your mentors. It’s always good to remember that you’re likely in a place right now that someone else wishes they were in, so consider taking that coffee when someone reaches out. #FindOneBeOne
Menaka: What can we do to foster more entrepreneurship and startups in Canada?
Victoria: We need to see our entrepreneurs as nation-builders, and we need to celebrate our entrepreneurs through the mainstream media. The government can lead by example and buy from small businesses. And we should focus on better ways to attract and retain talent.
It’s also important to foster that entrepreneurial spirit through our education system. We need our kids to know that anything is possible, and we need to reinforce financial literacy and digital literacy skills.
Something important and easy that everyone can do to help is to buy from an entrepreneur. Go onto Etsy, Shopify, Wattpad, and find a Canadian creator, business owner or author, and be a customer. Talk about what they do to everyone you know. Pay it forward. That will help change culture.
Menaka: Why is entrepreneurship important to you?
Victoria: The macro impact of entrepreneurship is huge. Entrepreneurs create jobs, they fuel our growth as a nation, they create solutions to some of our most pressing problems.
I personally love when someone can take what is really interesting about themselves, whether their passion is music or dancing or food, and then create jobs with it. They figure out how to sustain themselves and their families with something they enjoy doing.