Ben Zlotnick is the CEO and founder of the INcubes startup accelerator in Toronto, plus the owner of one of Toronto’s most successful landscape and construction companies. We sat down with Ben and asked him about his experiences in business, startups, and his thoughts on the Canadian startup culture.
BetaKit: How did you get your start?
Ben Zlotnick: I graduated York University with a business degree and, in 2003, after working for one year in sales – something I highly recommend to anyone young who wants to be an entrepreneur – I partnered with someone who was already doing some landscaping and we opened up a company together called Aden Landscape & Design. We hustled and worked hard building the business and doing the work ourselves, so we literally learned the industry from the ground up.
After building the company into one of the leading landscape companies in the city I eventually bought out my partner and acquired some other business along the way. Eventually, I looked at tech startups to grow my business and started what evolved into The Plant Encyclopedia in the hopes of expanding my business. I realized at the time in Toronto there was a lack of an ecosystem for entrepreneurs that weren’t involved already in the industry. I noticed in the USA there were a number of successful accelerators so I decided to found INcubes as a privately funded accelerator based on the 3 month model that focusses on everything to do with business, products, and investor relations. We’re currently in our fourth cohort with many successful alumni.
BK: Can you describe a time in your career where you felt defeated? What did you learn from it and how did you continue on?
BZ: In 2005, I had a number of employees each with a lot of industry experience and one day my best crew leader told me he was leaving to another company in a week. I tried offering him more money and other things but he wouldn’t budge. As a young entrepreneur who had just worked the whole winter to sign contracts and create two routes for my landscaping crews to service it was a big blow because this leader was leaving. I had the choice then of finding someone else, or giving up. I decided to go out and find someone else and looking back, I realize it was a great experience because I learned that in business there are many situations that will arise and it’s a question of how you create solutions and how you bring the out positive to create something even better than you originally had. I also learned that things will work out, no matter how bad they may seem.
BK: How do Canadians startup/the startup landscape differ from other places?
BZ: Canadians, in general, are very conservative and risk averse which is a positive and a negative. That’s not only my take but it is the feedback I have received from the global community responding to me about Canadian entrepreneurs. It kept us from having a full on recession in the middle of the 2000s but from an entrepreneurial standpoint some risks are needed in order to be successful.
BK: What would you recommend for a startup/entrepreneurial newbie?
BZ: Get for themselves 2 or 3 mentors because mentors make all the difference in the world bringing their experience, knowledge, and connections in so many industries to you when you ask for advice. It will help you avoid many of the pitfalls and failures and bring many opportunities your way.