If you’ve ever been in a room where you’re surrounded by smart people talking about deep and interesting issues, then you already know what it’s like to be at an event run by The Entrepreneurship Society. Their most recent event — Digital Marketing and Managing Your Cap Table, hosted at Twitter Canada — was no different.
Featuring a keynote by Wattpad’s Allen Lau but focusing on small group discussions facilitated by powerhouse members of Toronto’s tech and startup ecosystem — Facebook Canada, Twitter Canada, Blake’s Law, Pressly, and others — seasoned entrepreneurs who are past the seed stage and looking to grow learned about the power of digital marketing and raising capital.
“We don’t want to build Silicon Valley North, we want to build the next Silicon Valley,” Lau said about his vision for the Waterloo Region corridor. Lau is often outspoken about his belief in Toronto and Waterloo’s tech ecosystem, regularly lauding Toronto’s diversity and quality of life and his vision to take on the world’s largest internet companies.
The Entrepreneurship Society (TES) is a three-year-old group whose mission, according to founder Billy Hennessey, is to help startup founders bridge the gap between seed and post-seed/series A financing for companies with “serious traction”, a niche he explained was underserved in Canada. Event topics, such as digital marketing, come from member feedback. “Founders are asking how they can do a better job at digital marketing,” said Hennessey. Raising capital is a regular event topic because funding is such a large part of scaling a company.
“It’s about offering events with more meat on the bones, so to speak,” Hennessey said when thinking about how TES is different from other learning events for entrepreneurs. Of course, he’s not knocking other events, but TES is focused on the niche of founders who are not quite early-stage, but not fully in the growth stage, yet. This focus has led TES to look at three different ways that it can support entrepreneurs: events, mentorship and financial connections for top tier founders (‘Founder Dinners’), and trips to New York City to meet with VCs and other investors.
When asked why NYC was his choice in a world where Silicon Valley is understood to be the largest startup mecca in the world, Hennessey noted that it was the hunger of New York-based investors. “They want to work with Canadian founders,” Hennessey asserts, along with his confidence that recent turmoil in the United States post-election will not slow that down. “I’ve heard from a couple of American founders that they are looking to immigrate to Canada, but the hunger from American investors to see top Canadian startup talent, along with IRAP and SR&ED credits for technological research, is strong as ever.”
Thinking about a host location, though, Twitter Canada may not come up as the initial thought when someone suggests an event for early-growth stage entrepreneurs. Twitter is a global company that has already gone public – typically events like these happen in fast-growing companies that might have 100 to 300 employees and see tens of millions, or perhaps hundreds of millions, in revenue.
Kevin Callahan, director of business development for Twitter Canada, recognizes that Twitter is a huge global company, but pushes it from the inside-out to be more supportive of small and mid-sized companies.
“We work with a few small companies in the Toronto area; we sit down with them, learn about their challenges, and see how we can help out – whether through a beta program, a new feature we are testing, or even just giving them guidance on how to use Twitter more effectively to scale their business.”
This type of founder-level support is bolstered by two of TES’ major sponsors, Blake’s Law and TELUS, both of which offer senior level employees as mentors and conversation facilitators for TES.
For facilitator Jeff Brenner, co-founder and CEO of Pressly, the value is in the structure of the event itself. “(At the table I facilitated discussion on), we discussed a renewed interest and curiosity in video as a marketing tool, [such as] the costs of video for marketing and how video can play a large part in the digital marketing space. We even touched on live action versus animation.”
This granular learning is one of the value-adds that Brenner believes is important for the success of the event. “It’s interesting to get a bunch of people contributing their perspective and what they are trying, [and what hacks they have learned and can share with the group],” noted Brenner as an example of how small-group facilitated discussions can be more conducive to productive learning and education.
Michelle Slater, head of business marketing for Twitter Canada, notes that Twitter is similar to TES in a few ways, namely around the ability to build a community of like-minded individuals. “At TES, and on Twitter, you can connect with entrepreneurs [who face] similar business challenges, and they can share [challenges and solutions] back and forth.”
Attendee Shawn Finder, president of B2B-connections software company ExchangeLeads, echoes this sentiment. He’s attended multiple events and keeps coming back because of the opportunity to meet and network with other entrepreneurs in similar situations to him.
“I’ve met potential clients at TES events and think that hearing personal stories from [founders who have raised VC financing] is a big asset,” said Finder. “It’s also great to hear more about other founders’ challenges – the issues with their marketing strategy, their fundraising strategy, why they are raising (or not) – because you learn a lot about [topics] you are not familiar with.”
The next event for TES is on April 12th, and will dive deep into raising capital. “[This event] was a teaser [for the fundraising folks],” joked Hennessey. The focus on digital marketing was very granular, but entrepreneurs at this stage in their companies have very tactical questions they need addressed where fundraising is concerned.
TES is here to make sure those questions never get ignored.
Photos by Photoganist.ca