Mentors now visiting Yukon entrepreneurs

It is possible to come up with a million-dollar idea. 

But, from that eureka moment to seeing your bank balance tip over into seven figures, there is a lot of planning and cajoling and spending and risking.

A lot.

Getting a good start and staying on track is crucial. That is why the folks at Yukonstruct have launched its Startup in Residence Pilot Program.

Operating from its (co)space at the corner of Strickland Street and 2nd Avenue, on the second floor, new entrepreneurs can visit a successful entrepreneur who has been there and done that.

The first mentor in residence will be Andrew D’Souza who already has a stellar reputation for investing in, and advising, some of Canada’s fastest-growing tech startups.

He was president of Nymi, a company that offered biometrically-authenticated wearable payments to such customers as Royal Bank of Canada and MasterCard. And he was the CEO of Top Hat, raising $10 million to develop technologies that enhanced distance learning.

Just last year, D’Souza founded Clearbanc to serve startups that traditional bankers just haven’t understood yet.

The mentors-in-residence will be available for one-on-one support sessions during their two-week residency.

But do not ask them how to become rich, quick: “My first question is, ‘Why are you doing this?” said D’Souza in a telephone interview.

“Do you have reasons beyond just getting rich? Will the world be improved and will you make a difference in people’s lives?” he asks.

“If it is just an idea, then go talk to a hundred people to see if there is a need.

“It is easy to come up with an idea in the shower, but it is hard to find what people actually want.”

Since D’Souza and his team are the first mentors, a kickoff event is scheduled for Wednesday, September 7 with a meet-and-greet and testimonials from Clearbanc members.

On Thursday, September 8 there is a free lunchtime event at (co)space that is open to the public. It is called a Pitch Clinic for anyone with a startup, or just an idea, to turn into a business.

Clearbanc members will help these entrepreneurs refine their pitch to attract potential partners and investors.

Then, on Sept. 13, there will be a Pitch Showcase to D’Souza that will look very much like an episode of Dragon’s Den.

Indeed, one of the dragons will be joining him: Michele Romanow, a Canadian tech entrepreneur who co-founded SnapSaves and after a stint as director of strategy for Sears Canada.

“We won’t be harsh with people,” says D’Souza. “I am excited to see the range of ideas.”

The next day, there will be Lunchtime Workshops.

During the two-week residency, the Clearbanc team will travel to Carcross and Dawson City to meet with entrepreneurs there to offer feedback and advice.

D’Souza says he expects he will learn of the unique obstacles for entrepreneurs in isolated communities.

“One of the challenges we face as a country is allowing people to take the risks without necessarily having to uproot,” he says. “A lot of people embrace a lifestyle in their community and there is a reason they live there, but the intensity of a startup requires sacrifices of your time and resources.

“When you have something that is working, you want to pour fuel on the fire and grow it very quickly; in major centres, there are investors you can develop relationships with.

“It is easier around other people who are doing it. If you are the only one staying up until 2 a.m., you don’t have a benchmark. When you have peers going through that process and coming out successful on the other side, it is easier to keep yourself motivated.”

D’Souza adds one more warning: “A lot is written about the glamour, but it takes 10 years to make an overnight success.

“That’s a lot of trial and error, perseverance and a lot of sacrifices.”

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