THE BLOG

30
Mar

Flow Ventures Announces Investment in Symtext

We’re happy to announce that we’ve made an investment in Symtext, a Toronto-based startup. Led by digital media industry veteran Ian Barker

, Symtext has created a platform for building “liquid textbooks” which combine content from e-books and other digital content into unique learning tools. Containing both licensed works and royalty-free works, Symtext allows professors to create unique liquid textbooks for their courses and provides students with an interactive learning experience that goes beyond traditional textbooks.

Symtext has made great progress and is already working with recognized learning establishments such as Athabasca University and the Queen’s School of Business. It is also working with several major publishers (more announcements to come).

Flow Ventures has a unique investment model that combines Angel-level financing with strategic services including interim management and direct operational support. We look for opportunities where we can accelerate the development of a startup using our experience as technology entrepreneurs.

Keep an eye out for more Symtext announcements to come, as well as more from Flow Ventures. If you are a professor interested in using Symtext in your course, contact Ian Barker for details.

27
Mar

Students to Startups: A great kick-off event at McGill

ConnectMcGill, the inaugural tech entrepreneurship event at McGill was a huge success. Two computer science students, Nicolae Rusan

and Ladan Mahabadi, had the idea of organizing an on-campus meetup for students interested in entrepreneurship. I was immediately interested in getting involved, especially to try to help bring people from the startup scene to mingle with students. We had over 80 participants and a lot of enthusiasm for making this a regular event.

James Duncan (from Joyent) and I gave brief presentations on getting started in entrepreneurship but the real highlight of the event was seeing students mingling with Montreal startup folks. I believe that one of the most important things you can do to encourage students to become entrepreneurs is to give them access to people who are actually doing it. Half an hour spent chatting with a startup CEO is worth 40 hours plugging away at a business plan, in my opinion.

We’ll be organizing our next event with the involvement of students from the other Montreal universities as well. If you are a student, a startup, an investor or a mentor, contact me

and we’ll get you involved.

23
Mar

Reminder: Startup Drinks this Wednesday!

Mark it in your calendar folks:  Startup Drinks month at Brutopia (Crescent St, just south of Ste-Catherine), on March 25 from 5:30pm.  Look forward to seeing you there!

Register now at TechEntreprise!

20
Mar

Over $1 billion in stimulus for Canadian startups

This is a great time to be building startups in Canada. Ontario and Quebec have recently announced over a $1 billion in funding for new ventures through matching funds and fund-of-funds. There may be more good news when Ontario tables its budget on March 26.

Here’s a quick summary:

Ontario:

Quebec (link to budget):

  • $825 million for a fund-of-funds to invest in 15-20 VC funds ($700 million from the government, $125 million from the private sector)
  • $125 million for the creation of 3 seed funds ($100 from the government, $25 from the private sector)
  • 10-year provincial tax holiday for new ventures that commercialize research from a Quebec university or research centre

So how does this trickle down to startups?

  1. If you’re raising your first round it means there will be more seed funding sources and more money in existing funding sources. Private investors may be more willing to invest since the government is matching their dollars 1 to 1 or 2 to 1 in some cases.
  2. If you already have investment it means your investors may be more likely to top-up if they are on the receiving end of these funds.
  3. If you’re commercializing research, which Canada does a poor job of, you look a lot more attractive to investors. Not paying provincial corporate tax for 10 years has a huge effect on investor returns (assuming you’re planning on profitability).

The best part of these initiatives is that they support the existing investment ecosystem rather than trying to replace it with something government run. We already have the pleasure, privilege and intestinal fortitude to deal with the government for SRED and other subsidies. Best leave investment to experienced managers.

So is there any bad news? Timing will be an issue as nobody can deploy this much money quickly. It’ll be awhile before funds actually trickle down to companies. I personally don’t like any initiative with a geographical limitation. I understand the desire to create jobs in a particular place but technology companies can be spread out. In Canada, where we don’t have the density of markets and talent, an Ontario-only company doesn’t make sense.

But enough complaining. Does this mean that we at Flow are more likely to make investments in the near future? You bet!

(Link to more budget analysis from Chris Arsenault from Inovia)

17
Mar

March Startup Drinks – Spring Into Action!

Startup Drinks is back this month at Brutopia (Crescent St, just south of Ste-Catherine), on March 25 from 5:30pm.  Happy hour prices will be in effect and maybe – just maybe – we can get a taste of their terasse.

There are no presentations to distract people from making their own fun.   If you think you’ve got a good idea, this is the place to find a sounding board.  If you want to get a taste of the tech community generally and the startup community specifically, this is your spot.  Everyone is welcome!

Registrations are open soon at TechEntreprise!

Hope to see you there,

Robin

15
Mar
Auxiliar de Enfermería de Osakidetza-Servicio Vasco de Salud. Temario General Volumen 2 (Osakidetza 2015)

A method for finding out if you have a painkiller or a vitamin

The more pitches I hear from startups the more I realize that entrepreneurs have a hard time figuring out if their startup is a painkiller or a vitamin. I mentioned this briefly in a previous idea screening post but I’d like to propose a method to help.

I’ve come up with five measures so far:

  1. Do you have a problem or a feature? – “Mobile access” is a feature, not a problem. E.g. I don’t really want mobile access to my tax return. A lot of startups have a feature idea at their core, not a pain point, mostly because the initial idea was created by an engineer.
  2. Do you have a specific target market? – A telltale sign of a feature looking for a problem is to target “everyone” or “small business”. Saying everyone needs your product doesn’t mean a trillion dollar opportunity. It just means you don’t understand the problem.
  3. Can you describe the person who will use your product? – How, where and when do they work? What are they doing exactly that causes them ‘pain’? What alternatives do they look for? Can you draw a picture before they use your app and after?
  4. Is the pain measurable? – Any convincing CEO can make you believe that bad UI is as painful as a root canal. But how do you measure it? Extra clicks? Time lost? Money lost due to errors? If you can’t measure the pain you have two problems: 1) you might be wrong and 2) you can’t tell if your solution is an improvement.
  5. Is it verifiable? – Sure, you may find some way to quantify pain but how do you verify with the people who matter, i.e. users? Have you identified ways to double check, like surveys, focus groups or one on one interviews?

So let’s look at an example:

Bad Better
Problem or Feature? We create social networking tools for non-profits We help non-profits engage more volunteers and raise more money from funders, using social networking tools
Clear market segment? Non-profits Geographically-distributed non-profits with less than 10 staff whose target volunteer base is 18-35
Detailed description of user? People who work at non-profits 3 user types: 1) the Volunteer Coordinator & Fundraiser (who regularly communicates with volunteers and funders), 2) volunteers who network with the non-profit staff and other volunteers, 3) funders who don’t want to network but enjoy the profile they receive on the network
Measurable? All non-profits wish they reached more people We measure the # of volunteers needed each year to deliver programs minus turnover to calculate the total annual volunteer hours needed. There is often a deficit. We measure the annual budget deficit that needs to be covered by outside funding. We measure the opportunity cost of programs not delivered due to insufficient funding. If we’re successful, the # of volunteers, funders and programs goes up.
Verifiable? We talked to a local non-profit and they loved our product We have identified a list of 25 non-profits in our target market. Within 30 days we could contact each one, ask them to complete a survey, and give us feedback on some screenshots of our product. If feedback is negative we will try other segments until we find the right one

Of course, having answers to the five questions doesn’t guarantee that you have a painkiller. It just makes it more obvious whether the pain you think you solve is really all that painful. Stated one way, the lack of a social network is no big deal for a non-profit. Stated another way, helping find volunteers and funders is a life-or-death part of how non-profits operate.

The main benefit of this process? Forcing you to spend more time digging into the problem. You may abandon your original problem but you may also find some legitimate pain points that are a lot more interesting to tackle.

Next time I’ll post a few more examples and analyses. Feel free to send me some examples from your startup.

09
Mar

Join a startup! Launching Flow’s Startup Jobs site

It’s a reminder of the great little innovation bubble we live in that we always hear about startups trying to grow while the rest of the business world seems to be shrinking. Sure, startups are affected by the recession but that doesn’t mean firing is a bigger concern than hiring. Just the opposite.

We’ve just launched a new section of our site where we’ll be highlighting jobs at great startups in the Flow Ventures network (our investments, our clients and our friends). We’ll also be promoting entrepreneurs who are looking to find co-founders. If you’re looking for co-founders (no matter where you are), send us a bit about yourself and who you’re looking for. We’ll help get the word out.

Take a look: http://flowventures.standoutjobs.com

by kandyjaxx (Creative Commons)

by kandyjaxx (Creative Commons)

At Flow Ventures, we have the privilege of working with startups from the idea stage to periods of rapid growth. One thing experienced entrepreneurs know is that there isn’t anything more important than building a great team. But it’s not easy. You have to find people with a combination of skill, passion (bordering on fanaticism), and humor. When you’re trying to find co-founders, you need people who understand that your project is a long-term commitment.

We’re launching with postings for a senior C# Web developer, two front-end developers (here and here), a project manager

, and a PHP developer/founder for a file-sharing startup. Stay tuned for more.