The Startup Canada Sydney Town Hall at Cape Breton University unfolded very differently from previous Town Halls. We split our group of 100 professors, students, entrepreneurs, and community support reps into 10 tables, and tasked each table to form a mini-company. We then tasked each of our mini-companies to identify a local challenge facing Sydney entrepreneurs, and to develop a viable business case that could resolve the challenge with key deliverables at 30 days, 6 months, and 18 months. Groups were then given the opportunity to pitch their business cases “Dragon-Style” to the Town Hall – 2 minutes max detailing the key challenge, solution, and a schedule to success. The Town Hall then voted on the best business cases, and the winning teams were positioned as local champions with the responsibility to bring their idea and business case forward by working together within the local community.
The winning business case, as voted on by the town hall participants, focused on the creation of an Entrepreneurial Advisory Council within the Sydney entrepreneurial community. The group responsible for this business case identified a lack of practical, experienced-based support for entrepreneurs in Sydney. It was noted that local entrepreneurs have very few opportunities to learn the critical entrepreneurial lessons that often come from being constantly immersed in an entrepreneurial environment – whether that be through an incubator-type setting or simply by being regularly exposed to the activities of other entrepreneurs online, through mentorship, or through shared working spaces.
The solution our winning group envisioned, was to develop and Entrepreneurial Advisory Council comprised of 8-12 of the best local entrepreneurs spanning the full range of prominent local business clusters (from culinary arts to clean energy) that would provide regular advice and on the ground support to new entrepreneurial ventures. The winning solution also introduced competitive elements and financial incentives into its structure, by suggesting that local entrepreneurs would have to compete against each other to gain access to the services and support of the advisory council, and that they might also have to provide a stake in their business between 5-10% (funds which could then be used to re-invest in the Entrepreneurial Advisory Council’s key activities, if the companies proved successful).
30 day deliverables included: the development of focus groups with local entrepreneurs and new firms to validate the usefulness of an entrepreneurial advisory council and to determine which key services it should offer, and; the immediate promotion of the advisory council to local business support groups to direct entrepreneurs to this talented body of experienced entrepreneurs that are willing to work actively with them, and share key knowledge and resources to help make their business a success.
6 month deliverables included the development of: a fair and transparent competitive application processes for specialized services; a basic package of services and support to be delivered non-competitively, and; membership agreements detailing advisor and member responsibilities, codes of conduct, confidentiality agreements, and profit sharing frameworks (only if required).
18 month deliverables included: the formalization of the Advisory Council members; a Cape Breton tour to inform entrepreneurs of the council’s core mandate, planned activities, and to allow entrepreneurs to pitch and apply throughout the region, and; an official launch pilot with the first 10 firms selected for support, which would then be carefully reviewed and evaluated with community input, and from which updates would be made to council’s mandate and activities to ensure alignment with community values.
Overall, the Sydney Town Hall was very passionate about supporting the Entrepreneurial Advisory Council, and the team championing this idea will likely have its hands full over the next 18 months as they work with their local community to deliver on this brilliant vision for an entrepreneurial Sydney.