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The Review

Toronto’s startup culture- a moment of truth


Startup culture has received a lot of attention lately.

As a certain type of culture has pervaded the public’s perception of the global startup community, it gives us the opportunity to see what we can improve on as we move forward not just internationally, but also on a local level.

As Federal Minister Navdeep Bains has said in the Toronto Star, we live in a “transformative period where our diverse… and welcoming society seeds innovation and entrepreneurship.” And as we continue to work towards success in the modern economy, there are several players, including government, which are critical to ensure that such cities as Toronto succeed on the world stage.

Incubators like the DMZ are a major stakeholder that have an integral part to play in the future of the startup community. As this community develops and matures, so must the incubators, accelerators and innovation hubs that help foster their growth. It’s important for the DMZ to continue to set higher standards when accepting startups because resources should be focused on those we know will create social or economic impact. And when accepting those companies, it’s important to develop programs that will not only provide hard skills needed to help them grow and scale into world-class businesses, but also those soft skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur. These skills range from engaging your audience with a compelling pitch to having the empathy to understand your customer. A lot of this has to do with being open to feedback. To rephrase what Rumsfeld once said,  entrepreneurs know what they know, they know what they don’t know, but they don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s where places like the DMZ come in.

It’s also the job of an incubator to bring out the not so glamorous parts of startup life. As the startup community grows, entrepreneurs and incubators should not only share successes, but also failed attempts. Entrepreneurs need to share more than just the cool open bar events. We need to be open about the moments where our emotions run high. We need to share some brutal truths like the fact that many startups don’t see a dollar in revenue until six months to a year into working seven days a week, 16 hours a day. This is what people need to know about the real life of an entrepreneur.

So when we speak to aspiring entrepreneurs, let’s talk about more than just “being your own boss,” because it’s important to show that “being your own boss” is a double-edged sword. When that’s understood, we can create an ecosystem that doesn’t just have a growing number of players, but grows with quality players who know that building something truly innovative takes a lot more than just an idea. Let’s make the term ‘entrepreneur’ one that people strive towards and not just a label used after trademarking a business. And once we do that, we can separate the ones who are doing this for the right reason and the one’s that are performing in “entrepreneurial theatre”.

Currently, we have different types of people with different training and different experiences starting businesses in Toronto. And that’s a great thing. It’s also a point that we kept in mind when creating the DMZ’s advisory council. But as a community, we need to select those startups whose ideas have the best chance at success and whose people realize that there is a great difference between saying you’re an entrepreneur and actually being one. And there is an even greater difference between loving what you do and being obsessed with it.