TAYLOR: A little guidance never hurts
It could be possible that there is an entrepreneur somewhere who has never accepted business advice and still became successful, but it is doubtful.
If there is someone like that, it is also likely that he or she accomplished their goal the hard way. That is because most businesspeople have found that having a mentor who provides sage counsel is extremely useful in avoiding pitfalls.
That is where Permjot Valia comes in.
Valia, an angel investor who has provided funds for technology startup companies around the world, is a director with British fund manager Flight & Partners Ltd. and is chief executive officer of a company called Help with Sales, based in London.
Valia’s investments in Atlantic Canada include two Halifax companies: Mindful Scientific, a brain injury diagnosis company; and BlueLight Analytics, which helps dentists monitor the energy needed to cure resin.
He has also invested in adfinitum, a global advertising database business in St. John’s, N.L.
Earlier this year, Valia also encouraged British company Wooshii, which links animators and video makers with companies in need of video production, to establish its North American base in Halifax.
In a recent conversation in Halifax, Valia told me he was first invited to come to the Maritimes a few years ago to speak at a conference. Shortly after that, he started working with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and one thing led to another.
Recognizing there was a need for expert advice for startup technology companies in particular, an event dubbed MentorCamp was developed.
“The goal is to do three things,” Valia says. “First thing is to validate the ideas that the entrepreneurs are working on, the second idea is to connect them to both talent and money around the world, (and) the third objective, which is particularly pertinent for Atlantic Canada, is to give them global connectivity.”
Valia says global exposure is essential for technology companies from this region because almost all of their sales come from outside Atlantic Canada.
“It is vital that we give startups access to these global connections, these global markets. This is what MentorCamp provides them.”
The first MentorCamp was held in Halifax last year, and based on that success, he says, the sponsors decided it needed to be expanded to include other provinces.
The sponsors were ACOA, Business Development Bank of Canada, Deloitte, Innovacorp, Innovation PEI, McInnes Cooper, National Research Council Canada and Propel ICT.
MentorCamp Inc., Valia’s registered company in Nova Scotia, completed MentorCamp 2012 events in Moncton and Charlottetown last week and the process will culminate with the MentorCamp finals in Halifax in September.
There will be 30 to 40 volunteer mentors participating in the program, 16 of whom are coming from outside of the region.
None of the participating companies pay to be part of MentorCamp, although there is a screening process, Valia says.
There will also be international companies participating in MentorCamp this year, he says. If those companies are successful, they will receive some investment, but only if they agree to establish Atlantic Canadian operations.
Two of the participating companies will receive a minimum of $25,000 each “if they are investable.”
“In some cases, they may not want the investment.”
The plan is to immediately follow up the mentoring event and have four or five of the strongest companies make pitches to investors.
Valia says he has developed a code of conduct for companies and mentors “to make it clean, transparent, (so) everybody knows what is going on.”
The code would require investors to not take a percentage from deals they negotiate, no special side deals would be allowed and technology startups would be required to not encourage bidding wars among eager investors.
There is still time for technology startups interested in participating in the MentorCamp event in Halifax. They can apply at DigitalNovaScotia.com.