The ups and downs of getting going in business
Marilyn Sinclair is president & CEO of TechAlliance, the regional innovation
centre for London and Southwestern Ontario
London’s future in failure. Helping
early-stage companies fail as well
and as fast as possible is all about
preserving the entrepreneur.
RemembeR the NewtoN?
Apple’s original personal digital assistant had a fiveyear
development phase and a five-year market run,
marked by $100 million in investment, perpetual scope
creep and persistent fears it would cannibalize other
Ultimately, it was a failure that Steve Jobs put a halt to
when he returned to the company in 1997.
Fast forward 10 years and enter the iPhone, which
used as its foundation the same technology as the
Newton, but with multi-touch technology and other
transformative features that saw 6.1 million units sold
in its first generation.
Apple has disrupted industries and transformed digital
culture around the world, a success made possible
by its many failures.
Yet the truth is, their story isn’t that unusual.
Failures in business, in particular among startup
tech companies, come in many forms and happen often.
From a miss on a single feature design,
to misses on revenue projections, to
completely unviable products.
This is a good thing. So much
so, that we need to be more
focused on helping early-stage
companies fail as well and as
fast as possible. That is, we
need to preserve the entrepreneur.
passion and maintain
their inherent drive
and propensity for
pivot quickly from
the ideas that just
Consider that the
technology sector is
growing twice as fast
the global economy.
Projections by global
10 | businesslondon.ca | MAy 2017
research leader, Startup Genome, indicate the sector has
been outpacing most other economic sectors for a sustained
period and that this growth will continue at its
current rate and perhaps even increase. The information
and communications technology sector is about 4.5 per
cent of the roughly $100-trillion global GDP, compared
to only two per cent in 1992. It’s predicted to increase to
eight per cent within the next 15 years.
The long-vaunted “fail fast” philosophy, whether you
subscribe to it or not, can help communities of London’s
size win big in the global knowledge economy.
To have a hope of consideration by future investors,
clients or consumers, emerging ideas need support — to
succeed or fail. That includes introductions to experts
who can support them with the many forks in the road,
with shoring up their business cases, with understanding
their target market, with sharing the very real rollercoaster
that is startup life.
So how do we make it work as a community and as
First, robust market validation programs, facilitated
in a relevant proving ground, with potential customers,
researchers or other industry experts, are a foremost
Second, structured mentorship programs that establish
intentional expert relationships between entrepreneurs
and seasoned industry advisers have proven time
and again to be invaluable.
Finally, the creation of a regional culture that
embraces strategic failure as a critical element of its
startup ecosystem has the ability to form a veritable
safety net for risk takers.
This is how we will identify the ideas that have big
growth potential and the ones that will never be investment
ready. And it’s time we focus even more energy
on these critical supports.
With the newly minted Canadian Centre for Product
Validation at Fanshawe College, Western Research Park
and TechAlliance’s own MVP (minimum viable product)
lab, there’s no reason why London can’t create a
best-in-class support ecosystem for startups — big or
small, successes or spectacular fails.
As our community evolves from a manufacturing to
a knowledge economy, born-in-London ideas and their
ability to grow, fail fast or pivot to something better has
to be our primary priority.
In this post-industrial world, our economic future is
going to depend on it.