Kevin Hood: Behind The Scenes with the AC’s First Mentor

Think great ideas sell themselves? Think again!

On any given day, you’re likely to see Kevin Hood, the Accelerator Centre’s first and longest-serving mentor, holding court on the subject of sales and marketing at a corner table in the networking area.

After one just one meeting, many clients say that their time spent with Kevin was a game changer. They also say that learned more from him in one hour than they would have learned after months on their own.

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In light of the AC’s upcoming 10 Year Anniversary, we asked Kevin if he’s seen any shift in the primary needs of clients. His answer: “No.”

“The fundamental problem is that many companies focus on product, but not market. You can have one of the most brilliant ideas in the world — but, if there’s no clear need or demand, who will you sell it to?” he explains.

When you sit down with Kevin, it’s not long before you hear the words “framework,” “processes” and the gold standard “market validation.” His passion for rigorous methodologies and research can be seen in the AC Pathfinder process that he helped to develop.

How did he become the first AC Mentor? It began with a series of well-received sales workshops he helped develop and present at Communitech. One thing led to another and he was asked to bring the workshop at the AC.

After the sessions, Accelerator Centre clients began telling the management team that they needed to sit down, one-on-one, with Kevin. Over time, a few hours a week became a few days a week, eventually evolving into the formalized team of in-house mentors that exists today.

But it’s not just the training tools he’s established that define his business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit. Fresh out of university, he shocked family and friends when he turned down a great marketing job at major beer manufacturer. His reason: He knew he didn’t want to work there before he had a chance to explore what the market had to offer.

Not long after he began a series of roles as assistant to a Member of Parliament, the Minister of Science and Technology, and Minister of the Environment. In these roles he worked with constituents and members of the business community to ensure great government relations.

When he left Parliament Hill, he headed to Toronto where he helped found a sports marketing firm with the goal of creating a second professional hockey league in Canada using retired high profile NHL players. Although the league was ultimately not meant to be, a series of fortunate introductions led him to become an expert in helping businesses identify top performers.

He established his own consulting firm, Market Access Corporation, and in conjunction with the Self-Management Group, he developed a psychometric online personality profile that helped individuals understand their entrepreneurial and sales traits. Seizing the new opportunity that the internet presented in the 90s, he was able to secure software profile licenses with several high profile clients, including a major international career management organization and one of the largest American insurance companies.

Today, in addition to managing his company and his mentorship role, he is also a lecturer in the Masters in Business Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program at the Conrad Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of Waterloo.

What keeps him going? He loves what he does.

Why has he made the table right by the front door his unofficial office? “I sit at that table so that clients will have to see me. They have to walk right by me and be accountable for the marketing and sales goals and commitments they’ve set. And I will stare them down.” he says knowingly with a smile and without apology. “We have to focus on growing great businesses and that means we have to focus on revenue!”.

An AC mentor since 2008, he has logged more than 10,000 hours and assisted over 200 companies. Looking forward to helping many more, he quips, “That’s the thing about mentoring, you get better at it over time.”

The Rundown

Family: Married with two daughters ages 19 and 22

Sales experience: 30+ years

Business hero: His Uncle Owen – a very successful businessman

Person he’d like to have lunch with: Richard Branson

Things most people don’t know:

  • His father is legendary NHL referee Bruce Hood.
  • He once came very close to founding a second professional hockey league.
  • He still knows his way around a pair of hockey skates playing several times a week.

Former AC CEO Tim Jackson to lead prestigious national program SHAD

Tim Jackson

STEAM based summer youth program fosters youth innovation and entrepreneurship

WATERLOO, Ont. – As a technology entrepreneur in the late 1990’s, Tim Jackson was one of the leaders who put Waterloo on the map as it became known as Canada’s Silicon Valley.

More recently, he has been Executive Vice President at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, one of the world’s largest urban innovation hubs. At MaRS, through the Centre for Impact Investing, he encouraged foundations to invest millions of dollars in a novel way to tackle social problems aligned with their charitable objectives.

Now, Tim Jackson has his sights set on making more people in Canada familiar with four letters they may not know: SHAD.
He says it is crucial that exceptional youth are given the support they need to reach their full potential especially if Canada wants to be a leader when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship.

The 2015 Global Innovation Index report ranked Canada 16th in terms of global innovation.
That’s why Jackson is joining SHAD as its new CEO and President starting in July.

“SHAD is like walking into a room and turning on a giant light for the whole country. By transforming these youth through the SHAD program, it makes Canada’s future brighter.”

“Tim is the perfect leader to take us forward from the strong position we currently have,” says David Hay, Chair of SHAD’s Board of Directors.
Hay adds, “Tim’s great passion for entrepreneurship combined with his belief that Canada’s youth are well positioned to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems will ensure that we take SHAD to a new level, making it a household name across Canada.”

SHAD is a unique not for profit organization that serves as an incubator for innovation and entrepreneurship for Canada’s best and brightest students while they are still in high school. Its focus is to empower youth to become change makers and global leaders.

The list of SHAD Fellows include a serial entrepreneur and Dragon on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, a NASA researcher trying to help humans get to Mars, a world leading stem cell researcher, a top NHL executive, an international best-selling author and many other leaders.

“Despite an amazing 35 year track record, SHAD has been one of Canada’s best kept secrets,” Jackson says.

He notes with Canada now focused on youth innovation and entrepreneurship to help fuel the new economy, SHAD is where it all begins.

Top students from around the country apply for coveted positions to take part in SHAD which is hosted at 12 different university campuses. The students are immersed in an intense one month enrichment program in July focused on STEAM subjects: science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

In one of the more unique elements at SHAD, students are presented with a theme or global challenge every summer. They collaborate in small groups using their different skills and expertise to devise an original product or service that addresses this real world, complex issue. In the process, they are taught how to build a business plan, marketing plan and a working prototype under tight deadlines and facing difficult odds.

SHAD Fellows build connections for life and become part of the SHAD network which includes 30 Rhodes Scholars, and leaders in many fields.
“We are putting our top youth at risk if we don’t invest in them with programs such as SHAD,” Jackson says. He adds, “You look at our athletes. We invest in them early and give them a support network so they can be world beaters. We have to do the same for our best and brightest young minds.”

Jackson takes over as President of SHAD at a good time. SHAD has had a record number of applications for the past two years. Barry Bisson helped SHAD become one of Canada’s premier programs fostering youth innovation and entrepreneurship and is retiring after 11 years as President.

“We thank Barry for his amazing commitment to SHAD for more than 30 years,” SHAD Chair David Hay says.
He adds, “Barry became a big believer in SHAD ever since he started the program at the University of New Brunswick in 1985 and saw the impact it had on youth first hand.”

Jackson was one of the senior executives of PixStream, a leading Waterloo technology company in the late 1990’s which helped spur on the careers of many other entrepreneurs in the Waterloo region. Following that, Jackson co-founded a venture capital firm that invested in numerous startup companies. He later served as CEO of the Accelerator Centre, a startup incubator in Waterloo. He has served as a mentor for many individuals and companies because of his understanding of the obstacles, and the failures involved in creating successful ventures. He also spent several years in executive roles with the University of Waterloo.

Clearpath Named 2016 Edison Award Winner

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Clearpath wins Silver at New York Ceremony for OTTO 1500 self-driving vehicle

(Kitchener, ON, Canada – April 26, 2016)  Clearpath, provider of self-driving vehicle technology and services, was named a Silver Winner for their OTTO 1500 self-driving vehicle by the prestigious Edison Awards. The award program celebrates 29 years of honoring the best in innovation and excellence in the development of new products and services. The announcement was made at an annual award gala on April 21st at The Capitale in New York City.

“The OTTO self-driving vehicles leverage new technologies to enable factory operators with a more cost-effective, safe, and efficient method of moving materials in their facilities. We’re thrilled to be named a winner and to see that the Edison Awards recognizes the potential of our OTTO solution,” said Simon Drexler, Director of Industrial Solutions at Clearpath.

The ballot of nominees for the Edison Awards™ was judged by a panel of more than 3,000 leading business executives including past award winners, academics and leaders in the fields of product development, design, engineering, science and medical.

“Our judges recognized the OTTO 1500 self-driving vehicle as a true innovation out of the many products in its category,” said Frank Bonafilia, Executive Director of the Edison Awards.

Being recognized with an Edison Award has become one of the highest accolades a company can receive in the name of innovation and business. The awards are named after Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) whose inventions, new product development methods and innovative achievements literally changed the world, garnered him 1,093 U.S. patents, and made him a household name around the world.

Clearpath To Provide GE Healthcare Repair Center With Self-Driving Vehicles

OTTO at GE Healthcare

A fleet of OTTO self-driving vehicles will automate just-in-time parts delivery within Milwaukee facility

(Kitchener, ON, Canada – April 21, 2016)  Clearpath, the developer of OTTO – a self-driving vehicle designed exclusively for material transport – has been selected to automate just-in-time parts delivery in a GE Healthcare repair facility being expanded near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“The OTTO fleet will optimize GE Healthcare’s just-in-time manufacturing process to help enable repair cells operate at full capacity,” said Matt Rendall, chief executive officer at Clearpath Robotics.

This GE Healthcare facility is a Repair Operations Center (ROC) that repairs medical equipment, tests functionality, recycles retired equipment, manages warranty service programs, and ships qualified high quality parts to field services to maintain a high level of customer fulfillment at locations in the United States and around the world. The fleet of OTTO self-driving vehicles will be used to load and deliver parts to work cells for repair. Once restored, OTTO will dispatch materials to shipping for return to customers.

“Clearpath’s OTTO self-driving vehicle and intelligent technology will help us serve our customers with speed, flexibility and accuracy, and gives us the ability to scale our operations going forward,” said Patricio Espinosa, director of Repair Operations for the Americas at GE Healthcare.

OTTO enables customers to improve throughput, reduce costs, and to stay flexible with the changing needs of their material flow process. The solution provides infrastructure free navigation, obstacle avoidance, human-safe collaboration, and a payload capacity of 3000 lbs.  Customers using OTTO self-driving vehicles typically experience a return on investment in 18-24 months.  For more information about OTTO, visit www.ottomotors.com.

Stanley Cup Winner and Olympic Gold Medalist Theo Fleury partners with startup MyProHero

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By Ellyn Winters-Robinson

What do great hockey players and entrepreneurs have in common?

Good values, hard work, and a determination to be the best you can be, says Stanley Cup winner and Olympic Gold Medalist Theo Fleury.

Fleury spoke to a captive crowd of fans, startup executives and students who gathered at the Accelerator Centre to meet and learn at the hand of an NHL legend.  Fleury’s visit to the AC was coordinated by AC startup MyProHero, a company that offers young and up and coming players the opportunity connect online for virtual coaching delivered by former NHLers.

Fleury was himself starstruck by the incubator’s graduate wall and startup clients. “I’m a huge tech geek myself and here I am standing in Canada’s tech heartland. It is amazing to be among such smart people,” he said.

During his remarks, Fleury reflected on his career in the NHL and his experience winning Gold for Canada the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic games — Canada’s first gold in hockey in 52 years — playing along fellow legends such as Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman. “I have to admit, I looked to my left, looked to my right and couldn’t believe I was there amongst these players. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and something I could never even have dreamed of playing road hockey as a kid in Saskatchewan.”

Now a celebrated author, Theo Fleury brings his motivational coaching and candid outlook on life’s challenges to thousands of players, parents and other members of the hockey community every year.  His best selling autobiography Playing with Fire, documents the star’s struggles with drug and alcohol addictions and survival after childhood trauma.

Fleury will use the MyProHero platform to deliver his motivational coaching to an even wider audience. To learn more about the MyProHero platform and it’s amazing coaching roster including Theo Fleury, six time Stanley Cup winner Bryan Trottier, Hall of Fame inductee Adam Oates and others, check out www.myprohero.com

The AC Turns 10!

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Join us as we celebrate a decade of building incredible businesses

We invite you to celebrate this milestone with us at a special open house event with His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, who was founding patron of the Accelerator Centre when he was president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo.

REGISTER

Over the past ten years the Accelerator Centre has supported more than 200 companies, worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and graduated 51 of Waterloo Region’s most innovative and successful technology companies. It’s a legacy we’re extremely proud of, and we’re just getting started.

Join us as we celebrate 10 years of success and look ahead to theNEXT10!

AC proud to support green initiatives recognized by Sustainable Waterloo

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Waterloo, Ontario, April 14th, 2016 – The David Johnston Research + Technology Park (R+T Park) University of Waterloo and tenants have come together and committed to a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction target through Sustainable Waterloo Region’s (SWR) Regional Carbon Initiative Program (RCI). Using 2014 numbers as our baseline, a 10 year and 40% reduction goal was set by the R+T Park building owners and tenants. Through all the hard work and commitment towards this initiative, the R+T Park and its tenants have been nominated for the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award.

The Accelerator Centre is proud to have had staff members Laura Mason and Emily Jackson involved in making this happen.

The Rookie of the Year award is designed to recognize the most active, committed and ambitious member of the Regional Carbon Initiative. Some criteria for this award included: attending events run by Sustainable Waterloo, sharing information with other members and measuring your progress and reducing GHG emissions.  The R+T Park’s Green Team has exceeded all of these criteria, making them an excellent recipient for the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award.

The park is leading by example. Striving to be both a leader in the community and impactful in future building practices, the R+T Park Green team sets examples by not only raising awareness on the emission of greenhouse gasses but implementing strategic practices that can be implemented in day to day operations.

The R+T Park Green Team is comprised of representatives from the companies, building owners and building management. Companies such as Cora Group, Marsland Centre, DREAM Office REIT, University of Waterloo, AGFA, SAP, Open Text, Stantec, TextNow, Navtech, Accelerator Centre, and more… today 70+ companies and approx. 3,100 knowledge workers call the park home. “As a new tenant of the R+T Park, being a part of a broader Green Team has helped us clarify our own sustainability objectives and aligns with our core values at Stantec.” Explains Gizem Gunal-Akgol, Atmospheric Engineer at Stantec. “We are grateful to be recognized for doing what’s right for the environment.”

The R+T Park is extremely proud to receive this recognition for our efforts and each Green Team member will be sharing this with their colleagues and internal sustainability groups.

TextNow’s prospects soar south of border

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by Terry Pender

Waterloo maker of low-cost smartphones saw revenues almost double in 2015, but Canadian carriers aren’t interested

Derek Ting will be spending more time in San Francisco as his seven-year-old startup prepares for a marketing campaign to push the low-cost provider of smartphones way past $20 million US in annual revenues.

Ting, co-founder and chief executive officer of TextNow, recently opened the San Francisco office for data mining and analytics to drive marketing and sales. The vice-president of growth, director of business intelligence and director of data science will work there.

A few years ago, TextNow employed 30 people in its Waterloo office. Today, it employs 77 people in the David Johnston Research and Technology Park, three in San Francisco and two in Los Angeles.

Revenues in 2014 totalled $11.2 million US. Last year the company earned more than $20 million US.

“We increased our revenue 75 per cent year-over-year,” Ting said. “And we are trying to meet, or beat, that growth rate this year.”

TextNow was founded in 2009. In 2011, it raised its only round of venture capital — $1.5 million led by Silicon Valley’s David Samuel. Today the company has no red ink, and it has not needed any more outside financing. All of the growth since 2011 was organic.

“We are very, very proud of that,” Ting said.

TextNow has an active user base of between six million and seven million people a month in the U.S. A year ago, it was selling about 1,000 smartphones equipped with its software each month. By December, its monthly shipment was 7,000 smartphones.

Almost all of the company’s business is in the U.S. because no carrier in Canada will partner with the low-cost upstart. TextNow can be used in Canada only on Wi-Fi, so Canadians are a minuscule part of the company’s business.

After graduating form the University of Waterloo in 2009 with degrees in computer engineering, Ting and Jon Lerner wrote an app that enabled text messaging and phone calls on the iPod Touch using Wi-Fi. It was downloaded 13 million times from the Apple app store.

TextNow now was founded. It quickly evolved into the world’s first cloud-based smartphone carrier.

It partnered with Sprint in the U.S. and provides smartphones and monthly plans at a tiny fraction the prices of its big competitors. Its most popular smartphone these days is the Moto E that it sells for $5 US. Plans start at $19.99 US per month and there is no contract.

And now it is preparing to use 21{+s}t-century analytics to increase sales.

“We want to be able to take some of the money we have and reinvest it in into marketing, but we want to do it in a smart way,” Ting said. “We don’t want to spray and pray.”

The data scientist working out of San Francisco, along with the director of growth and director of business intelligence, will lead the way on marketing. They will work at the intersection of marketing, business and engineering. The office was located in San Francisco because the skill sets and talent for that work are readily available there.

“There are a lot of consumer companies there that get their growth this way,” Ting said. “We are a consumer company and we need that knowledge to grow.”

The San Francisco team will develop software that crunches data, provides constant feedback and uses predictive analytics to drive marketing.

“Building the capability to measure if things are working or not working is huge for us,” Ting said.

The startup began with the name EnFlick, but changed it to TextNow. It wanted the same name for the company as its flagship product.

It recently expanded to 15,000-square-feet inside 375 Hagey Blvd. There is a customer care centre that receives an average of 3,300 calls a week. There is another room for software developers and user-experience designers. There is cafeteria for catered lunches that has craft beers on tap and snacks. A company gym opened earlier this year, and on the main floor is the customer fulfilment centre.

TextNow has several suppliers of used, and sometimes new smartphones, from the U.S. It has one supplier in China. Most of the devices are less than two months old. After the smartphones are equipped with TextNow’s firmware, new SIM cards are installed. The devices are put in new boxes with the TextNow logo on the cover. New manuals and accessories are packed into the box.

Every work day a UPS truck picks up a palette of devices around 4 p.m. TextNow promises delivery to anywhere in the U.S., including Puerto Rico and Hawaii, in two business days.

Ting walks into a storage room where the shelves are packed with smartphones in new boxes, waiting to be shipped. He takes a box of the shelf and opens it.

“So this is our cheapest phone that we sell right now, the Moto E. This is actually the brand new version. The brand new version is $20, and the refurbished version is $5 US, no contract,” Ting said.

TextNow has several makes and models ready for shipping.

“There is a Galaxy S3. I think this is $40 US on our website,” Ting said. “And you get the brand new version for $50.”

The Galaxy S4 sells for $130 US, the S5 costs $200 US and the high end S6 for $300 U.S.

“We’ve got a lot of great connections,” Ting said. “It is not from one supplier, we have a bunch of suppliers. That is part of our secret sauce, being able to find supply.”

APrivacy provides ubiquitous, invisible security protection

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Fintech startup APrivacy is set to scale its data encryption and tracking technology business from Hong Kong

Established in Canada in 2010, APrivacy is a fintech expert in data security that caters for the financial services industry, with a primary focus on banks. Its security solutions protect confidential information on any devices, digital documents, emails and even messaging and cloud storage. This is through restricting copying, saving, printing, or forwarding documents and emails; or pull back any document or email message at any time, even after being sent or downloaded.

“It is like an invisible security layer on top of existing applications, so you can use whatever application you want and we make it secure with seamless user experience,” Dr Cédric Jeannot, CEO, APrivacy, explained the uniqueness behind the technology.

Fintech Acceleration Programme

After completing the three-month Accenture FinTech Innovation Lab Asia Pacific Programme in 2014, Dr Jeannot, and Michael Basler, COO and CFO, realised the market opportunity and decided to set up in Hong Kong.

“The programme allows us to have a better sense of the city and the lifestyle, and there is a good balance between culture and business. It offers an ideal platform where fintech startups meet the banks and understand the trends and their needs,” Dr Jeannot said.

In September 2015, they set up an office at Smart Space, the co-work space at Cyberport, and another one in downtown Central. To meet its business needs, APrivacy plans to hire up to 20 staff for sales and marketing, customer support, project management and technical deployment by end of 2016.

Massive Market, Sophisticated Customers

Hong Kong has more opportunities for fintech startups than New York, according to Dr Jeannot. “I think local customers are more sophisticated when compared to those in North America. For example, Chinese customers may request the bank staff to use instant messaging apps to communicate with them. If the bank is unable to provide such services, the Chinese customers can easily switch to another bank. Hence, there is an increasing demand for compliance and data centric security solutions,” he explained.

“In terms of market demand of our services, Hong Kong is 10 times larger than the US. And from entrepreneurship point of view, Hong Kong has all the ingredients for startups to flourish – excellent connectivity, strategic location and an increasing number of incubators and accelerators,” he added.

APrivacy was assisted by InvestHK’s Toronto office and the Information and Communications Technology team from the very beginning. Dr Jeannot is very impressed with the efficiency and ease of setting up in Hong Kong. “It is super easy to set up a company in Hong Kong. It is so business-friendly that companies do not need to reinvent the wheel. InvestHK is a one-stop shop for startups and the government services here are very efficient,” he said.

Swift Labs and Miovision team up to make smart city magic

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Miovision – a company with a history of teaming up in the Waterloo Region sandbox – has just announced its most recent strategic partnership: with hardware design and testing startup Swift Labs.

Swift Labs and Miovision are both the sort of hardcore, engineering-focused company that’s becoming the hallmark of Waterloo Region tech, and they’ve joined forces on a mysterious project codenamed “Magic Sensor”. According to McBride, developing the prototype meant Swift Labs “stretched the laws of physics beyond what we thought was possible.”

NDAs are keeping details mum, but the tea leaves suggest a wireless, connected sensor designed specially for the smart city. Miovision is no stranger to smart sensors: the company’s flagship product, Spectrum, tracks vehicle movement in real-time, collecting data that planners use to make roads and cities more efficient.

Swift Labs specializes in wireless hardware, with particular focus on regulatory and compliance testing: whatever the two companies are cooking up, it’ll probably play nicely with others. Swift Labs prides itself on working with the world’s top labs to make sure their clients have full predictability before entering the certification cycle.

“Smart cities are going to be driven by the Internet of Things,” said Miovision CEO Kurtis McBride. “Cities are basically made up of little point-problems. Some of the larger, more well-known companies are coming in with a top-down approach, saying ‘you’ve been a dumb city for a long time, now we’re going to make you a smart city, just pay us oodles of money.’ 

“Our approach is to come in at the point-problem level. Focus on intersections, focus on data-collection, focus on parking. Understand the real problems, and come up with smaller tools to actually solve them, but always with a mind to the bigger picture: how it will all come together to create a smart city. We’ve found an incremental approach is a lot better than one-time, transformational change.”

For Swift Labs, the partnership was most unique for its intimacy.

“Miovision is a big company with a really strong reputation for its engineering talent,” said Swift Labs co-founder and CEO Anthony Middleton. “But the team really trusted us and enabled us to provide services to them. In a way, we were able to augment the teams. Rather than just be stand-off and deliver a service or product in six weeks, we really integrated ourselves and embedded ourselves within their teams to understand their use-cases, customers, and culture. This delivery wasn’t stand alone, we were really enabled by Miovision and I think that’s reflected in the result.”

As Miovision brings the “Magic Sensor” to market, details will start trickling out. For now, McBride and Middleton are basking in the success of a locally-grown partnership bearing fruit.

The biggest surprise that came from these firms collaborating?

“Anthony hitting the date,” said McBride. “It was impossible.”

Photo: Mexico City-12 by Edmund Garman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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