Entrepreneurial gold medals

In the final week the 2010 Olympics, I witnessed first hand the power of our hockey, curling, freestyle skiing and sliding teams in serious competitive action.

As I watched the teams progress towards gold, I wondered about the profiles and journeys of our medalists. Are there any key learning from their profiles that could be applied to help support our early stage companies?

With the support Shantanu at the RIC Centre, we pulled the profiles of some of our gold medal winners and did some analysis. Whom did we research?

Maelle Ricker (snowboard cross) – a story about attending her first Olympics in Nagano in 1998, missing the Salt Lake games due to injury, having eight knee surgeries, placing fourth in Turin and subsequently finishing up the year on the top of World Cup standings just prior to Vancouver.

Christine Nesbitt (speed skating) – placing a disappointing 14th at Turin in her winter Olympics debut Christine vowed to remember what “losing was all about.” She turned up her training and unlike many athletes decided not to “save” herself for the Olympics – “fighting” and pushing her “mental toughness” to a new level.

Jon Montgomery (skeleton) a flamboyant competitor who was a crowd favourite in Whistler Village as he auctioned off a half pitcher of “golden beer”. Jon was quoted as saying: “I’d give my right eye to be able to represent Canada at something. I don’t really care what it is — tiddlywinks, volleyball. As long as it’s something.”

Alexandre Bilodeau (moguls) – calls his older brother Frederic his inspiration. Alexandre burst onto the World Cup scene as a wide-eyed 18-year-old, capturing FIS rookie-of-the-year honours in 2005-06. He felt “stung” by an 11th-place finish at the Torino Olympics in 2006.

We also analysed the backgrounds of the early silver medalists including Kristina Groves (speed skating), Marianne St-Gelais (speed skating), Mike Robertson (snowboard cross) and Jennifer Heil (moguls). By the middle of the week, the pattern was pretty clear and the Canadian medals were starting to show up on the podium with significant regularity. Curling and hockey were also just around the corner!

The patterns that emerged were very powerful and have a significant parallel for our early stage entrepreneurs. They include:

  1. Determination to win from an early age. Many say that entrepreneurs are born with their desire to build, create and innovate.
  2. Love for their sport. Without passion in your idea, venture or team you will not succeed.
  3. Inspiration from coaches and family. Family and friends, a board of advisers and board of directors are important tools in accelerating venture success.
  4. Disappointments at earlier events and a thirst to prove themselves in Canada. A key trait of any entrepreneur is their resolve to achieve in spite of the odds.

Congratulations to all of our athletes at this year’s Vancouver Olympics. I know that you will be an inspiration to many of our Ontario-based companies who are driving toward the commercialization finish line.