This is the third instalment in our Successful Startups series that delves into what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. (Read the previous instalments here and here.) We’re reaching out to successful startups in our own ecosystem to get their take on some of the most often cited success factors.
This time we spoke with Ron Dizy, president and CEO of ENBALA Power Networks. Established in 2003, this MaRS client has developed a smart grid technology platform to provide flexibility to the power system. ENBALA’s GOFlex platform engages commercial and industrial large-scale electricity users and end-users to provide a more efficient, reliable and sustainable power system.
I was brought into ENBALA Power Networks as CEO about seven years ago. I have a fairly varied background. I am an industrial engineer and my background includes consulting, software, sales and support, starting a company and commercial applications of artificial intelligence (AI). I’m also a partner and a venture capitalist. ENBALA Power Networks supplies real-time demand management services so that we can offer flexibility to operators of an electric grid.
I would characterize it to be in the growth stage. Past evolving.
I have a degree in industrial engineering from the University of Toronto. I did information technology consulting with Accenture, where I worked with a large number of customers on very large projects. From there, I left to join a smaller software company that was made up of about 250 people. It was there that I learned a lot about quarterly revenue pressure and what it actually meant to sell a product. After that, I started my own company to do commercial applications of AI. A few years later, I was invited to join a private venture firm, which gave me a lot of exposure to startups. At the time, I was on about 25 different boards, observed many different styles of CEOs and witnessed different growth rates and strategies.
No, I didn’t have any specific training. I think there was a course on entrepreneurship that I might have taken in university, but no formal training. Actually, I’ve been asked to speak at a number of events and it’s funny, one of the reasons I do it is because I think you learn something from having to put the lessons you think you’ve learned into words. The very act of writing them down makes you reflect on them.
This past year we won a major contract with the Ontario Independent Electricity System Operator to supply frequency regulation service over the next few years. We’ve been after this contract for quite a while now.
Incredible persistence played a large role in achieving this success. We’ve been chasing this for three years. We think we did a good job at presenting our company as a big enough player in the Ontario market. I think joining industry groups also helped. Earning positions of leadership in those industry groups and then earning the right to talk to key influencers and decision-makers on a frequent basis so that they were comfortable with us—that hard work helped our success. A willingness to play the long game has also been helpful.
Winning projects to supply our real-time demand management platform to more vertically integrated utilities.
We asked Ron to rate the importance of the following factors on a scale of one (low) to five (high) based on his own experience with ENBALA Power Networks. Here is his take on a recipe for entrepreneurial success.
|Formal education: It depends a lot on what you’re doing. For example, engineering would differ significantly from social media.|
|Industry experience: Sometimes I think there’s value in coming at something from outside of the industry; however, you also need the industry experience within the company.|
|Professional network: If you don’t have it, you have to build it.|
|Profit orientation: If you choose to bootstrap your company, then I think your profit orientation has to be very high. If you’re going to choose to use outside capital, then profit orientation becomes one of only a few factors that matter to your success.|
|Growth orientation: Again, if you’re going to be bootstrapped, then I think growth orientation is less important. I think growth and profit can be flipsides of the same coin—they’re both valid business strategies and you just have to decide which one you’re more interested in.|
|Export orientation: It depends on your business. If you ranked growth high, then exportability probably has to be high because Canada is not a very big market.|
|Learning orientation: I think intellectual curiosity is crucial.|
|Access to capital: I don’t think it’s crucial, but I think it depends a little bit on the type of business. It’s almost impossible to grow without outside capital, but there are many businesses that can be grown by bootstrapping.|
|Optimism: You have to have optimism, but if it’s not tempered with pragmatism, it can also harm you.|