A wintry cold snap failed to dampen the festive mood of the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC's Small Business Week has been in effect nationwide, billed as a week of "information, celebration and networking" – one of the highlights a keynote speech in downtown Toronto by BDC's President and Chief Executive Officer, Jean-Rene Halde.
The talk was entitled, "Success Ahead! Map Your Future Growth," but the buoyant heading was tempered by some no-nonsense advice from the BDC chief, primarily the idea that Canadian entrepreneurs need to begin thinking of growth as necessity, not a luxury. In Halde's opinion, businesses need to actively engage in growth planning in order to not fall behind the competition.
YouInc caught up with energetic, forthright Mr. Halde right after his speech for a few follow-up questions.
YI: In your view, growth is not an option.
JRH: I don't think it's an option unless you're quite old. We see too many entrepreneurs that I would define as lifestyle entrepreneurs. It's a nice business, it generates three quarters of a million dollars worth of cash, they can spend six months in Florida, and they don't want to grow the business. It's all about lifestyle. But if you're in your forties and you're not growing, the world will overtake you. You won't be able to retain the right people, because the right people, the young guys, they want to grow, they want to make a difference. The competitors will develop new business models, they'll hire the top talent, and you'll be left behind.
YI: In your speech, you listed many of the advantages that entrepreneurs have here in Canada – our education system, judiciary, banking establishment, and so on. But you also cited successful German companies to illustrate what's missing as well. Can you elaborate?
JRH: We're not bold enough. If you go to Germany and you talk to those firms, they just want to be number one. Now it could be literally a component of an elevator or a part of some other piece of machinery that they produce, but they want to be the number one – they'll do it with partners and distributors – whatever it takes. They have a drive be number one and that's the mindset. We're just not as bold. How many Canadian entrepreneurs really look at the world as their market?
YI: Is it solely boldness or is there also a lack of knowledge about the fact that the opportunities exist and how to go about it?
JRH: There's no doubt that there's a lack of familiarity with that. You know, while we're a trading nation, it's our big companies that are traders – the mining companies and the oil companies. But the smaller companies are not and so it's unfamiliar territory. But that's where you need help, and there is help available. There are wonderful groups of people that can help you, if you just seek the advice. If you make up your mind that you're going to do it, the answer is somewhere. It's in the Young President's Organization, the Entrepreneur's Organization, you can get a business coach or an advisory board. But find a way to get help.
YI: What sort of help does BDC offer to Canadian entrepreneurs?
JRH: Basically we offer what I'd call "smart money." We offer financing – whether that's venture capital; if you're in a start-up mode in a technology business, and we'll go in as equity. Then there's mezzanine financing – which is really for a company that needs equity but doesn't want to give up ownership; mezzanine financing is an equity risk in the form of a loan. And all the way to helping companies finance their next building or piece of equipment.
On top of that, what we want to do is bring knowledge and advice – and so we have a consulting practice that actually helps you to think about your business, about developing your financial acumen, developing a business plan, learning how to export. So it's not just about writing the cheque, but it's providing the advice that goes with the cheque. And quite candidly, at times I think the advice is more valuable than the money.
YI: BDC has published an infographic on your website (see below) entitled, "5 Must-Watch Trends Shaping The Future of Canadian Business." You touched on several important trends in your speech, but if you had to select one trend entrepreneurs should pay attention to, what would it be?
JRH: If there was one area I'd focus on it would be seeing how technology can actually change your business – your value proposition, your business model. I mean, we heard it in the case studies that followed my speech – one of our featured entrepreneurs discussed how the day he put an app on mobile his traffic shot up. Canada is so far behind the US in terms of investing on a per business basis. Every year we under invest. If you want to get a quick win, really spend the time and the effort thinking about how you can change your business model to use technology better.
For more information: www.bdc.ca
This interview has been edited and condensed.