by Richard McAloney

After doing something for a number of years, you sometimes lose sight of how you got there and why you do it like you do. It’s only when you see or work with others that you reflect on how you developed your operations. It became clear to me as I watched presentations from various other entrepreneurship programs that, at its heart, the structure of our program is unstructured. The unstructured structure of our entrepreneurship training program creates a tailored offering for each company and is the main reason I believe it works for the teams we have the privilege to work with.

We accept people to the program throughout the year and each team must complete our workshop in the summer called Techno. This provides the foundation for building your company and developing your technology. Working on your company in real-time during Techno, the goal is for companies to gain a deeper understanding of the potential for their business and set the goals for moving forward. Of equal importance is further developing the necessary communication skills needed to transform the science talk to talking about your business.

The unstructured structure can be boiled down to the following; we aim to provide the teams what they need, when they need it, because that’s when it’s important. For example, if you don’t need to consider accounting right now, you are less likely to engage. If IP isn’t needed for you, no need to spend much time learning about it. This stems from the fact that we learn the best when applying what we have learned. Our program offers true experiential learning by building your company and applying the theory in real-time.

Some key aspects of the unstructured structure:

  1. Timely Input. Provide teams what they need when they need it because that’s when it’s important.
  2. We operate on an open door policy. Teams are free to approach any of the Impact Centre staff at any time. Accomplishments and challenges arise at any time of the day and we believe it’s important for us to be accessible. It may be casually passing in the hallway, structured meetings, or as needed. Each team has a different preference for interacting and we work this out over time.
  3. Regular interaction is important. We don’t want to micromanage teams but it is imperative to be in tune with what everyone is up to so that when a new opportunity comes up, we can immediately act on it with the relevant teams.
  4. You can’t have expertise in every area so the power of the network should be strong. As opportunities and challenges surface, if we don’t have expertise in the area, we’ll turn to our extended network to pitch in. It is important to get a relatively quick turn around so we strive to maintain an engaged community to handle a wide variety of issues.
  5. Setting realistic milestones with follow-up. The graduate students in our program are able to spend a portion of their time working on their company. We need to set manageable milestones with timelines that cater to their situation. For those that are 100% time on the company it will obviously be more aggressive in planning and more frequent follow up. We do not set time limits on the amount of time teams can spend with us. As long as they are working hard to meet the milestones and progressing, teams stay until they can naturally support themselves outside.
  6. Deliver as promised. An entrepreneur once told me that the biggest frustration they are having with their program is that things are promised but not delivered. This is the basis of trust and it is imperative you do what you say. This isn’t always possible, but if not, you have to communicate this. After all, it’s the ‘family’ that is working together and one unhappy member can make for an awkward dinner.
  7. Targeted workshops based on the word on the street. Bringing the groups together for events or workshops that cater to their needs of the day are great ways to enhance the sense of family. This is a key ‘intangible’ – the ecosystem or family – that is hard to put a metric on but has a massive impact on the environment.

It is the “intangible” sense of family that has always puzzled me in terms of what is the metric. With a metric, you can study it and see how it may be improved or is impacted by change. It was Charles Plant – aka Metrics God – who proposed that essentially what we are doing is removing ambiguity. Fear of the unknown is common. Helping a young startup remove this ambiguity relieves a lot of stress and boosts confidence as they set out to impact the world.

Interested? Learn more about our entrepreneurship programs.

Richard McAloney is the director of technology management and entrepreneurship at the Impact Centre