Calgary’s Business: What would you say are the key things that separate a successful entrepreneur from those who fail?
Dickinson: I think successful entrepreneurs not only have vision, but the determination to see their vision through. Those who fail often didn’t consider or truly understand the true cost of being an entrepreneur – and I don’t just mean financially, but also personally.
It’s always going to take more time, more money and more effort than you imagine. When some entrepreneurs are confronted by roadblocks and hardships, they throw in the towel. It’s important for people who are in the midst of their entrepreneurial journey to know that successful entrepreneurs failed along the way, too, but they had the tenacity to carry on.
CB: When you look to invest money in new businesses, what are the key things you consider?
Dickinson: The baseline things I consider when investing in a new business are product quality, sales, and product-market fit. For example, my team at District Ventures Capital asks: is the market opportunity large enough to propel the company to success and deliver a good return?
But those are table stakes. Past that – and perhaps the most important quality I look for when investing into a company – is the mindset and personality of the entrepreneur. Does the entrepreneur have the drive and ability to scale the business with our support? Is the entrepreneur a team player who can collaborate with others to build their business? Is the entrepreneur authentic, genuine and honest, so that we can build a partnership based on a foundation of trust? Products and services are important but never as important as the person you’re betting on.
CB: What are the character traits of successful entrepreneurs?
Dickinson: There are several key character traits of successful entrepreneurs. They have an innate sense of timing. They have foresight, and can see what people need, and where the market is heading, before anyone else can. They are persistent. They are tenacious. They’re able to overcome hardship. They have an extraordinary belief in their vision; a deep belief in themselves, and an iron will. Ultimately, they are all in. They are entirely committed to their vision, to their business, and to seeing it through.
CB: What’s your feel for where the Alberta economy is these days and where it’s heading?
Dickinson: I’ve been an Albertan for over 50 years and seen more than my share of recessions. While the economy appears to be stabilizing, it’s still dependent on one sector, and I think that dependence creates a degree of uncertainty that’s detrimental to investment, and ultimately, growth.
There’s no doubt that internal politics that stalls pipeline construction hurts the Alberta economy. It’s truly unfortunate that some continue to push an anti-pipeline agenda that hurts Alberta, and the Canadian economy as a whole. I truly believe all Canadians need to work together to combat climate change – and creating new technology that combats climate change is an important emerging market. But I also believe that Canadians should support Canadian industry, particularly as we continue to import oil and energy from other countries – many of which don’t have the environmental regulations that we impose on our industry. Until all Canadians get behind the Canadian energy sector, I don’t think we will realize the full benefit to our economy.
CB: What’s your take on economic diversification in Alberta? Is it something the province critically needs to do for its future?
Dickinson: The short answer is, yes, economic diversification is critical to Alberta’s economic future. I think this recession reinforced the fact that Albertans cannot continue to bet on one industry. There have been some encouraging signs of economic diversification, and there are many entrepreneurs in the energy space who have successfully pivoted over to other industries.
In order to create an economy that’s not boom and bust, we need to begin building on our expertise in agriculture and health sciences. Canadian-made products are amongst the most trusted food and health products in the world, and I think there’s an opportunity to capitalize on this trust by exporting food and health science products abroad.
Ultimately, the business community and government need to work together to create an environment that is conducive to investment and business growth. This means policy that reduces red tape; invests in infrastructure and creates tax regimes that encourage entrepreneurism and investment.
Alberta has all the ingredients to become a diverse entrepreneurial hub: we have one of the youngest, most educated workforces in the world, we have affordable office space, we have one of the highest concentrations of head offices in the world. The task ahead of us is to turn these ingredients into an ecosystem that scales entrepreneurial businesses.
– Mario Toneguzzi