Friday, June 26, 2009

C-BAM: Mentoring Canadian start-ups, Silicon Valley-style

I’ve written here and elsewhere that a main problem with the start-up communities in different parts of the world (both developed and emerging) isn’t the lack of capital, it is the lack of mentoring. While it may seem counter-intuitive in this age of “credit crisis”, the world is actually flush with capital opportunities if you have the right business plan.

Aye, there’s the rub, coming up with a business plan that investors will feel comfortable with. A lot of the times you come across great ideas, interesting technologies but weak companies and inexperienced (although usually very enthusiastic) management teams.

This is where mentoring comes in. An experienced mentor can help a start-up get its business plan in order and can provide an inexperienced/enthusiastic management team with the sage advice and coaching that will calm a rattled investors’ nerves.

Enter C-BAM!

C-BAM stands for Canada-Bay Area Mentoring (goofy name I know, it was the best I could come up with at the time) and the goal is to provide some Silicon Valley style advice to promising start-ups up in Canada.

The program is exciting to me because it uses technology to bring business mentoring to a whole new level. Although this is not a Cisco event, we used Cisco’s Telepresense (TP) to link up mentors in the Bay Area and start-ups in Canada (in our first instance, in Ottawa.) The start-ups pitched their companies via TP and got real-time feedback from a super group of experienced Canadian Bay Area-based executives and VCs.

(If you think there aren’t a lot of fantastically talented Canadian executives and VCs in the Bay Area, I challenge you to come down here, pick up a rock, throw it and try not to hit one. It can’t be done, I’ve tried.)

We had the first C-BAM last week and I think (hope) we were able to provide some real value to the participating start-ups. We looked at start-ups in the mobile, video conferencing and semiconductor optimization spaces. I have to say the companies were far more sophisticated than I had anticipated, so the discussions happened at a really advanced level.

We still have a few kinks to work out in the overall format but we’re continuing to plan future events, so I’m sure C-BAM will get better in each iteration.

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