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Building success in the tech sector

Monday, October 16, 2017

Looking to build a successful business in the tech sector? Talk to veteran tech entrepreneur Shawn Wilkie.

Currently, the CEO of Robotnik, an IT consultancy company, Shawn Wilkie is the co-founder of Dragon Veterinary and a shareholder of the parent company, OceanLab.

Here are Shawn’s top five tips for finding entrepreneurial success in the tech sector.

Tip 1: You don’t need money. There are plenty of organizations out there who want to help.

Like many young entrepreneurs straight out of college, Shawn was unable to fund his first business idea. “We owned nothing. All we had were university loans, or in my case, community college debt, and no assets whatsoever,” explains Shawn.

After visiting several traditional lenders with no luck, Shawn and his business partner connected with Northern Opportunities for Business Limited (NOBL) in New Glasgow. NOBL helped them get a $25,000 loan, which they used to start Robotnik.

Working with NOBL, Shawn realized there were many government agencies and incubators with the resources and programs to help small businesses grow in Nova Scotia. “If you have a good idea, and competence to pursue and execute your plans, agencies are excited about introducing you to other opportunities that ultimately help you have a greater chance of success.”

Just this year, Shawn received funding from Nova Scotia Busines Inc.’s (NSBI) Export Growth Program and Small Business Development Program for his new tech start-up Dragon Veterinary.

For Wilkie, partnering with government agencies is not just funding, it’s also guidance. “We were going to London for a trade show. The day before the show we realized in true start-up fashion we didn’t have a visa and had no idea about the laws and legislation when it came to a Canadian company doing business in the UK. We called NSBI and within 15 minutes we were on the phone with a development officer who had loads of experience in the UK and could tell us exactly what we needed to know.”

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s the one thing that stifles entrepreneurs more than anything else.

For Shawn, the benefits of doing business in Nova Scotia is not just government assistance or loans, but the supportive community.   

“This province has world-class companies that are absolutely willing to sit down with a young entrepreneur and say, ‘How can I help?’”

As someone who has received guidance from industry mentors, Shawn encourages young entrepreneurs to ask him or others for help. “I’ve been asked by tons of entrepreneurs to help them over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever said no. The biggest problem people face is just not asking for help.”

Tip 3: You don’t need to hire people with the right skillsets. Hire for attitude; aptitude will come.

When Shawn hears about specific skillset shortages, he tells employers to always hire for attitude first. “There are skills required in our industry, like software developments and professional services, that don’t have a broad workforce available because the skillsets are new. We’ve learned over the years to hire for attitude first, because aptitude comes if you have the right attitude.”

For Shawn, co-op programs have been a big help for finding young talent with the right attitude.

“Not only is there funding available, there’s also bright, young, hungry people that want to make a mark in the world.”

Shawn looks forward to the initiatives universities and colleges are taking to better support Nova Scotia’s growing IT industry. NSCC has personally approached Shawn and others from the industry to participate in a panel that helps create specific educational programs and degrees.

Tip 4: Take advantage of Nova Scotia’s Atlantic time zone.

Where else can you connect with a customer in England and California during the same business day? “It blows my mind there’s not more businesses located here just to take advantage of this time zone, which is really unique. It’s another one of these unbelievable opportunities to be in Nova Scotia to start a business.”

Tip 5: You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to have a successful IT start-up.

Shawn sums this up nicely, “Give me a good internet connection and a few smart people, and I can create a world-class company in Nova Scotia.”

The success of Dragon Veterinary is certainly proof of that. A high tech start-up from small-town Nova Scotia is changing the way veterinarians around the world practice medicine.

Want to learn more about NSBI’s programs and services? Connect with a Regional Business Development Advisor in your area.