The Kolo Project Is Building A Startup Community In Saskatchewan, Canada

The Kolo Project,Saskatchewan,startup,startups,startup communities,startup interview There’s been a lot of talk about startup communities these days. Most of it has been fueled by Brad Feld’s latest book in his startup revolution series “Startup Communities”. In the book he outlines what it takes to build  great startup communities like the one found in Boulder Colorado, where Feld is based.

Of course communities across the country are taking heed. Most of the startup community stake holders I know personally were either downloading or buying Feld’s book back in September when it was published. What’s great about Feld’s book and startup communities in general is that they are popping up everywhere.

When most people think about startups and startup communities in Canada we look to Toronto, Ontario, Calgary and even Vancouver. Well the Kolo Project is a startup in itself, that is laying the foundations for a startup community in Saskatchewan.

Taunya Woods-Richardson is just one of the entrepreneurs that’s leading the efforts in Saskatchewan and she refuses to consider herself the founder. After all it’s a community they are building.

We got a chance to talk with Woods-Richardson about the Kolo Project and what’s going on in Saskatchewan. Check out our interview below.

What is The Kolo Project? 

The Kolo Project is a start…to building a kick-ass entrepreneurial eco-system here in Saskatchewan.

 

The Kolo Project is not managed by any one organization. Rather it is driven by entrepreneurs and administered by a group of volunteers representing the full spectrum of stakeholder groups – champions of entrepreneurship and ambassadors of collaboration, connectivity and open communication. Together, we will foster a strong and united, entrepreneurial eco-system through connection, collaboration and communicating as an entrepreneurial community.

Our mandate is to create a series of campaigns – provincial entrepreneurial initiatives – relevant and meaningful to building a strong entrepreneurial eco-system.

 

Our goal is to ensure we ALL win. Together we will make the country (and the world) take notice of Saskatchewan’s kick ass entrepreneurial environment.

 

Who are the entrepreneurial stakeholders?

•             Entrepreneurs: They are the people who take the risks and start the businesses that lead to job creation, GDP, tax dollars and so, so, so much more.

•             Service Providers: They provide the services and education needed by entrepreneurs to build successful sustainable businesses.

•             Government: They design policies and programs that help entrepreneurs for the short and long term.

•             Educational Organizations: They inspire the idea of entrepreneurship in the early stages and assist with providing ongoing education.

•             Consumers: They purchase the goods and services offered by entrepreneurs.

•             Media: They impact public perception. They help to build revenue for entrepreneurs by generating awareness on a large scale of goods and services. They inspire new entrepreneurs by showcasing entrepreneurial success stories.

•             Large Enterprise: They are in large part responsible for much of the rural development in Saskatchewan leading to entrepreneurial opportunities. They procure the services of many local and global entrepreneurs.

•             Financial Organizations: They are instrumental in helping entrepreneurs to commercialize their ideas and feed the eco-system.

Why Kolo?

We need to do this because entrepreneurs are frustrated and are tired of working in isolation. Entrepreneurs of all walks-of-life from the arts, trades, agriculture and aboriginal communities need effective tools to succeed, and right now they have trouble navigating the entrepreneurial landscape.

Through Kolo we will help meet the growth demands in this province and keep our people here through planting the seeds of entrepreneurship and let them know it’s a viable career option; to point people in the right direction for the necessary tools and resources; and to celebrate those who take the journey.

Through Kolo we will ensure all entrepreneurial stakeholders recognize and appreciate their role is in fostering a strong and robust entrepreneurial culture within the province. Together we will ensure a strong and collective entrepreneurial voice drives the development and implementation of new products and services for entrepreneurs.

But our window of opportunity to do this, and do it well, is quickly closing as entrepreneurship as a whole is become larger, with more players and more fragmented and more confusing to than ever to the entrepreneur.

And so, Kolo – an ancient word meaning wheel – is where we start. It’s about turning those discussions of connectivity, collaboration and communication and putting them into action; because like a wheel, we recognize that entrepreneurship can only truly function when all of its stakeholders work together.

In layman’s terms, how does it work?

Kolo is a platform for all stakeholder groups to come together (both online and physically)  and collaborate on just how to build this eco-system. A platform where all perspectives are shared, all voices and frustrations heard, and all ideas can be considered. The impact of Kolo be felt through the Campaigns that it launches. Campaigns simply put are the best the and strongest ideas  that come out of these discussions. Campaigns need to be long-term, accessible province wide, applicable to all entrepreneurial groups (including arts, trades, ag and aboriginal communities) and be relevant and impactful. Everyone is invited to participate in campaign – their involvement is encouraged and necessary. Each campaign will be measured for impact and that impact communicated throughout the community.

Kolo will be rolling out its first Campaign, “Let’s Talk Money” on December 6th, 2012. Let’s Talk Money is a free, full-day money management workshop for entrepreneurs. The workshop will walk them through: understanding their relationship with money; the impact their credit will have on securing money; where to find money and how much it will cost them; and how to determine their capital needs though cash flow forecasting. This specific Campaign addresses 4 of 5 core directives including:

ü  Uniting entrepreneurs

ü  Inclusion of all entrepreneurial groups and industries

ü  Addressing issues essential to their success, and pointing them in the right direction

ü  Providing clarity with respecting to funding sources

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds? 

Unlike most organizations – the face of Kolo is actually entrepreneurs and their stories – not the founder, chair or CEO. In fact any information about the founder – myself ideally would be buried deep J This is important because as soon as Kolo is perceived as being anything less than a community (identified as one champion, one organization taking the lead, or one stakeholder group owning the initiative) the idea of an equalized playing field is compromised and the model can potentially collapse.

Personally, I’ve been working in this space for almost 20 years (an entrepreneur – both a successes and failures –  working for large enterprise trying to sell to small business, founder of an entrepreneurial advocacy group and now, most recently working with CYBF (a service provider) providing young entrepreneurs with access to money and mentorship to build their business. For almost 10 of those years I was extremely angry and frustrated with the system for not supporting entrepreneurs, the one who took all the risks, but got very little in return (including respect). After 10 years of fighting the system, and now working on the other side as a service provider I feel I have a greater perspective and understanding of how the problem can or at least could be approached – and its only by working together vs against each other.

What’s the startup culture like already in Saskatchewan?

There is buzz starting to grow about entrepreneurship here in the province. Ironically, entrepreneurship was what established this province – immigrants coming over from Europe to farm land and make a profit. However, unfortunately there are some specific industries such as the arts, trades and agriculture that aren’t always included under the “entrepreneurial” umbrella. Regardless, Saskatchewan is ripe with opportunity right now… and entrepreneurs are seizing it and making things happen. Across the board, from main street shops and trade based businesses – to app development and technologies and ideas that have the power to transform the world –  there is sheer brilliance brewing here in Saskatchewan. And its only just getting started.

How did you come up with the idea for The Kolo Project? 

I’m certainly not the only one that has had this idea – but having lived in almost every province across the country – I’ve been noticing a consistent pattern to economic development and entrepreneurial eco-systems. That is  as this… provinces tap into revenue streams, gain wealth and start to diversify and grow – the topic of entrepreneurship gets hotter and hotter. Ultimately, more and more people start businesses, which then spurs the development of  more and more products and services to support these people and businesses to a point of extreme confusion, redundancy, ineffectiveness, and frustration for the entrepreneurs. Ultimately, the system becomes too big, too populated and cumbersome to turn things around and build an eco-system that works synergistically and collaboratively vs one that competitive and angry.

Here’s what I LOVE about Saskatchewan right now – and that is this… it’s still early days… we still have an opportunity to do it right (from the start) and we’re one of the last provinces in Canada (arguably North America) that has this opportunity. And the window is closing quickly. So although I can take no credit for thinking of the idea – I can say that Kolo is turning  talk into action and making in happen.

How did you come up with the name? 

It started when I was sketching out the eco-system and looking at who all the stakeholder groups were. When I finished my diagram – a circle of 8 stakeholder groups all connected and feeding the core (the eco-system) a picture of a wheel emerged. I started thinking more about the analogy of a wheel and it dawned on me that we have to work together —  otherwise like a wheel with a broken axil, or a hole in the tire, or a missing bolt) we wobble along, break down or ultimately collapse. So I went on line and looked up wheel and stumbled across the word kolo – an ancient word meaning wheel and rolled with it.  Cool eh?

What problem does The Kolo Project solve?

There are a lot of  challenges / opportunities here in Sask right now…

1.       Numerous studies have been commissioned and white papers written, to assess the entrepreneurial climate and issues, but very little action has been taken.

2.       98% of our business community is made up of entrepreneurs, yet their voice is not reflected in the development of products, services, and incentives.

3.       Despite there being almost 100,000 entrepreneurs in Saskatchewan, the majority of them work independently of one another, alone and in isolation.

4.       92 out of every 1000 people start a business in Saskatchewan. Only 51% of these people will survive their first five years in business, and for the “self-employed” only 20% will survive their first year.

5.       There are currently over 200 organizations in Saskatchewan supporting entrepreneurship; the volume can result in confusion for the entrepreneur and redundancy in programs and services.

6.       There is considerable “cash” available to assist entrepreneurs. However, awareness regarding funding programs and financial literacy among entrepreneurs still remain key issues.

7.       The contribution of each stakeholder, in fostering a strong entrepreneurial eco-system, has not been identified, communicated, or internalized.

8.       The arts, trades and agriculture industries are not perceived as entrepreneurial, and therefore people in these fields do not necessarily have access to the resources and methodologies to make their ventures financially sustainable.

What’s your secret sauce? 

Really – it’s very simple it’s about connective, collaboration, and open and honest communication between all stakeholder groups.

Are you bootstrapped or funded? Really – we’re in good shape. Honestly – it’s the only time I’ve been able to say that. Our operating expenses are so minimal – as Kolo is administered by a group of amazing volunteers (again representation from all stakeholder groups). And we’ve had  truly amazing outpouring of community support – even prior to our launch – that we’ve got our first 6 months of operating costs covered.

What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process? 

Communicating this idea through the written word – really, writing is extremely difficult for me – thankfully, I’ve had some amazing support from people like Mike at Meshy and Steph from the Wilson Centre to help translate this idea on to paper. However outside of technical challenges – the biggest challenge for The Kolo Project was to give it the room and space it needed to become what it needed to. I have an A type personality, and when I looked at launching Kolo last January – I had strategies, execution plans, forecasts, recruitment strategies up the wahoo (not sure how you spell that) I thought I knew exactly when needed to happen and how to roll it out. Fortunately – things did not work out according to my plan – instead by giving Kolo room and some space to breathe – it very organically and serendipitously became what it needed to – without any plan. My lesson… back off, let things breathe – listen, watch and learn – and then take action – and then repeat.

Who are some of your mentors and business role models?

Wow – this is a tough one… and the last question I have yet to answer… there are too many to list. My whole I have been fascinated with biographies – people’s stories, cuz everyone has one – from my neighbour Bernie to  Audrey Hepburn, Picasso, Richard Branson, Kurt Cobain, Barak Obama  – the rich – the poor, the living – the dead, the black – the white, the celebrated – the scored. For many years now… especially after having lived entrepreneurship first hand I have felt that entrepreneurship is as much a journey of personal discovery as it is professional development. Very quickly you learn what you are made of, and asked to step up and confront your worst demons. If you can do this and do it honestly you succeed on so many levels – not just in business. Entrepreneurship is very personal and I find from reading people’s stories you learn from their success and failures – for me all people’s stories – the real and authentic ones that is –  inspire and motivate me to live the best  - most authentic journey I can here. Because much like entrepreneurship – you never arrive – you never get in all figured out—instead it’s about appreciating the ride along the way.

What’s next for The Kolo Project?

Our launch! Kicking off GEW here in Saskatchewan. What it becomes will be up to the community. I could plan the heck out of what’s next for Kolo, but like I mentioned above the challenge for me has been to let Kolo tell us what it needs to become and not vice versa. That’s a tough one for me. Really!!!

 

Ok… so I’m shaping it a tad… Our first campaign to roll out will be a provincial financial literacy and numeracy campaign that will launch on December 6th. We’re collecting new and innovative ideas submitted by the community. Ideas on how they would suggest building a strong entrepreneurial eco-system. These ideas will be reviewed by a selection committee – measured against criteria and then selected based on the impact they will have on entrepreneurship across the province. Kolo plans to roll out 5-6 Campaigns in 2013.

 

In less than 72 hours we’ve had over 26 organizations lend their support, but now we need the community at large to get involved. Through our launch next week we’ll be encouraging people to:

Join the Community - Kolo is looking for entrepreneurs, partners, volunteers, sponsors and more. Stand up and let’s get loud and help make Saskatchewan an even awesome’er place to do business.

Submit an Idea - Do you have an idea that will help other entrepreneurs? Do you want to make a difference? Kolo Campaigns are created from the ideas the community puts forth, so be brave, submit the idea and get ready to make some waves.

Suggestions for Campaigns are submitted by all stakeholder groups –their recommendations on how to take action – and are assessed by a Kolo selection committee (representation from all stakeholder groups). Selected ideas will be rolled out as long-term Campaigns across the province with the support and involvement from all community stakeholders

Be a Volunteer - Do you have a talent that would benefit Kolo? Raise your hand and get involved in building a better environment for entrepreneurs in Saskatchewan.

Become a Partner -  Kolo’s operating expenses are minimal and are covered by services provided in-kind or the $500 annual supporter fee raised through its Community Partners. Salaries are not covered by Kolo as its team is completely volunteer-based. Because the impact of Kolo is felt through its Campaigns, each Campaign will raise its capital requirements through sponsorship dollars.

Linkage:

Tap into the Kolo Project here

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