Celebrating entrepreneurs and dancing on tables in Ottawa

After my whirlwind trip to London, I woke yesterday to a beautiful sunrise in Ottawa, ready to spend the day supporting the launch of the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative (CEI).

After an early morning walk to get my steps in for the Virgin Pulse Global Challenge, I headed into a series of meetings with Canadian Ministers about climate change, new technology, innovation and the power of entrepreneurship.

Richard Branson Canada

We talked about the need for entrepreneurial solutions for renewable power, space travel and how to inspire the next generation of Canadian businesses.

Richard Branson Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative Canada

CEI’s study – which coincides with Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations – is aimed at accelerating support for entrepreneurs and highlighting the changing face of business in Canada. The report identifies that while many people think that the country is a great place to do business, few think they truly can succeed – concerned by access to finance, a fear of failure, and a perceived lack of local role models.

Richard Branson Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative Canada

When I was invited to help launch the report, I suggested that they should consider setting up a loan programme (based on the UK’s StartUp loan programme) to make a practical point about the need for more access to finance.

We already have an investment in Canada’s MaRS Catalyst fund – providing early-stage capital to impact ventures with a social or environmental mission – but I wanted to see if we could bring even more finance into play in the market.

Richard Branson Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative Canada

Ruma Bose, the dynamo behind the CEI, and Michelle Romanow, a serial entrepreneur and a Dragon on Canada’s Dragons Den, took me up on the challenge. In less than six weeks they put together a financing programme to help grow existing businesses – tackling the much-needed ‘follow-on’ finance gap.

Their pilot programme, Amplify, will be aimed at female business builders and look to provide up to C$25,000 of finance to help expand businesses both online and internationally. I was thrilled to meet these inspiring women at Canada 2020, and share stories of how we got started, as well as how we have been able to overcome failure and bounce back.

Richard Branson Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative Canada

Whenever I speak at events, I always try to instil key lessons for aspiring founders in the room. These include: first, find an idea or service that will make people’s lives better; second, find great people to delegate to and effectively put yourself out of a job; and third, make sure you have fun doing it – we spend too much time working not to feel fulfilled.

With my third point in mind, as our talk was ending, I kicked off my shoes and encouraged Michelle to do the same, and soon we were dancing on the table to cheers from the audience.

Richard Branson Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative Canada

It was a spur-of-the-moment move and a light way to end our session, but it had a serious point: too often business people go into autopilot when communicating with their customers and staff. This moment of levity caused a stir in the conference room but also went a long way to creating a connection with the audience and a great morale within the group.

Richard Branson Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative Canada table dancing

By the end of our day promoting the report and Canadian entrepreneurs, we finished with an event at Shopify where we had the whole panel up on stage dancing and smiling. It was music to my ears

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