David Noël: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based in this great province. I’m David Noël.
Today’s guest spent the first part of his career earning a position of leadership in banks around the world. He then switched course toward teaching and guiding the next generation of young entrepreneurs in our province as an academic leader. In the interview, we discuss what led him down that path, which lessons he finds most important for young entrepreneurs today, and what the future of entrepreneurship in Manitoba should look like.
I hope you enjoy this episode. If you do, please consider adding a review on iTunes. I would also encourage you to spread the word about this podcast—the website is www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com
Without further ado, here is Stu Hendrickson:
[to Stu] Well, Stu, thank you very much for coming on. It’s great to meet you.
Stu Henrickson: Great. Nice to meet you, David.
David Noël: So could we start by having you telling us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Stu Henrickson: Sure. I’ve spent really about 25 years working in business. And I have an interesting, probably a backwards background to most entrepreneurs. I actually started at the large end. I used to deal with very large companies. The Proctor and Gambles, the General Electrics, the petro-chems of the world. I started my career that way. And then what happened was I moved overseas and I happened to move to Dubai. And that part of the world is very different. It’s based on families, family businesses. So unlike here, over there if you work with, and this is a true story, a four billion dollar construction company, the biggest of the biggest in one sector. And then you might eventually work with that gentleman’s son, who’s running maybe two hundred million dollars consumer product’s company. Completely different sector, different size. Then you’d eventually be working with his son. And you might work on him and his buddy that are working in their basement, putting together an IT software for a company. So now a two-man company with no revenue whatsoever. That happened a lot. And what I’ve found is that I really enjoyed working with smaller businesses. So about halfway through my career I really changed focus. I moved more to family businesses and small businesses and startups. So when I moved back to Canada in 2010, I saw that as an opportunity. There’s no better place in Canada to work with small businesses than in a place like Winnipeg. You know, over 98% of our businesses in Manitoba are small businesses, down to startups. So when I took on this role, one thing that’s terrific here is that you are able to work with the community. You know, the different parts of what we call the ecosystem. The accelerators, the commercializers, the startups space, the maker space. So that really allowed me to take the center and really moved forward in the way that I wanted to.
David Noël: Right. Cool. Let’s circle back to the beginning of your career. You said you jumped right into the big stuff. Was that kind of a typical progression? Sort of business school and then jumping into working with some of the bigger companies out there?
Stu Henrickson: Yeah, typically it is. You know, it’s kind of funny because my career for that first twenty-five years is almost exactly like a normal Asper business student would come out. You go out and work for a large company. Your accounts might be the big accounts, small accounts, medium-sized. But you start off at the junior level. I’ve started off at the junior level like everybody, as the analysts. And then you move up to the associates, then the managers, and then the directors, the VPs, the SVPs. So, if you are looking at my background, it looks almost exactly like most kids out of business school want theirs to be, or at least back in the 80s. Remember back in the 80s, things were different, though. If you say you want to be an entrepreneur, people roll their eyes and say, “I guess he doesn’t know what he wants to do for a living.” Whereas now, it’s actually very much a honorable profession and an opportunity.
David Noël: Right. And then you said you moved to Dubai. What precipitated that?
Stu Henrickson: Well, it was just an opportunity that came up. I was working in Calgary, in the oil and gas sector, working with a very large company as their CFO. One of the companies that we had dealings with were looking at opening up offices overseas. And they just said you know, would you like to make the move? A lot of times your decisions in life are based on family. At at the time my wife and I had one daughter, 15-months old. And my wife didn’t want to work. So we thought, well, that’s try that for two years. And two years turned into ten. So it was great. We actually saw a lot of things, a lot of growth in that part of the world. Like I said, it kinda changed me in that I went from focusing on certain-sized companies to now opportunities. And it’s an amazing thing about when you deal entrepreneurs or at least small businesses. There’s that passion you don’t see with big companies. Imagine a large company. I don’t want to mention any names but a large company with 5,000 employees, or a 1,000 employees. There’s gonna be a handful of people that are 100% passionate; they might be shareholders. But 95 or 98% of the staff are doing it for a paycheck. They may love their jobs, though. But they’re really focused on, okay. I’m gonna work here for a certain amount of years, getting a certain amount of promotions and make that x amount of dollars and one day retire. And nothing’s wrong with that; that’s fantastic. But there’s a lot of people that start losing their drive. And at some point they make the change.
David Noël: Right. Okay, tell me a little bit about here, where you work. We’re at the Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship and the Asper School of Business. What’s the goal of the center?
Stu Henrickson: The goal of the center is really to help students set up their businesses. We kind of have a saying here, “We don’t care if you are trying to set up a lemonade stand, or you’re trying to cure cancer. We are going to help you.” And it’s true, and that’s how I believe that the ecosystem should work. It shouldn’t be for only areas that let’s say, other people decide that they want Canada to be competitive in. Quite frankly, stay with where you have passion. So we encourage students of all types to grow their businesses or startup businesses. And we have a pretty good track record. In our classes we actually, at the beginning of the class, both the MBA and the undergrad, is we have students come in with their ideas. And we actually have small businesses come in with their ideas. And our students help work on creating not only business plans, investment pitches, building the prototype, etc. Right now we have more than a 50% track record. Right now 58% of our student groups and remember, these are students in the regular class, just trying to get a mark, end up starting those companies. So that exceeded expectations. Our goal was 20%. So we are almost at 60%.
David Noël: No kidding. Interesting.
Stu Henrickson: Yeah, that’s great.
David Noël: Do you think… I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs by now, and I think a shared belief, at least among some of them, is that entrepreneurship is not something that can be taught. How do you feel about that?
Stu Henrickson: Great point. I was mentioning earlier… I was in the States earlier this week at a conference I spoke about this. You know, it’s weird because I get asked all the time, “Are entrepreneurs born or are they taught?” And I actually don’t think it’s either one, and am probably the only person that thinks this way. My view is that sometime in your life you just hit that point where you say, “I really want to run my own business.” Some people it’s really early and they grow up their whole life saying I never want to work for anybody. Some people, it’s in their late 40s or 50s, when they just get tired of working for a company or they’re willing to take the risk. A lot of times it depends on your personal situation. You may want to take the risks of starting up your own business. But you look and you see. If you’ve got a wife, you’ve got a husband, you’ve got kids who’s about to go to school, go to college, and you can’t do it. And so you kinda put that on the side. But I found truly, that it happens at different points. Now if you look at the statistics, and I’m a bit of a statistics person, in Canada most entrepreneurs start their first company when they are around 30-years old. The second category after that is when they are about 40-years old. So it’s not everybody’s trying to be an entrepreneur at 16 or 18. At some point people just decide, “You know what? I want to strike it on my own now. I’m ready.” So it’s just that internal passion. They decide, “I’m ready to take the lead.”
David Noël: Would you say that the students here who are starting businesses, are they in that bracket of 30 or 40? Or are they younger generally?
Stu Henrickson: I’m lucky that I have a little bit of both. So the undergrad classes are usually in their late-teens, or you know under 20. At that point, they are not experienced in business; they haven’t had much more than summer jobs working at retail and that sort of thing. Couple of them have already started companies. We had in our class last year, three of the six teens were already in the processes of starting up companies. So it’s already in their head. But I also teach a number of MBA classes. So probably, I am guessing the average age is probably about 30, usually with eight to 10 years experience. So these people have already worked for a corporation. Maybe moved up one, two, three steps. They now have a small staff working for them. Average person might, you know, and have some level of responsibility and accountability. So they are not the junior person but they are not the CEO. Kind of in the middle.
David Noël: Okay. What are some of the success stories from the school here, in terms of the businesses that have been started in the school?
Stu Henrickson: Sure. Probably the first one was a company called Exigence Technologies. We had a MBA class where we always give students the first opportunity to come out with their ideas. And then we supplement it with the ideas from the outside or from our Tech Transfer office. There is an applied biocide that was pitched to our students. Effectively we allow people from the outside to pitch to our students to take the projects going forward. It was invented here by Dr. Song Liu, here at the university of Manitoba. And what it basically does is let’s say you are at a hospital, you can apply this. It’s a washing mechanism. It’s a way of washing. After you apply this biocide, it would kill 99.9999% of bacteria. So if you are in a hospital, imagine you are a nurse or a doctor and you touch a curtain to open it and then you put your hand on the patient. Well, now you’ve now infected that patient. By applying that biocide to the fabrics, it works very well.
Exigence was four MBA students and Dr. Song Liu working together. By the end of the term, they’ve decided to take that idea to international competitions and did very very well. And then two of the four MBA students decided to quit their jobs, very good jobs, one in the aerospace industry, one in the medical industry. And they’ve started up that company. They are working out of Eureka. They have a lab now. They have raised…I don’t wanna have a firm number. But I think they’ve raised, in hard money and grants, 1.4 million dollars in the last couple years. They were named Life Sciences Association of Manitoba’s Early Startup Of The Year last year. Sot that’s kinda been the one that was one of our first starters and that actually has helped us broaden the program. So when I said to you earlier that we had a couple MBA groups and a couple people that would come in and pitch ideas, I just taught the same class two weeks ago to out class. And I had to stop at 14 requests for outside companies come in and pitch ideas. So now the students are getting ideas thrown at them all the time because a lot of times, these entrepreneurs they’ve got great ideas and they know how to put those ideas, they know how to get them started. But they don’t know the business aspects of it. And the great thing about an MBA program is not only do you have business students, usually you have people from undergrad and engineering, and computer science, and sciences, and agriculture, etc. So we get a nice melting pot. This year’s group, we even have a Ph.D. And last year, we had two lawyers in our class. So it’s fantastic when you get a group of a whole bunch of different individuals and they focus on a project, especially when we can link it to industry like that.
David Noël: Okay. What would you say are let’s use the MBA program as an example, someone that’s coming in with a bit of business experience. And perhaps they’re already on their way to starting businesses and they’re taking MBA program as a kind of way to kind of bolstering that and getting themselves ready. What would you say are kind of the most important takeaways for them? Like if you were to give them a one week MBA, what are some of the things that you think these people need the most?
Stu Henrickson: To learn how to collaborate. That’s the key thing. And you’ll learn this when you’ve spent a life in business is that it’s funny because I teach in an Asper school in business. So a lot of the undergrads will come out and they’ll be thinking, “Okay, I’m in accounting. I might work with some people that work in finance or marketing.” And that to them is diversification. When you’re working in the business world, even if you’re in a very defined area like accounting or banking, believe it or not you work with people from all types. I don’t know how many people I’ve worked with that have an engineering background, human ecology background, computer science background, no education at all. And you have to learn to work that way. The MBA program is all about teamwork. So if you’re a very strong marketing person, the last person you want on your team is another marketing person. They’re just gonna be either you’re yes man or they’re gonna be butting heads with you because they think they know more. I always tell people, you want to build your team like a puzzle. So if your first person is David and he has a strong media background, but he can also do something else, well small businesses don’t have the opportunity to hire 20 people. They can hire maybe three or four. So now they kinda use David in two different roles. And the next person may be hired on what the current gaps are. Now they need somebody who’s stronger in this and this. Next person, this and this. And that’s because small businesses have to start that way.
I think the other thing is you need to be able to work with other people. You know, I talk in some of my classes about idea people versus the implementers. And all of my students have heard about this. I surveyed the group at the beginning of class saying, “How many people are idea people? How many are implementers?” An idea person is the guy that walks down the street and is constantly thinking of brand new ways of doing things. Oh, they need one of these. They should invent one of these. The implementers are the people that don’t come up with those ideas but when they hear them they think, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. I can do that.” And they are able to do it. If you have too many idea people on the team, what happens is that great ideas are coming out but nothing gets done. No deadlines are hit. There’s actually no real activity. If you have nothing but implementers on your team, they are ready to roll but they don’t know what to do. They don’t know what the goal is. So having that combination, we try and teach that more than anything else is the value of team. And you don’t do it by lecturing. You actually put people in teams and let them choose themselves. And just like in the real world, some are successful, some fail. But it’s the learning experience. The second time out, you know what you’re looking for a lot more.
David Noël: Are you steering the focus of the school towards kind of a lot of what I would describe as moonshot startups? Or is there also a lot of sort of mom and pop shops, lemonade stands as you put it, coming out of the school?
Stu Henrickson: Yeah, there is both of them. I think everybody loves to talk about like you said, the next moonshot, the next Facebook, the next big one. And that’s absolutely fine. You know, most people are big supporter of those, when they can say, “Wow.” I am a little bit different in that I’ve seen very successful business being in a very plain vanilla industries or areas that are not that attractive. And remember, these moonshot companies, there’s other people involved in that. When you are taking that, when you are trying to hit the home-run, remember: some people have families, some people have employees that also have families. You have investors to worry about. So I think it has to be, I don’t know. Maybe a risk mitigated moonshot. Because those people that just kind of just keep swinging for the fences, if it was just them that one thing. But it’s often a team behind them. So you just want it to be managed a little bit.
David Noël: Yeah. One of the things I’ve found doing these interviews is that some of the most interesting growth companies are actually working in what you might call a very vanilla industry. There’s lots of local companies that are doing really cool things that are kind of flying under the radar.
Stu Henrickson: Yeah, that’s really neat. I am lucky enough to work closely with the Eureka project and you see a lot of that. They’ve right now got 24 companies and they are, Jeff Risner is doing a fantastic job. He’s got a team of mentors and when I go down there I usually meet a couple of these companies. And it’s really interesting what they do. One thing where we’re behind in Manitoba, and again this is just my opinion, I don’t have stats to support it, is what they call entrepreneurism, which is within your company. And that’s what some of the larger companies have started to do. In other words, they’ll have this big 20,000 person employee group. And I was down selling at the Caterpillar headquarters last week. And they are like this. And they also have a couple different groups which they call R&D. But it’s really just people that brainstorm, try and think of good ideas, try and incorporate other teams into it. And they don’t work the normal way. They don’t work the nine to five job. They would work almost like you wound think in Silicon Valley. Coming when you want, throw ideas around, create opportunities. But you have to go one further than just the ideas. You actually have to talk to the individual groups to see if it’s viable. And that I think is great. I haven’t actually seen it too much in Manitoba. We don’t have as many large companies, though. But it’s something that works quite successfully.
David Noël: Right, the idea of kinda of like a mini-startup so that you are not…because the advantage with a startup is that it can move quickly. And so if you have a mini-startup inside of your giant organization, then that mini-startup can explore things that the big organization can’t afford to.
Stu Henrickson: Yeah, exactly. And you know, Google is a really prototype for it. But you also have what people think to be old stodgy companies that do it very effectively. General Electric does it, Nestle does it, Unilever does it. It’s very effective. Otherwise, you are gonna start falling behind.
David Noël: Yeah, interesting. What do you think are the pros and cons of building a business in Manitoba?
Stu Henrickson: There’s a lot of pros. I truly believe that. There’s a great ecosystem. Imagine you’re a student now. You’ve just come out of university. Or maybe you didn’t go to university. You have an idea. Often your first step is to go over to, just say, a space where you can work with other people. And Ramp Up Manitoba has already been built. The guys over there, Chris Johnson, Carrie Stevenson, do a fantastic job. Mostly, volunteers that are there, that’s been built by the entrepreneurs. Assent Works is a prototyping location. That’s Michael Legary. And then you’ve got the accelerators and Eureka project and also the Manitoba Technology Accelerator. Incubator and accelerator. So you’ve go the ecosystem built. You have Futurpreneur that does some funding. The government of Manitoba has done a great job to be able to allow entrepreneurs to get started. The different programs are available. The Small Business Venture Capital tax credit programs at province and Manitoba. The NRC federally has had their IRA program and got commercialization program for businesses. So, if you look province to province, I think we are in strong shape. We get the federal funding that we should get, or sorry. We have access to the grants. And on the provincial side, there’s certainly excellent programs as well.
I think the thing if, if I had any say was, I would change some of the programs to allow them to be broader. Again, governments tend to view, “How do we become the best of the world at something?” And I fully understand that. But the average person doesn’t think that way. They want to run a small business. And my view is to encourage people to go with their passions. If their passion is the lemonade stand, help them out. Allow them to build 55 of them if that’s gonna be profitable and help the economy. If it’s gonna be the next cure for cancer, that’s fantastic too. So I just, I’m a true believer that if you do what make you…where your passion is, you’re gonna be successful no matter whatever you do. Whether it’s art, business, science. It doesn’t matter.
David Noël: Do you think there’s any shortage in investment capital from the…in private investment capital? I mean, not coming from grants and government programs.
Stu Henrickson: Yeah, there is, and most people will admit to that. We’ve a couple of angel investor groups here in the city. I would say between the two of them there’s probably about 60 members and there’s probably about 20 that are active that make, you know, more than one investment. That’s not large, but you know, Winnipeg is not a Calgary where you have overnight millionaires when the oil booms, etc. You don’t have that as much. But there is a strong handful. There is a venture capital fund as we know here in Manitoba. That makes it a little bit more challenging as well. It’s always a challenge. Remember, most of my career…I grew up in Winnipeg, but most of my career was Calgary, Toronto, and overseas. When you work in Toronto and you work with a fund, an investment fund of some sort, you do the annual jump on the plane and you pop into Winnipeg for half a day. Then you go over to Calgary for a day, then Vancouver a day, then Montreal. But you live in Toronto and you’re always thinking of Toronto. If you look at their portfolios, it looks that way. There’ll be the token Manitoba company, there’ll be the token Alberta company, etc. But what’s the vast majority? Certainly more than the population should suggest. It could be Ontario companies. You’ve seen that with a number of entities. Again, I am not gonna start naming them. But it’s natural, right? If you live in a place and you can go down King and Bay to talk to somebody or you can walk to Marken [SP?], which is on the gold train route, you’re gonna get to know the companies better and have more confident in them. It’s natural.
David Noël: I guess that’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation for us here. Do you think that there’s enough startups happening to support venture capital funds in Manitoba?
Stu Henrickson: I think there’s enough to support a smaller venture capital fund. It’s kind of weird. And I worked in investment banking for a good part of my career. When you talk to people, they’ll talk about well, it has to be 50 million dollars. Otherwise, it’s not worthwhile. Yeah, I understand why. Because when you look at the fees and stuff you have salaries to pay, you have overhead to pay. But why not create a fund that’s the right size for Manitoba? So maybe it’s 10, 15, or 20 million. And yes, it’s more challenging to be profitable. That’s where you would want the government to step in and say, “Okay. Rather than asking you to build a 50 million fund which will never get done,” and I hope I’m wrong by the way. But I don’t think it will get done, “Why not, say let’s build one Manitoba-sized. We have to have a certain amount of employees. We need compliance. We need investment measures. We need all that. So let’s find out what the amount is that’s needed.” So just kinda plug in a part of the amount. I don’t think the government should run the fund. I think it’s terrible what’s happened with previous funds. And they shouldn’t be run by government people that don’t have investment background. However, there should be some funding so it’s able to get off the ground.
David Noël: I see. We’ve talked a lot about the kind of the financial ecosystem for businesses. What about sort of other infrastructure, ecosystem elements that contribute to the business environment in Manitoba? What are the pros and cons there?
Stu Henrickson: I think what we’ve seen is Manitoba Technology Accelerator and Eureka project, has done a fantastic job of getting mentors. And I think that’s key. It’s because these are entities that are partially funded, but they don’t want to be charging a lot to their tenants. So they really need to reach out to people like ourselves and say, “Hey look. We need mentors. Maybe can you commit five hours a month? Ten hours a month?” That way these young businesses not only can they get the connections but also, they’re gonna get some guidance. And they’re gonna get somebody to talk to that’s been there, done that. And I see both of those two entities have done a fantastic job at it. I know that they had to… both organizations, Jeff Rizmer and Marshall Rigan, they’ve done a great job. They realized early on that they themselves can’t do it all. They also knew that they couldn’t go out and hire people full-time to do it. So they reached out to the community and they reached out to some very bright people. And those people were there to guide. So that’s what’s been done right. If you say what’s been done wrong, I think the older style where they did try to do it themselves…and I am not saying these two individually. But when it’s done by themselves it was a challenge because a good person can only do so much. And I also think, always asking government for more money, that doesn’t work either. At some point, government is gonna say, “Stand on your own two feet. Go do it for a while.” So, it’s been very smart of them to be able to go out to mentors and be able to try and find other forms of financing.
David Noël: Yeah. Speaking of mentors. Are there any people that you would consider mentors of yours?
Stu Henrickson: That’s a great question. I know that most people like to say this one person. I can’t say it was one or two people. I mean, your career kinda never goes in the line that you expected to. It just happens by opportunities. I’d say over the years that there are many people that had an influence. And I try myself to be mentors for students but I am one of many. I encourage that from people, not to just use one or two mentors. Go out there and get advice from whoever you can. And the people that you are trusting, ask them for more advice. And the ones that where you are not seeing eye-to-eye on, listen to what they say. See if you can learn from it. But go with people that you feel comfortable with. So I can’t say there’s one or two but there’s been dozens.
David Noël: Right. Now this is gonna be my last question. And I’m switching gears just a little bit. But we’re in an academic setting, so I’m sure that you read books. If you could give two or three book recommendations to our listeners, what would those be?
Stu Henrickson: You know, I am gonna answer differently on you again, and I apologize. This is just what I believe in is that I’m less of a book person, although you can see that it’s part of business that you go through a lot of books. One of the things that I found frustrating with a lot of them and including research books because it’s just so backwards looking, which is…I understand why. I truly believe the mentorship programs are the best ways. To me, whenever students come in and say, “I am struggling with something.” Yeah, I might give them either a book, or some guidance or a web link that they can go to. But usually I’ll try and find them somebody in the industry that’s been there, done that and link them up. And just encourage them, “Go have a coffee with this person.” I just did two yesterday exactly like that. The great things is the mentors almost never say no because we are not asking for four hours of their time. You’re just saying, “Look, can I come down to your office and have a coffee?” People love to help youth. They absolutely love it. So that’s the route I would go. I almost never recommend textbooks. Hate to say that, because I’m in a university.
David Noël: No, that’s fair enough. Well, thanks a lot for your time Stu. It’s been a pleasure.
Stu Henrickson: No problem. Thank you.