Last week, on a cold Wednesday evening, the Toronto startup scene was red hot as MaRS hosted a Meet the Entrepreneurs event with three emerging entrepreneurs who are making big waves in cleantech.

Ahmed Badruddin from WatrHub, Michael Helander from OTI Lumionics and Will Rogers from Galt Green Energy sat down with MaRS advisor David Bowden to chat about their ventures and to share some advice for the entrepreneurs in the MaRS Auditorium and across the province.

Each of the panellists highlighted how his company’s technology enables efficient use of natural resources (water, electricity and hydropower), and each was able to share his invaluable experience navigating the early days of running a cleantech startup.

The panellists stressed the importance of hiring good people who believe in the company’s mission, because early-stage investors would often rather invest in a strong team than in a technology or an idea. When it comes to hiring, Michael of OTI Lumionics, a company that creates organic light-emitting diode technology, noted the challenge of timing: it is really tough to find the right person at the right time.

Ahmed shared some wisdom he received from an early WatrHub advisor who told him: “The role of a CEO is not to make the company successful, but only to hire the people who will make the company successful.” WatrHub, which is known as the “Bloomberg of water data,” offers data and analytics to suppliers of water and wastewater treatment technologies, empowering them to make faster and more confident decisions.

When prompted for the advice they wish they’d had when they first started out, all three panellists agreed upon the value of mentorship to a startup. They also agreed that engaging with MaRS Venture Services is a terrific way to link up with an expert advisor and to gain support through the (often painful) process of launching a company.

Will from Galt Green Energy acknowledged the complexity of international sales, as his company is now primarily marketing its low-impact hydropower system in markets such as Sri Lanka and Brazil. Similarly, Michael spent three years refining a value proposition, but once investors were on board, his team was able to rapidly achieve what it had set out to do.

Entrepreneurs naturally spend a lot of time and effort on sales. However, as Ahmed shared, it’s crucial to “reverse that process and start listening. Learn from your clients. Go in with a closed mouth and open ears. You will learn so much about the process and about what it means to be an entrepreneur.”

Want more key advice? Watch the lecture video to learn more.


Aaron Barter

Aaron led the Community Energy Program at the Advanced Energy Centre, which examines systemic barriers to deployment of innovative technologies within local energy systems, and convenes industry to accelerate the deployment of microgrid solutions in Canada. See more…