When life hands you a global pandemic

This year has somehow come and gone, and here we are just a few weeks away from 2021. Crazy, but true.

Throughout the year we’ve heard countless phrases that would very quickly become global cliches (‘unprecedented times’ for 800, please) – but in this video (0:45) they use the phrase “we are lemonade makers” to describe our ability to overcome, persevere, and innovate, even when life hands us something sour. I thought it was fitting, and 2020 was one hell of a lemon, wouldn’t you agree?

So in keeping with that theme, we decided to ask the team here at L-SPARK a couple of questions about the lemons they were handed this year, and how that might just be lemonade for 2021 and the years to come.

After all, if you get caught between a global crisis and a never-ending stream of cliches, the best that you can do is make lemonade.

Here’s what the team had to say:

Leo Lax, Executive Managing Director at L-SPARK

Looking back on the past year, in your opinion, what was the biggest hurdle you or the startups you were working with had to overcome?

The biggest hurdle has been dealing with the massive disruption in all aspects of our business and personal activities. The companies in our community have either faced exceptional downturn since they were in the hospitality or travel market, or exceptional demand and growth since they were in e-commerce or digital presence market.

To overcome these challenges each company had to respond rapidly. Either pivot drastically, or acquire market share aggressively, and risking the fluctuations in the public perception and sentiment.

So the plan or the day for all our companies has been to embrace the change and learn to ride the new wave or pick a new one.

What key learning from 2020 will you be taking with you into 2021?

a) Keep you eyes on your customers, and ask them what they need from you, for them be successful. That provides the best path to growth for you.

b) If you are in a downturn market, be decisive, this is not a time to undertake massive market research to decide where to pivot.

c) Focus on the welfare of your team. They are the backbone of your success.

And lastly, stay safe.

Stef Reid, Director of Marketing at L-SPARK

Looking back on the past year, in your opinion, what was the biggest hurdle you or the startups you were working with had to overcome?

2020 brought with it a ton of changes for me professionally; I was appointed as Director of Marketing with L-SPARK and became a people manager for the first time in my career.

This transition happened right as COVID-19 hit, which meant on-boarding and training our new Community + Events manager remotely, while making sure she was seamlessly integrated into our team. 

While this experience was interesting to say the least, our mighty marketing team of two has never been stronger.. I think navigating tumultuous times really brings people together by forcing them to think collaboratively and creatively to achieve success. As much as this year has been a whirlwind, and I miss the realities of my job that involve networking and connecting with incredible people in person, this time has been an awesome learning experience for me and has made me a stronger marketer overall.

What key learning from 2020 will you be taking with you into 2021?

I’ve said this to the team a few times, but I truly think that this push towards remote has made me rethink traditional marketing practices.

*I’m not referring to flyers in the mail and spammy cold calls, but the personal touch that many traditional marketing tactics bring with them.*

Hear me out. 

After months of virtual events and webinars, we experienced major remote event fatigue with attendance numbers dropping off month over month. So, I asked myself… why? …and, what is the real reason we are hosting these events in the first place?

The answer was simple: to provide value to our entrepreneurs and the greater startup ecosystem.

So, we set out to create an event that connected our founders with other founders, investors, and key community members. No keynote, no presentations, no content, just meaningful connection. Yes this happened virtually, but we wanted to add a personal touch. So, we started off with personalized, 1 to 1 email invites, we then partnered with a local brewery, and we hand delivered beer to each and every person’s door with a hand written note.

The event was our best of the year and it helped us achieve our goal and provide that value back to our entrepreneurs… and to no surprise, people loved the personal, traditional marketing element. 

So, in short, I think going into 2021 and beyond I will remember that little gestures of kindness really resonate and go a long way.

Mike Laginski, Director at L-SPARK

Looking back on the past year, in your opinion, what was the biggest hurdle you or the startups you were working with had to overcome?

I found the key hurdles relatively unchanged for startups.  Effective lead generation, more emphasis on the UI/UX of the product for the online”no touch/low touch” world, acquiring customers, raising funding and finding high quality talent. 

2020 forced some rethinking on the approach to these hurdles, but the hurdles remain fundamentally the same.

What key learning from 2020 will you be taking with you into 2021?

Commerce always finds a way. 2020 has been the perfect demonstration of “adapt or die.” 

Companies that quickly focused on selling online and figuring out new ways to communicate and stay in touch with their employees, suppliers and customers, are coming though this pandemic with a business model that has been accelerated by 5-10 years.

Natasha Tardioli, Community + Events Manager at L-SPARK

Looking back on the past year, in your opinion, what was the biggest hurdle you or the startups you were working with had to overcome?

Virtual Events. Need I say more? As someone who thrives on planning & attending in-person events, this was a really tough year. 

That said, it has been amazing to see the innovation that has happened since March.  Virtual events have made so much progress just in the last few months alone. 

Although the event planner in me knows that nothing can ever replace that in-person experience, I’ve also acknowledged just how much this industry can adapt with a little creativity (and some new event software) to deliver something unique.

As they say: “The Show must Go On!” which leads me to my next answer…

What key learning from 2020 will you be taking with you into 2021?

Adapt. Assess. Adapt again. What I love so much about the team here is that the concept of completely throwing an idea on it’s head and trying something new is never off the table.

I joined the L-SPARK team in February, and something that Pat White said back during my interview was that at L-SPARK no idea was too big or bold to be considered. Even if the idea seemed crazy, the team would be open to hearing it. It’s been a great experience for me to see those words really come to life this year. 

So, here’s to more crazy ideas and less pandemics in 2021!

Patrick White, Managing Director at L-SPARK

Looking back on the past year, in your opinion, what was the biggest hurdle you or the startups you were working with had to overcome?

The biggest hurdle was adapting to change and being able to constantly change to keep up with the rules and guidelines, as they can change on a daily basis. The pandemic left us all changing our routine. We needed to adapt our working life and our personal life and I believe those who excelled took to that change quicker.

What key learning from 2020 will you be taking with you into 2021?

Speed – we saw government, community and people move with great speed to change the way we did things. Digital transformation/adoption will boom and I think in the years to come the winners will be those that effectively and efficiently rolled out that transformation/adoption.

Elza Seregelyi, Director at L-SPARK

Looking back on the past year, in your opinion, what was the biggest hurdle you or the startups you were working with had to overcome?

I suspect COVID is the first thing to come to everyone’s mind – but beyond the terrible health toll, the pandemic manifested itself in many different implications for business operations. I think one of the biggest hurdles for startups was in fact figuring out what those implications actually were and how to adjust. Some found ways to pivot to cater to their customers’ changing needs, while others focused efforts on financial sustainability to “ride out” the anticipated slowdown. I was impressed with just how agile our startups have been, and also the degree to which they remained mindful of the human needs of their staff, at both the personal and team level.

What key learning from 2020 will you be taking with you into 2021?

The events of 2020 have reminded me that where there is a will, there is a way.  We have witnessed not just one, but multiple vaccines being released in a fraction of the expected time – this is historic and truly a global effort. Closer to home, at L-SPARK, we collaborated with 4 corporate partners to develop a new MedTech technology platform to facilitate key services such as remote health monitoring, and put it in the hands of MedTech startups in record time  – without ever being in the same room (or even the same city)!

To me this is a tangible reminder that when faced with an important challenge and common objective, people can accomplish remarkable things.

Jeremy Bernard, Director at L-SPARK

Looking back on the past year, in your opinion, what was the biggest hurdle you or the startups you were working with had to overcome?

The uncertainty caused by COVID caused some delays from customers and investors, causing startups to plan conservatively in terms of sales and cashflow.

What key learning from 2020 will you be taking with you into 2021?

I learned how incredibly responsive and dynamic the technology community can be in times of crisis, adapting quickly to a virtual work model, surviving and even thriving under challenging circumstances. 

Stewart Leckie, Business Development Specialist at L-SPARK

Looking back on the past year, in your opinion, what was the biggest hurdle you or the startups you were working with had to overcome?

My primary interaction over the past month and a half has been with founders/companies considering applying to the Compass North Program. A common trend I am finding has been that these companies have had to pivot the second COVID hit. However, just like any sector new opportunities were born, many of the companies I have spoken to have in fact found new revenue streams they had not considered before and to their surprise had to add to their teams contrary to their original concerns of tightening the company coffers.

What key learning from 2020 will you be taking with you into 2021?

The vastness of the Accelerator/Incubator networks! It has been fun to discover this whole new world with an outpouring of support and a desire to see Startups succeed and thrive, especially during such a challenging time.


Looking forward to finding out what 2021 has in store for L-SPARK!

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