Leo Mui, Scott McAuley, and Professor Cynthia Goh meet with Ming Gomez (second from left), infection control nurse at Philippines General Hospital in Manilla, to discuss challenges and opportunities in infection control (photo courtesy Scott McAuley)

Tips for global entrepreneurs: be prepared, tell a good story

"In certain countries Facebook is actually a better method of communicating with some professional contacts than e-mail"

What if you could dramatically reduce the number of healthcare-associated infections around the world? Lunanos, a startup based in the University of Toronto’s Impact Centre, is seeking to do just that.

Earlier this year, Lunanos received a $100,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada to develop IndiClean, a cleaning indicator patch applied to hospital surfaces and equipment that allows facilities to track if they have been cleaned or not.

Lunanos co-founder Scott McAuley and several other Impact Centre entrepreneurs recently returned from the Philippines where they met with officials and toured medical facilities.

McAuley discussed his product with infection control specialists, and met with the head of a project partner hospital just north of Manila to discuss their collaborative field-testing project.

Below, McAuley shares tips for aspiring entrepreneurs that he gleaned from his trip.

Make the right connections
Just as in any situation, a proper introduction can make or break a potential partnership. On this trip, we were accompanied by the Impact Centre’s Professor Cynthia Goh, and others who have deep family and professional ties across the Philippines. They each had experience in fields as diverse as healthcare, government and business. Not only did their support give current and potential partners confidence that we are serious about our project, but in a hilarious twist we discovered several of the people we were meeting with were extended family or friends-of-family connections of Prof. Goh. It was like finding needles in a haystack of 100 million people.

Have eyes and ears on the ground
In order to facilitate communication between our Toronto-based team and the facility in the Philippines during the collaborative project, we hired a local representative to act on our behalf on the ground. Being able to gather recommendations about people from connections we trust has made it easy for us to confidently choose the right person for this important job.

Tell a compelling story
Everyone responds to a good story and you need to be able to tell yours in order to convince potential partners that your project is important and that they should dedicate their resources towards it. What problem are you trying to solve? How will your solution help? What will the project involve? How will each stakeholder benefit? Explaining how the idea for the project developed and how the results will be used helps potential partners understand the whole picture and feel as if they are an integral part of an important project.

Understand your partner’s culture – and preferred form of communication
During our trip we had several opportunities to meet potential international partners and based on previous experiences in India we knew we had to be aware of cultural differences. In Canada, meetings are generally scheduled in advance and e-mail or telephone are the preferred forms of communication. But this isn’t universal.

For example, while in India in 2012 we were only able to arrange one or two meetings over several days while in a particular city. But we found that if your initial contacts like your project, they will spend a lot of time with you, and even introduce you to others who will take time to talk. So in spite of the lack of scheduled meetings we ended up incredibly busy and met with some very exciting people.

While in the Philippines we also discovered that dropping by without an appointment can lead to fruitful meetings.

Finally, email does not hold the same dominance as the preferred form of communication in other parts of the world, so it may take longer than expected for people to respond. You may even consider the need to devise another system for communicating effectively. We noticed, for example, that in certain countries Facebook is actually a better method of communicating with some professional contacts than e-mail.

Be flexible
The reality of international collaborations is that there will always be unforeseen circumstances. How you respond to these curveballs determines the success of your project. It’s always best to create a solid plan but be aware that you may need to improvise. We’re learning that when it comes to international partnerships, the old motto still applies: Be prepared.

(Read more about entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto.)


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