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We need to celebrate our successes more, Tony Lacavera tells aspiring entrepreneurs at U of T

U of T alumnus Tony Lacavera speaks on Thursday as part of startup accelerator the Entrepreneurship Hatchery’s speaker series (photo by Tristan Cannon-Sherlock)

Tony Lacavera has been at the forefront Canadian innovation and entrepreneurship since launching his first startup while still an undergraduate student in computer engineering at the University of Toronto.

Now, the serial entrepreneur and author says he doesn’t like the direction in which the country is heading – and he has some clear ideas of how we can change it and win on the global stage.

“I love Canada – there are so many great things about this country that I’d like to see survive. But I have a fear, and a knowledge, that we’re on a trajectory that’s not going to take us there,” said Lacavera, who founded and was the CEO of Wind Mobile. “We suffer severely from a tall poppy syndrome where we cut down our biggest and best and brightest.”

The critical first step, he said, is to change the Canadian mindset, which he describes as overly humble, modest and risk-averse. To do that, we need to start loudly and proudly celebrate Canadian successes, he added. “We have this egalitarian mindset here in Canada – we don’t like to pick winners. But we don’t have a choice anymore.”

Lacavera addressed a room of aspiring entrepreneurs on Thursday as part of the Entrepreneurship Hatchery’s speaker series. He shared the core arguments of his new book, How We Can Win, which raises the alarm about stagnating Canadian innovation in industries from manufacturing to telecommunications, and calls for a dramatic shift in self-image and ambition – from colony to dominant power.

“We need to make our own Amazon, we need to make our own Apple,” said Lacavera. “We’ve created this incubation and business-creation formula that is world class. It’s critically important that we keep doing what we’re doing today, and supporting what’s going on in accelerators like the Hatchery.”

Lacavera lives that message. A longstanding advocate for the Hatchery, his philanthropy supports the $20,000 grand prize and two $10,000 runner-up prizes awarded at its annual Demo Day event. Demo Day is the culmination of the Hatchery’s Nest accelerator program, where finalists who have been honing their business plans over an intensive four-month period pitch them to a panel of entrepreneurs, investors and mentors.

His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to help this country win? “I look for global ambition,” he said. “You’ve got to be thinking globally about where your business is going to go – and have a plan that keeps that company in Canada.”

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