One of my most rewarding experiences has been turning around a non-profit initiative and thereby reviving a 13-year-old provincial business plan competition on behalf of the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Montreal (“JCCM”). For those who don’t know this fantastic organisation, it is the largest of its kind in North America with now over 1,600 members. As the Managing Director of a team of 50 volunteers, we successfully turned a vision into reality and created the Angel Investors Challenge.
It was an uphill battle from the start: the initiative’s pertinence was challenged, we lost our government sponsor (special thanks to our pro-entrepreneurship federal government!), and competing initiatives had appeared. The environment had changed and the initiative necessitated a new direction.
While keeping motivated the team of volunteers that had been recruited, Louis Côté and I sought support from various stakeholders. A North American first was created by successfully negotiating a partnership with Quebec’s leading network of angel investors (Anges Québec. Thanks to François Gilbert, Martin Duchaîne, André Forest, Mike Cegelski, etc. who believed in us). Our team creatively reshaped the initiative’s formula and insured its sustainability by redesigning the financing model to rely solely on self-financing and a few private sponsorships (thanks to Merrill Corporation, CEIM, MDEIE, Ogilvy, RCGT).
This was a captivating adventure and great learning experience for the team of sub-committee Directors (Virginie Cousineau, Caroline Leduc, Salwa Chahine, Elina Betman, Sergio Escobar, Jason Grenier, and Yannick Boris-Latte). We essentially managed a start-up for a year and a half and, in doing so, gained greater leadership experience. We prioritized tasks, delegated, created processes, and managed other volunteers. Through adversity, we learned to inspire volunteers and to keep the team encouraged. Personally, this experience shaped my ambitions to lead an organization. I encourage everyone to get involved with the JCCM to gain hands-on operating experience. As a volunteer, it is extremely rewarding to see the fruits of your efforts (several companies received funding offers as a direct result of the initiative. Check out up and coming Modasuite).
The Angel Investors Challenge was selected yesterday “Activity of the Year – Large Scale Initiative” by the Executive Committee of the JCCM. The Committee of the Angel Investors Challenge was greatly honoured by this award, especially given the elevated number of high quality activities taking place annually at the JCCM (over 80 in the portfolio of the organization). The JCCM is a bit like a great buffet: no matter your taste, there will be many appealing activities taking place simultaneously, and if you are still hungry, you can keep going back for more.
I would like to thank all the volunteers, stakeholders, permanent staff, financial sponsors, and of course, all the participants (over 65 companies from across the province) that helped make this great initiative happen. The Angel Investors Challenge will be back this fall – entrepreneurs, keep an eye open!