Working Better Together: 3 Questions for Wallace McCain Institute’s Nancy Mathis

Nancy Mathis

The Wallace McCain Institute at UNB runs programs for high potential entrepreneurs to give them what they need to succeed. Recently announcing the ninth cohort of its Entrepreneurial Leaders program, the WMI works with entrepreneurs who have made it the initial “startup” stage and are ready to accelerate their companies to the next level.

We asked executive director Nancy Mathis three questions:

1) What is the Wallace McCain Institute and what is it achieving?  

The Wallace McCain Institute positions itself as one of many organizations that are part of an integrated ecosystem that is dedicated to catalyzing the entrepreneurial transformation of the Greater Atlantic Area.

The Wallace McCain Institute’s contribution is to build the business judgment of entrepreneurial leaders ‎in Atlantic Canada. That result comes through providing peer group programming for CEOs, second-in-commands and next generation leaders in family businesses. The three peer groups (ELP – Entrepreneurial Leaders Program, 2iC and EChO) allow like-minded business leaders to share challenges and opportunities during monthly retreats. The format promotes trust building and exposure to business leaders from other sectors, regions and stages. This exposure is achieving an important secondary result, namely deep relationships across the Greater Atlantic Area (GAA).

The Wallace McCain Institute has 225 members who have numerous opportunities to connect in meaningful ways with each other both within and outside of their regular retreats.

2) What’s needed to create a greater number of successful entrepreneurs on the East Coast? 

To achieve a greater number of successful entrepreneurs, we need to have a full range of programming from start-up to succession. This exists now but it is weighted towards start-ups, with less support today for mid-stage companies, and even less for mature multigenerational companies.

WMI focuses on entrepreneurs who are past the start-up stage, and we depend on the pipeline of other organizations that support early stage companies. At risk of missing a key player, the organizations on the table are providing start-ups with accelerator programs, incubation and funding.  Beyond this table, there are numerous university and government departments and programs involved in early stage support.  Within cities, this support continues with chambers of commerce and co-working spaces.

Examples ** of organizations supporting early stage entrepreneurs

National More than 1 Atlantic Province NL NB NS PEI
Accelerator and or incubation SHAD,
Propel ICT Genesis Center VENN,
Planet Hatch,
Pond-Deshpande Center
Mash-up Labs
Start-up Zone,
PEI BioAlliance
Funding Futurpreneur,
First Angel Network,
East Valley Ventures,
Pelorus Ventures
NLAN NBIF Innovacorp InnovationPEI
Ecosystem building Start-up Canada Brilliant Labs,
SpringBoard Atlantic,
Place Aux Competences CEED

** This table is meant to illustrate the large number of supportive organizations, and is not meant to be exhaustive.**

Differently than start-up support, the Wallace McCain Institute comes in at the next stage of the company’s growth with their Entrepreneurial Leaders Program (ELP). Through ELP, WMI works with CEOs that generally fit the following profile, although each category below has a very wide range:

  • 5 to 10 years into their business
  • 35 to 45 years old
  • $3 to10M in revenue
  • 10 to 75 employees

The EChO program ‎is our contribution to support mature companies transitioning to the next generation.  In 2016, we will launch Board101, a new program to help CEOs establish their first board of directors or advisors. Outside of WMI activity, TEC, YPO‎, CAFE and the Dalhousie Center for Family Business are examples of other organizations that work with larger more mature companies.

3) How can we work together better in Atlantic Canada? 

Working better together starts with working more together. Collaboration is key. No single organization can answer all the needs of an entrepreneurial business leader. And beyond organizations helping entrepreneurs, senior corporations can help as well. Increasing the connection between large established companies in the region to innovative new companies increases the overall level of innovation in our regional companies. It also provides early stage companies with first adopters, pilot locations and testimonials for their products and services.

Having CEOS from all 4 Atlantic provinces‎ in ELP has helped WMI grow in our awareness and appreciation of other organizations and what they contribute to the entrepreneurs’ life-cycle. As we enter our 10th year, WMI will be more proactive vs reactive in establishing a deeper understanding of the ecosystem.   By having “air traffic control” hubs in the region, we can help entrepreneurial leaders navigate to the program or organization that fulfill their needs as they grow.