Editor’s Note: Laura Avery worked at Fidelity Investment for four years after getting her MBA and completing her CFA. From there, she worked for several subsections of the TMX group. Now, she’s Vice President of Sales for her territory, where she provides companies with opportunities to raise capital and educate them on they can use them as a tool for growth.
This year, she was a judge and mentor for the Innovation-Driven Enterprise Track of the McGill Dobson Cup.
This is your first time as a judge, how has that been?
It is exciting but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the day. But it passed by so quickly, I really enjoyed it and I would love to do it again. I think that this is phenomenal and much needed within the community. This makes me question why other universities are not doing something like this or getting involved in a similar way. McGill has something very unique here, and I’m very happy to be a part of it.
So tell us a bit about yourself.
I started off by doing my undergraduate degree in Economics at Concordia University. After I graduated, I was trying to think of a way for me to use my Economics background in a career that I would also enjoy. I realized that economics wasn’t really for me but I tried to assess the aspects of it that I did like. For me, I mainly enjoyed the math and business side. So I found a program at the John Molson School of Business called The Goodman Institute of Investment Management. From there, I got my MBA and also completed my CFA.
After that, I went into the finance world where I worked with Fidelity Investment for four years. It was a great introduction to working in finance with brokers in wealth management and investment planning. After that, I found the TMX group which is more on the business side and I worked with them for about two years. I primarily worked with helping public companies with trading and using various services offered by the TMX group, particularly the Toronto Stock Exchange and the TSX Venture Exchange. After proving myself as a go-getter, I was offered a new opportunity a few months ago as a Vice President of Sales for the territory I was provided. In this role, I provide companies with opportunities to raise capital and educate them on who we are and how they can use us as a tool for growth.
As a judge, how are you looking at competitors at this stage?
During my MBA and CFA, I learned to approach business from a top-down perspective which is very focused on larger businesses and seed funding. A lot of the pitches have been the opposite and focus more on their immediate short-term goals which VCC funds and investors are looking for. As a judge, I’m trying to find the bigger picture and how they are going to project that initial focus into the future. A lot of them are not looking that far ahead and rightfully so because when you start a business you have limited resources. Their primary goal is just to get it off the ground which is interesting from my perspective. In this way, I realized that thinking too far ahead can sometimes be counter-productive, it might be more beneficial to think within 1-5 years of the start-up.
— McGill Dobson Centre (@DobsonCentre) February 18, 2017
What are some trends you have seen so far?
A lot of the trends we have seen so far are very millennial-focused platforms based on social media marketing. The outliers for me were the ones that looked beyond social media like Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat, and had a broader plan for getting their product to fruition which was just a handful. I was trying to find that individual who could go beyond that way of thinking to also consider different age groups and various applications through research. I think the others were very millennial-focused because they are young and are looking inward to find solutions for their current age group. Using that approach and thinking from the perspective of millennials is very narrow focused because millennials will grow up.
Always lead with a story because it’s the best way to sell.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
It is tough for me to give advice because they are doing something I’ve never done. I’ve never had the risk tolerance to go out and start my own business. I really admire entrepreneurs. If you find a problem and are looking for a solution, you’re already a winner. We need that determination and perseverance from entrepreneurs no matter how much they may be knocked down. So just keep going.
For pitches, I would say to put your best foot forward and be honest with yourselves, don’t be nice. The pitch is your first impression so it is important to tell your partner if they are not doing a good job. Really put a lot of effort into practice because your pitch is something that investors will always remember. Take into consideration the slides, image, presentation, and structure. And always lead with a story because it’s the best way to sell.
Finally, what do you look forward to seeing from the competition?
From a company perspective, I would like to see more startups aware of the ability to go public and raise capital from a public platform because it is not limited to large companies. About 35% of TSX Technology and Innovation companies are graduates from our TSX Venture Exchange which is like our incubator or public VC platform.