Editor’s Note: Soula Chronopoulos is the president of Ellicom. Before that, she held strategic positions in national and international organizations in addition to founding two companies, one of which PROFIT magazine ranked 54th among the top 200 “Fastest Growing Technology Companies.” She also participated as a McGill Dobson Cup judge in 2019, in the semi-finals of the Health Sciences Track.
In this article, our SET Ambassador Michaela Deneva interviews Soula about her entrepreneurial path and processes.
When did you know you wanted to take an entrepreneurial path?
Both my parents were entrepreneurs – from a young age I saw them building their businesses and going through the rough times. I’d say it’s part of my DNA. Although I didn’t know it at the time – while working in the med education sector, I got tired of listening to directions and embracing red tape. The bureaucracy and the stifling atmosphere pushed me further down into a box until I felt I had something to say. That stirred me to launch my own company. I firmly believed in what I was doing – I had a passion and drive to succeed. Obstacles let you down, but you should look at it as a pathway. Believe in what you’re doing and don’t give up!
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s hardest about it?
The best thing – innovation! Watching customers light up when I show them something they’ve never seen before. The hardest thing – being challenged by everyone in a room full of naysayers. To stay afloat you have got to love that challenge! With that said, overcoming this psychological barrier is not easy. I’d say psychology is one of the biggest hurdles in entrepreneurship, not the finances and not building your product. Opportunities come with hard work – learn how to be your biggest cheerleader! Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart!
What have you taken from your student/ college experience to your startup career?
McGill gave me a great start on the long and exciting path of entrepreneurial research; how to find that “nugget” and come out of the rabbit hole. Researchers are innovators by nature. They are a big driving force – they listen and connect the dots. My mantra is to always look at everything as an opportunity. As a woman in tech I’ve learnt this the hard way – some wonder how I got to be a VP in a men’s industry. Despite the sexism which I’ve encountered, I was lucky to have managers who believed in my ideas. People propelled me. I always try to argue with myself on my ideas – something I’ve learnt from my mom. Her perseverance is very inspirational to me: she came here without speaking French or English, and managed to build a business and a reputation despite it all.
Do you have any systems or axioms for decision-making, learning, and execution?
Do your homework – you have got to be curious. Take the time to do some reading – investigate and learn. Sometimes situations aren’t the way they appear at first – read, read, read! Participate in what people are saying – cut through the marketing and ask questions. Everyone is just as vulnerable as you are – nobody has all the answers. I have done a lot of research in Alzheimer’s, specifically on one little protein which only manifests itself when you’ve incurred an injury. What I’m trying to say with this is that you shouldn’t look for the obvious but rather things that require “digging”.
Where do novice entrepreneurs waste the most time?
Many teams have a great idea with significant potential but what is going to make you unique is your ability to convince someone to invest money in it. One question I usually ask while mentoring at the Dobson Cup is: How big is your audience? Look for ideas that are going to make a difference in a population or an entire market. Speak with passion to convince people to invest – to me a good pitch is 50% the product and 50% the person. Investors choose to invest their money in the person who’s pitching them – it is up to you to convince them to believe in you.
As the President of Ellicom, what problem are you trying to solve? What are you most excited about at work right now?
What excites me the most is finding a more effective way to deliver a product that helps consumers without them even realizing that I’ve been involved. Of course, there’s the 70:20:10 model for learning and development which corresponds to a proportional breakdown of how people learn effectively, but at Ellicom, we focus on the behavior of the learner. I try to put myself in the learner’s shoes. My goal is to “insert”
myself in the places where they don’t even realize they’re learning and help them learn the same things as they would on a piece of paper. We strive to create an incredible experience – through emerging technologies, we aim to make learners effective and productive while having fun at the same time.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
Never follow! It’s a common concern who your competition is. I personally prefer not to know. If you look at history and the market, you need vision and guts to know where you’re going. Question everything and always try to innovate and come up with new ways. Fearlessness is key – don’t be afraid to fail. Try everything, test it all – one of the 10 things that work may include the one that would be the big hit! Never let your entrepreneurial instinct subside; entrepreneurs at heart make the world go around, not the people that follow.