Made At McGill: Emilie Boutros interview – CFO and General Partner at TandemLaunch

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This episode features Emilie Boutros – who’s currently a general partner and CFO at TandemLaunch, which is a startup foundry and seed fund based in Montreal. They work with driven entrepreneurs to turn research from the world’s best universities into exceptional technology companies. Last week, they raised another $30M to support the creation of 20 new Canadian technology startups.

Emilie is also a board member of several AI-based companies, including Contxtful, Sportlogiq, fluent.ai, and Deeplite. She graduated from McGill’s math program in 1999, before going on to complete the chartered accounting program at HEC, and performing in several accounting / finance roles before going on to become employee number 4 at TandemLaunch. If you’re interested in building a company with them, visit tandemlaunch.com.

Topics discussed: management lessons she’s learned over the course of her career, how to work with a remote team, what the day-to-day of a board member is like, and how entrepreneurs can deal with their board better. We also talk about the secret sauce of TandemLaunch and their approach when building deep technology startups.


Transcript:

Mo: Okay. Tell us about the work that you did at KPMG when you were a senior accountant there. And then when you shifted to becoming an account policies manager, what was that transition like? What was it like going from a specialist to a manager?

Emilie: Yeah. So I started my career as a specialist and what you call an individual contributor. I think that I’m still an individual contributor today in the sense that I’m somebody that whether I have 50 people reporting to me or nobody reporting to me, I believe I can still bring value to a company at a strategic and at a tactical level.

Emilie: That being said, at the beginning of my career, my role was much more as a specialist. And then very early on, I had to learn how to manage people and grow a team. I really enjoy managing people, and I’ve been doing it since like forever. I see my employees as partners, and that was basically the difference between my role at CGI versus my role at KPMG is that I had employees that I had to work with. And they learn a lot from me, I learned from them.

Emilie: And as I said, I have a very entrepreneurial way of managing my employees in the sense that I give them a lot of freedom and manage them through objectives. I’m not very good at the weekly meetings and the continuous reporting, but they know that they can email me at any time during the day or at night and I’m always going to be available to answer their questions. And that’s really something that I learned when I was at CGI was that I was starting to manage small teams, and their success was connected to my success.

Emilie: Another skill set that I think is very important in a career that you have to learn when you go from a specialist to a manager is the ability to communicate differently depending at what level of the organization you speak to. So if you talk to an analyst or if you talk to a CEO, or to a board member, or to a VP, if you talk to a marketing manager or if you talk to a financial analyst, you’re going to use different words. You’re going to change the level of detail when you’re going to explain what you’re trying to accomplish. And that capacity to adapt the communication, to adapt it based on who you talk to, I believe will be key to your ability to grow in an organization.

Mo: You mentioned that your employees felt like they could always ask you any questions, how did you create that sense that they could do that?

Emilie: So I’m fully transparent myself, so they feel that they can also connect with me, they can ask me a lot of questions. I’m also somebody who values entrepreneurial initiatives. So I give them ownership. They can start their own projects. And I understand that there are going to be mistakes, and nobody gets fired because they make any mistakes. We learn together. So we sit down, we review what went well, what didn’t go well. And at the end of the day, I tell them, “Okay. Well, next time, this is what we’re going to do.” I’m not going to tell them, “Okay. You’re not going to have that responsibility anymore,” or, “I’m going to put you in a different corner.”

Emilie: I also tell them in that perspective of having a very transparent and open culture with them, that when they work with me there’s no job description. So basically, I mean, we’re going to grow the position around their skillset and their strengths. So however they want to build the position, I’m going to back them up. And the more they can grow, the more senior the position will be. And that’s how we’ll build a stronger organization.

Mo: Okay. Do you remember any lessons that you had to learn the hard way, any stories? I don’t know. Maybe you messed something up and then you had to fix it, or you learned a management lesson the hard way.

Emilie: Yeah. So basically with my employees in general, like as I said, I’ve managed many employees since the beginning of my career, knock on wood, I’ve never had like horror stories. I’ve had people telling me through the ups and downs of life, like they’ve had some problems and I had to listen to them, but I really enjoy psychology actually. So I was very happy to help them and to make a difference in the struggles or the challenges that they would face in their personal or their professional life.

Emilie: My lessons were more above my head. So when I worked for big organizations like CGI, there’s a lot of politics. And I’ve lived it the hard way. So I was very naïve. Both of my parents; my dad is an architect, my mom worked in a museum, I was not aware of that culture that can happen in big companies, and I lived it like big times. There’s a lot of talking behind each other’s back, and they’re twisting every word that I say and switching it against me. And it was very hurtful to tell the truth.

Emilie: And at the time I was very lucky. At CGI, I started as a specialist, and then the person that was the manager quit, so they gave me the managing position. And then the VP had a sick leave, so they replace him. So basically I was reporting to the SVP corporate controller, and that man is today the CFO of CGI. So I really had a lot of exposure, and I learned a lot from him.

Emilie: And when I quit because I was completely disillusioned by the environment, he told me, “Emilie, you don’t understand the game.” And I remember that my reaction was a little bit emotional. I’m a little bit dramatic sometimes. And I told him, “But what game are you talking about?” I didn’t even understand that there was a game. So at that point, that’s when I tell you that I learned it the hard way. And when I got older, I became much more aware of everything else that can happen besides execution, strategy and decisions making in an organization.

Mo: Okay. And shifting gears a little bit, then you went on at some point to become CFO at Averna Technologies.

Emilie: Yes.

Mo: My question is, how did you come across this opportunity, and what was it like to work for a smaller company after working for what was fairly large corporations?

Emilie: Yeah. It’s a good story, because when I worked at CGI I was actually leading the audit of the company, and I was working with a partner called Robert Nardi from Deloitte. He was the partner in charge of the technology department, and he was also the auditor of Averna. And when he saw my work at CGI, he told me that, “Listen. I’ll introduce you to Pascal Pilon,” who was the CEO of Averna at the time, “because he’s looking for somebody to manage the finance department.”

Emilie: And when I met Pascal, Pascal was an entrepreneur. He had founded the company. He was the CEO of the business. And I always say, “Listen. I love entrepreneurs because they hire me, and I could take risks.” I was 30-years-old at the time. And we really connected at a professional and on a personal basis too. He’s still my friend today. And he took a big risk by hiring me. But he did it, and he put the whole finance team around me. So there were 30 people at the time. It was a great experience for me. And that’s when I realized that I really love building businesses and working with entrepreneurs. That’s at that time.

Emilie: The difference between a large organization and a smaller company is you have much more impact as an executive in a smaller company than I could have in a big company. And that level of impact really motivated me. And the level of ownership that I could get also, it made me perform way better than it could have been in a big organization. And that’s when I realized I really love startups.

Mo: And at Averna, I think some of your teammates were in other parts of the world, like the US, Mexico, and Europe.

Emilie: Yeah.

Mo: To that end, I wanted to ask you, what have you learned about managing a remote team?

Emilie: Yeah. So I have a lot of good stories involved in managing those teams, too, because we started those businesses from scratch. So we were actually looking for an office, negotiating a lease, hiring people remote. So I think it’s easier today to manage teams that are remote than it used to. There are a lot of a Chatbox and Skype. The key is communication. So we would have weekly meetings with the teams. And I would go over there in person twice per year. I would say that was how often I would visit those teams.

Emilie: We also had the experience at Averna of what we would decentralize and what we would centralize. And that was one of my key learnings is, where do I put the cash, how do I run payroll? How do you manage the inventory? Do you give it to the person onsite, or do you do it in Montreal? And those learnings were key in order to grow the business and replicate the business model in different countries.

Mo: After that you went on to your current job, which is general partner and CFO at TandemLaunch. Can you explain what TandemLaunch does and who it’s for?

Emilie: Yeah. TandemLaunch is a startup foundry. So what we do is we turn research from the world’s best universities into technology companies. We’re in contact with more than 600 universities around the world, they submit their projects, and when we turn around we discussed investment opportunities with our business partners. So the big companies of the technology industries such as Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, BMW, Intel, GM, they influence our investment decision.

Emilie: When we find a technology that is promising, we assemble a team around it; a technology lead and a business lead. And I always joke and say that TandemLaunch is like a Tinder for co-founders. So basically, people that have a desire to build a business with other co-founders, it’s very important that they understand that it’s a team effort, they can come to TandemLaunch and meet somebody with a different background, find an outstanding technology, and spend with us between 12 and 18 months.

Emilie: And during that time, we’re going to be very involved at TandemLaunch core team, we’re 20 people that are part of the core team, and we’re going to meet them on a regular basis to help them start their businesses. So we’re going to help them recruit one or two other engineers, get a little bit of traction, develop a demo. So we’re very involved operationally during that first period. And at the end of the program, they’re going to have to recruit a CEO, so CEO entrepreneur. That person will invest in the business, will become a co-founder, and will lead the next round of financing.

Emilie: When the CEO is on board, the company will raise an external round of financing, and we have several VCs, and angels, and strategic investors have been part of that graduation round would we say. At that time, I’m going to incorporate the company, transfer the employees, transfer the IP, and we just build a new business in Montreal, or in Canada, or in the States, a new technology company, and TandemLaunch just has a seat on the board.

Emilie: And we’ve been doing this multiple times, more than 25 times actually, that exercise; and we’re financed through a fund. So we can invest up to $3 million in each of the businesses that we build, especially with the new fund that we closed, that actually we announced this morning, which is 30 million. But the first fund of TandemLaunch was in 2013. It was 8 million. And we had a second one, a successive fund in 2016, and it was 15 million. So we doubled. And we just announced this morning that there was going to be another 30 million that was going to be invested in the next generation of founders. And we’re planning to build another 20 technology companies with that money.

Mo: That’s amazing. Congratulations! You’ve doubled two times now.

Emilie: Two times. And the value. I think what’s important to understand is those companies are growing years after years. And today, their value together at more than 500 million, and they raise more than 150 million in third-party financings. So there is a big success associated with companies that are created to the TandemLaunch model.

Mo: Yeah. Definitely. Let’s say you find research at McGill University. Do you then take the researchers behind that project and bring them in as CTOs, or do you find-

Emilie: It depends.

Mo: Okay.

Emilie: So sometimes the student is going to become the technology lead. Today LinkedIn is very powerful, and we have a team of technical recruiters and technical founders… actually, well, technical recruiters and PhDs, that are actively searching for people that are looking to build a technology company but not necessarily are not the inventor. So we have people that are the students, and we have people that are not the students.

Mo: So you’re actually better than Tinder for startups, because you’re handpicking them based on whatever traits you’re looking for that would make the best company.

Emilie: Exactly. And we believe this is actually one of the ingredients of the success, it’s because we put the best people on the tech side with the best people on the business side. There are tests that are being run to be part of TandemLaunch. We put the best technologies. I say we’re in contact with 600 universities, but it’s from Stanford, it’s from MIT, it’s from McGill, it’s from Europe, it’s from around the world. So we can match different IP from different universities so we have a very strong portfolio of patents. So we believe we have protectable IP; great team. And at the end, the CEO that comes in already have a success. So he has built a business in the past. He has sold the business.

Emilie: So by putting like the management another team player that actually has been successful in the past, I mean, I think this is how we have been able to beat a lot of the early-stage statistics in Canada with that business model.

Mo: Yeah. It’s almost like you’ve derisked everything by doing a full vertical integration of what goes into building a great company.

Emilie: That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. If you want to beat the statistics, you have to do something different than organic, like the way that we build organic startups. So we believe by derisking every single item, we’re going to have a portfolio that will perform better than if all those startups were created organically.

Mo: And you personally, what do your responsibilities involve as partner and CFO?

Emilie: Yeah. So basically, I joined TandemLaunch in early 2012. I think I was employee number four or number five. Well, at beginning of TandemLaunch. So basically, I met Helge who’s the founder of TandemLaunch. He was very inspiring to me. We were still experimenting the business model. So I joined a startup. So at the beginning, my role was pretty much how are we going to survive and how are we going to define a repeatable business model? But over the years, I mean, my role has become a little bit more structure, but I think I can still divide it into three different blocks of responsibility. So first of all, I’m a partner in TandemLaunch ventures defunct.

Emilie: So basically that role is generally focused on leading… like I’m leading with Helge the fundraising exercise. I have a legal responsibility towards the investors. I also have a governance role in the sense that I sit on the boards of some of the portfolio companies of TandemLaunch. And I’m also responsible for investors relations, because with the 30 million that we raised, there’s about 40, 45 different investors. So I’m also managing the relationship with all those investors.

Emilie: Then as a second part of my responsibilities, I’m also the CFO of TandemLaunch. So as I told you, the teams, they are spending with us between 12 and 18 months, and everybody is on the payroll of TandemLaunch. So TandemLaunch is structured like a company. We have 80 people, all the time, that are on our payroll. So I have an operational role in the sense that… I mean, there is a marketing team, there’s a new HR department, there’s an IT department, there is finance. So basically, I have a team of 10 people that are reporting to me, and I’m in charge of making sure that the operations of TandemLaunch are running smoothly.

Emilie: And finally, I’m also an executive at TandemLaunch. So that’s part of this role. So we have monthly strategic meetings with all the portfolio companies. I’m part of those meetings. I provide feedback. I make sure the milestones are met. I review their hiring plan, especially when it comes to recruiting of the CEO. I’m actually in charge of leading that exercise, and it’s always a lot of fun to negotiate the deal with those CEOs.

Emilie: And I’m also helping those CEOs for the onboarding, and for the fundraising exercise when they’re going to have to raise that first round of financing, because I’ve been in early stage for so many years I have a very good network of investors, of course. So that’s about it. I’m very busy.

Mo: I do want to dig in on something you said there. You’re very involved with hiring the CEOs.

Emilie: Yes.

Mo: What are you looking for?

Emilie: So when I’m looking for entrepreneurs to join TandemLaunch, we’re looking for passionate, driven, smart, an interest for technology and science for sure, looking for co-founders, a team player, and somebody that want to build a company with us, basically. You have to look at TandemLaunch as a co-founder. So we’re looking for co-founders to build the next-step business.

Emilie: When it comes to the CEO, so basically I say I’m leading the hiring exercise, but it’s not true. The truth is, it’s the team who’s leading that exercise. They are looking for somebody that has the best profile that can lead that team and bring it to the next level. So they do it also with LinkedIn, and they’ve become very, very good actually with all those formulas and processes that you can do with technology and LinkedIn. So they identify potential executives from Canada. I would say half of them are from Canada, half of them are from the States. We have people from Silicon Valley that came here. We have people from Boston.

Emilie: And those CEOs need to have credibility. So they need to have some kind of entrepreneurial success. Did they build a business? Did they sell it? Were they leading a team of 30 people and they brought it to 100 people? Maybe they didn’t sell the business, but at least they were part of a growth in a company.

Emilie: And you need to understand the space because with TandemLaunch we start with pure technology, but usually when you build a product it actually becomes a little bit more specific to either sports, or either at tech, or either encryption or AI. So we need somebody that can actually bring value and speed up the commercialization of the technology. The CEO will be also in charge of negotiating the commercial deals with the potential partners, and partnerships, and strategic partnerships.

Mo: Okay. Before we move on, I want to ask about the distribution geographically of TandemLaunch companies. What does that look like?

Emilie: So most are the R&D because we’re in Quebec and there are a lot of tax credits. So most of the R&D teams are going to stay in Quebec for multiple reasons. We also have very good resources and very talented engineers that are in Montreal. The team though, they all move here, but they are from around the world. So we worked with… I think we have like more than 65 different countries. Whether they’re part of TandemLaunch, the incubator or the management team, they come from around the world to join a startup.

Emilie: It’s not true that you can build a startup remote. So we ask people to move here for multiple reasons; to build the culture because there are so many strategic decisions that you take at the beginning that it actually goes better if your co-founder is next to you.

Emilie: For multiple reasons we ask those CEOs to move to Montreal; the executives, or the technology or the business lead, the CTOs, the CPOs also. Sometimes the CEOs, they will travel because some of the clients are in California. So if they’re located in California, they can actually go back and forth; like sometimes they’re in Montreal, sometimes they’re over there. So I would tell you that a lot of those companies have a sales office in California, but most of the R&D will stay in Canada.

Mo: And after they graduate the program, do they typically stay in Canada as well?

Emilie: They were trying to stay in Canada, but as I said, sometimes they build like sales office in other countries which would be strategically closer to their clients.

Mo: Okay. That makes sense. One of the other things you do is you sit on the boards of some of previous TandemLaunch companies like Fluent.ai and Sportlogiq.

Emilie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mo: How would you describe to students what a board member does? Because it sounds super cool, but we don’t really get to sit in on those meetings, so we don’t know what you’re doing.

Emilie: Okay. So basically, I think that the first thing you need to know is board members are elected by their shareholders, and they represent all the shareholders of the company. They have a fiduciary duty to act for the best of the company.

Emilie: In general, I think that if you want to have a broader definition of a board member, they provide oversights for the governance of the organization. But if you’re a board member, you can be an observer or a director of the company. And me actually, all of the time that I sit on boards, whether it’s fluid, contextual, whispered logic, I’m always a director of the company. So when you’re a director, you get to vote for a number of corporate decisions.

Emilie: And those decisions are for the running of the company. If the company is signing a significant binding agreement with a third party, or for example if you want to allocate options to employees, then it’s the board member that will vote for that part, the budget of the company is voted by the directors of the company. And basically one of the big responsibility also of a board member is you get to select, and appoint, and evaluate the CEO of the business. And that’s one of the main role of a board member, too.

Mo: Oh. Okay. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs when dealing with their board? So we’re looking at the other side of the table in these talks.

Emilie: Yeah. So basically most of the CEOs and entrepreneurs, they don’t really like managing their boards. Okay? They see it as part of the job description, but they feel it requires a lot of preparation, tons of reporting, and they don’t really see the value they can get out of the board members. So I can tell you that frankly what I see is, they don’t see it as a priority. They really don’t. But I have exceptions. I have CEOs that are investing time. And for example, I have a 15-minute call every week with one of the CEO when he gives me information about the operations of the company.

Emilie: And honestly, I think that it helps him to see some kind of value out of the board member because when you get to the board meeting… so what you have to understand is board meetings are usually once per quarter. So if you haven’t spoken to any of the board members in between, you’re going to spend three hours just repeating everything that happened in the company, and then there’s no open conversations about strategy or the next steps because everybody needs three hours just to understand what happened.

Emilie: So if you have like weekly calls with your board members, it actually speeds up the level of understanding that you need to have at the board meeting, and you can go directly to those strategic conversations and actually get some value out of those board members. So I would tell you that the advice is; make it a priority, build relationships, and make sure that you understand what each of those board member can bring… except money, they can bring something else than money at the table.

Mo: Right. I want to go back to this entrepreneur you brought up. 15 minutes a week, that’s all it takes.

Emilie: Yeah.

Mo: Why do you think he continues to do it? Is he seeing benefit from doing it? Is he doing better than some of the other entrepreneurs who neglect that part of their job?

Emilie: Well, he has a better relationship with his board because of those 15 minutes. He sees it as radical transparency. Those are the words that he’s using. So he’s like, “Listen guys. We are all a team. We’re going to be transparent with each other. I’m going to tell you every week. If you have any questions, any specific questions, it’s also a channel to have a one-on-one conversation with each of the board members.”

Emilie: And I believe that he sees some value out of it because he continues doing it. And he’s been doing it for the last year or so. So I think there is value about building those relationships with your board members, and investing time, and resources, and energy to build those relationships.

Mo: And you personally, what have you learned about how to be a great board member? What do entrepreneurs look to you for, and how are you getting better at that?

Emilie: Yeah. So I think that there are several qualities that you need to be, in general, a good board member. So the first one would be you need to be dedicated and engaged about the business. So usually CEOs will send you the board package a few days before the meeting. I think that a good board member will review the documentation, will read it, will get to the board meeting prepared. And also, you need a couple of days to digest all the new ideas that you see on the board member so you can actually bring value.

Emilie: To me, I have a very operational background. So basically, they’re looking for a new salesperson. I might have met somebody through my role at TandemLaunch that I can introduce to them. I have another portfolio company that’s looking let’s see for an optimizer of AI, I have a company that’s developing an optimizer for AI. I can refer them a potential client. So all kinds of synergies, and how actually, personally, I can contribute to the success of the company. So that’s the first step.

Emilie: The second quality, I think, would be integrity and honesty. So as a board member, you have to make a lot of difficult decisions or significant decisions for the future of the company, and you have to represent the shareholders. So I believe that the integrity and the honesty, you need to make sure that you act with a lot of ethics when you make those decisions.

Emilie: And the last one, because I’ve had bad experience in the past, is how you need to believe in the business, because some of those board members, sometimes, I feel they just don’t believe in the business. So I think that if you want to be a good board member, you need to have the passion, you need to believe in the tech, you need to believe in the team; because one day or another, you’re going to have to promote the business.

Emilie: Whether it’s through a hiring process, whether it’s through an intro to potential investors, you have to believe that this is the best, like this is a very promising company. And I believe that to be a good board member you actually need to have this passion and this desire to build a successful company with the co-founders.

Mo: Okay. Actually I want to talk about that. Aren’t they shooting themselves in the foot? Assuming they have some kind of vested interest in this company, if they act like they’re not passionate about it, aren’t they losing themselves? They’re losing, right?

Emilie: Well, I mean, at the beginning they’re passionate. In startups, it’s very rare that Plan A works. So usually, you have to go to Plan B, Plan C, and sometimes Plan D. So they start and they’re very excited, and the CEOs are very good at building the hype, and everybody wrote the checks, and they just raised it large around their financing. And then the first board meeting happens, and I mean the numbers are not as promising as we thought they were, or the team is not delivering, which to me is business as usual because I live in the world of budget that are not met. But I think for other investors, it’s news.

Emilie: And then with time, I mean the CEO, sometimes they will listen to their advice, but sometimes the CEO does not. It’s part of entrepreneurship. I mean, they don’t always listen to what you’re telling them to do. So with time, I believe that sometimes some of the investors around the table don’t have as much faith in the business as they should. And that’s the part that I think that you have to sit down with the CEO and try to understand his point of view to make sure that everybody is aligned.

Mo: Have you ever used the phrase, “I told you so,” or something like that?

Emilie: I want to use the phrase, “I told you so.” So if there’s one thing you learn by working with entrepreneurs, whether they are 25-years-old, whether they’re in their 40s or more senior, or whether there are angel investors because I work with a lot of entrepreneurs that are angel investors and they invest in the fund, is I’ve learned how to be humble and how to shut up basically. So basically, I’ve learned that even though I’m right, I’m never going to say it. It always has to be their ideas at the end.

Emilie: So you’re just happy if the end result works and you are part of the successful team. But ego doesn’t pay in that kind of business, so you just have to let it go and work as a great team member. And remember that it’s a very difficult job that they have to do, so you have to give them credit for any success that happens.

Mo: Okay. Now, TandemLaunch focuses on deep tech. Can you describe what deep tech is? And give us a few examples.

Emilie: So basically, there is a difference between a technology company and a deep technology company. With deep technology, it means that there is intellectual property. There is patented technologies that are used to solve a very difficult technological problem. And that part is extremely important. There are years of scientific research associated with the tech, and TandemLaunch is a building full of PhDs. I mean, you need to be a specialist in that technology to be able to develop it.

Emilie: For example… So I’m going to give you a concrete example of what a deep technology is through the business model of TandemLaunch. So we worked with McGill, actually. And it’s a business that worked with one of the professor that’s called Szkopek, and he is a material professor in nanotechnology at McGill. And him and his students devoted lot of time to develop a graphene membrane to put in a speaker or in a microphone, that could improve the sound quality.

Emilie: And one of the inventor actually was studying at McGill in music, and his name is Robert Gaskell, and he joined the entrepreneur and residence program of TandemLaunch. That’s actually a little bit of a different process than we usually have, because the inventor actually joined TandemLaunch. And that technology was years of research before they could actually use that material and put in a microphone.

Emilie: And then when we decided to invest in that business with Robert as a co-founder, Robert… His name is Eric-Robert, so sometimes it’s Eric, sometimes it’s Robert. So TandemLaunch invested up to $800 into the business, and they were able to do a kick-starter. They were able to sell 1.5 million of graphene headphones. And now they raised a graduation round. They have a CEO. But that technology fundamentally was developed by the lab at Miguel.

Mo: So you said that you guys took on this guy even though that’s not the traditional TandemLaunch way. Do you remember why you did that? Like what was different about him?

Emilie: Well, we would like to have the inventor all the time, it’s just because sometimes they’re not available. So to be a co-founder, you can be a very good inventor but not necessarily a good co-founder. You need to be able to articulate a vision. You need to have some kind of a business sense. You need to accept that you’re going to be part of a team. I mean, it’s a very different environment than the academic world. Sometimes they’re professors. They want to become professors. So we were more than thrilled when Eric said, “Hey, I want to join the TandemLaunch program, and on top of it I’m an inventor into the technology from McGill, which became eventually at the startup, ORA.

Mo: Okay. And you personally, what are some of your favorite companies from your portfolio right now?

Emilie: I think that I really like Sportlogiq. I’m sure you’ve heard about Sportlogiq. So Sportlogiq, they use computer vision to offer advanced sports analytics using one camera. So basically Craig Buntin, who was a finalist actually at the Dobson Cup, I think he arrived third, and that’s how he met Helge Seetzen, the founder of the company.

Mo: Oh. Okay.

Emilie: Yes, because Helge was also a judge at the Dobson Cup. He joined, I think, TandemLaunch in 2013. He developed this product for hockey actually, the computer vision in that product. They graduated in 2015, and they had an investment from several angels, Tim Tokarsky that’s also involved with the Dobson Cup, and the Mark Cuban, who is also very famous. And today, they raised more than 20 million of third-party financing with several strategics. They have 100 employees.

Emilie: And their product is not only used by teams of the NHL, they have a partnership with the league. They’re working with broadcasters, and now they’re expanding their product to different sports. So they’re going into soccer and into football. I mean, it’s a great success, an awesome team. And the technology also is right on spot. These days, I mean, AI is huge, right?

Mo: Yeah.

Emilie: And we invested in that technology way before the hype happened.

Mo: Yeah. This is way before the hype. Wow.

Emilie: So it was a great call from a tech point of view, from a team point of view, and all the investors. So everything worked well. So they’re doing great, and I’m very proud of working with those people. They’re also very, very easy to work with, which also helps liking the company.

Mo: So from the standpoint of a coach or one of the athletes, what is the benefit that Sportlogiq brings? Could you explain that?

Emilie: So basically it’s not intuitive, but when you watch a hockey game these days, all the statistics that you see are done manually. So you basically have people sitting in the stadium that are clicking, like this is a pass, this is a shot, there’s a goal, and all this stuff. So what Sportlogiq can do is to automate all those statistics because it can recognize what the players are doing based on the image of the broadcasters. So you only need one camera, you can look at all the images, and then you can have live statistics.

Emilie: And they’re also using artificial intelligence. So it can even give statistics that you could not get manually; how much time was the puck on the other side of the line or whatever. There are different statistics that can be provided by Sportlogiq that you could not if it’s a human being who’s just calling the events. So the way they’re using it is that they’re providing data to the team. I don’t know if you saw the movie the Moneyball.

Mo: Yes. Absolutely.

Emilie: So they’re like the Moneyball, but for hockey team, so they’re looking with, I think 90% of the teams of the NHL, and they’re expanding their product to other teams in soccer, which is a huge market internationally, and in football.

Mo: Okay. So teams can, for example, use some of this information to like recruit players. They can use it to analyze their opponents, their own game? Okay.

Emilie: Yeah. They can analyze their game. They can prepare for the next game. They can recruit talents. They have access to a full data, a lot of information that can help them make the best decision and train their players to win the next game.

Mo: Wow! It’s like a secret weapon for teams that want an advantage.

Emilie: Exactly.

Mo: Okay. What advice would you give to founders on communicating their vision to you, and to build a strong application for TandemLaunch? Because in the application form, it says, one of the questions is, why do you want to build a company and become an entrepreneur?

Emilie: Yeah. So basically, we’re looking for passion. We’re looking for an interest in technology, also. So if you’re on the technical side, obviously you need to be strong. Technically, if you’re on the business side, you need to at least try to understand or have an interest to understand the science behind the technology.

Emilie: We’re looking for team players and people that can articulate a vision. So the communication skill is actually very important, especially in a startup, where you’re going to have to recruit other employees, you’re going to have to recruit a CEO, you’re going to have to raise money, talk to investors, you’re going to have to sell your product. So those are basically the attributes that we’re looking for. And that’s it.

Mo: Okay. And you personally, like you’re in this space that’s full of ideas and you’re surrounded by all these smart people. And you had an accountant background, which is not super technical, so you’ve obviously been learning a lot about tech and stuff. How do you continue to learn and educate yourself?

Emilie: Well, first of all, I love learning. So I’m curious by nature. Because of my role at TandemLaunch, I attend a lot of meetings, as you said that are full of PhDs, and I really enjoyed them. Honestly, I admire the way they talk about the technology, how smart and articulated they are when they talk about their inventions or the way they were solving those difficult problems, and I love learning from them.

Emilie: I’m easy to talk to, and I love talking to different kind of people. So I also have a lot of investors that are serial successful entrepreneurs that would call me pretty often, like multiple times per week. And I can talk to them about technology, about TandemLaunch, about portfolio companies, about strategy, about fundraising. I mean, I can talk about this stuff for hours to tell you the truth, and it’s also a great learning experience for me. So I learned at the same time and I discuss those topics with those successful entrepreneurs. So that’s also another way that I have of learning.

Emilie: Also, I read a lot like most of people in my space. So today the news, they come with the social media. So you have the news about the information about what’s happening around the world, and then you have the news about what’s happening in the startup ecosystem. So I read most of those articles, just to be aware of what are the new trends, what are the new startups that are raising money, what are the new funds that are out there, and how can I build a relationship with the next generation of founders of the next generation of investors.

Emilie: So that’s basically a part of my job, and that’s something that I actually very enjoy. And I do believe that in entrepreneurship, you need to be curious. I mean, it’s a business that you will have to learn new skills or new information every day to perform.

Mo: What about management skills? What have you found to be the best activities to develop management skills?

Emilie: Yeah. So management skills, I think I’ve learned through my mistakes. I mean, I’m not a big fan, and that’s a personal choice of… So I’ve read in the past those Harvard Business Schools like management, like case, and had to study them at school, or in big companies also, they make you read all those articles; I find that it affects the creativity.

Emilie: So basically me, I go with the feeling. So basically, I think that when I have a particular situation, I have a lot of compassion, I can put myself in the shoes of the other person. And if I read too much about how to act in that situation, it will affect the way I would do it naturally. And sometimes the natural way of doing it is the best way. So that’s how I learn to manage different kinds of personalities.

Emilie: I mean, when you work at TandemLaunch, you have different kinds of personalities. I mean, entrepreneurs are all passionate people. There’s a lot of emotional people here. Everybody is a dreamer. I mean, everybody who joins TandemLaunch; whether they’re technologists, entrepreneurs, or investors, do dream. So you learn with the years to understand and embrace the way you can communicate. Communication also, I think, is key. Communicate with them, and discuss what are the next steps.

Mo: Great. Thank you so much. How can people find out more about TandemLaunch if they want to get involved?

Emilie: So we have a website, so tandemlaunch.com. And you can email me personally, I’m on LinkedIn. There’s also my personal email. You can email Helge. And there’s also an application form on the website. So if you want to join the program, feel free.

Mo: And when’s the next cohort, or how does that work?

Emilie: So you can apply at any time. And I think they have specific dates, but honestly, it’s a continuous process. So whenever we find somebody that has an outstanding profile, we’ll meet that person. And then we’ll explain to them what the program is, and they can join the program. It’s every other month or something.

Mo: Awesome. Thank you so much.

Emilie: Thank you. Have a good day.

Mo Akif

Mo Akif

The Editor-in-Chief of the McGill Dobson Chronicles. Never having started a lemonade stand as a child and tired of reading blog posts about entrepreneurship without actually doing anything, he was on the verge of giving up and joining a pyramid scheme. Luckily the McGill Dobson Centre decided to adopt him, allowing him to get a closer look at what it takes to build something valuable.