For 19 years, Riz Kheraj has been sharing his entrepreneurial wisdom with NVBC as a mentor and Competition judge. A serial entrepreneur and former innovation advisor, Riz is now retired after working 35 years in the information, communication and technology sector, and seeing over 2000 companies as a part of the national IRAP program.
To hear all about Riz’s experience at NVBC, we reached out to find out a bit more about his thoughts on mentoring and how to best guide up-and-coming companies.
Why do you volunteer?
I volunteer because entrepreneurship is something I’m really excited about. New Ventures BC allows me to see a variety of potential tech forms across different sectors. It’s quite exciting to see the diversity of age, experience and backgrounds of participants in the Competition.
Seeing tech entrepreneurs participating together in a competition to meet their goals is quite exciting for me, as is the ingenuity of the business and tech ideas that these businesses bring forward. It’s just gob smacking!
I am energized by the tenacity, persistence, excitement and boldness of vision I see in the Competition and find it reaffirms my confidence in the future of the tech industry in British Columbia.
What has volunteering taught you?
It has taught me is that even though I’ve been a judge, I should try not to judge people. I look at what people are trying to do and as a mentor and I try to find the best way I can help them shore up their ideas. The most valuable thing I’ve learned is how to listen and give empathetic feedback.
As a judge, I try to identify potential strength and weakness in presented ideas and I always give them constructive feedback. When I was growing up as a entrepreneur, I found it a fairly lonely job. There are very few times you can confide your plans with someone and get frank advice that is helpful. I think this type of mentorship is one of the strengths of the NVBC program.
What is the best way a mentor can guide a new startup?
Giving frank advice, while also having a lot of empathy. Being an entrepreneur is a thankless job. I remember being an entrepreneur and trying to raise funds. Many times when I went to investors they would tell me my idea was terrible, but they wouldn’t tell me why it was terrible!
Entrepreneurs are not making the wrong decisions because they want to make the wrong decisions. I think entrepreneurs need to get detailed feedback and have trust with someone that they can bounce their ideas off of.
Mentors should be understanding while also helping entrepreneurs look at the business aspects and potential market opportunities. You have to be clear about these aspects, but give the feedback with empathy.
What do you think NVBC’s impact has been on you and the tech community in the last 20 years?
I think NVBC has had an amazing impact despite the fact that not much money has gone into it over the years. NVBC’s success is a testament to how their program has been structured and evolved over the years. It is one of the few entrepreneurial support programs that is well balanced in terms of mentorship support, educational programming, rubric assessment, government support and industry community participation.
Many companies point to NVBC as a trusted organization. It takes many people to bring a company to market and NVBC essentially provides this with a cohesive structure that it has been able to consistently deliver over many years.
Share your #2020nvbcimpact story
This year marks our 20th anniversary of supporting tech innovation in BC! We are inviting NVBC Competition alumni, mentors, volunteers, accelerator participants, and ISI grant recipients to share your impact story by completing a short form on how you feel NVBC supported you and sparked innovation in the tech sector.