What went down at the TL Insider Fireside Chat with Abdullah Snobar
On July 7, Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ and CEO of DMZ Ventures, joined TL Insiders for a discussion on the evolution of entrepreneurship and leadership, the importance of community building, and what to expect from the start-up ecosystem after Covid-19.
Snobar recounted how his unique career journey—beginning in his home country of Jordan, where he developed a passion for the hospitality industry, to a stint in the Canadian Armed Forces and working for Fairmont and Marriott hotels—brought him to Ryerson University and his leadership role at the DMZ.
The DMZ is a Ryerson-based incubator helping founders build, validate and scale into world-class companies. Since its founding in 2010, it has gone from a digital media co-working space for Ryerson students to a sector-agnostic communal environment focused on founders. Under Snobar’s leadership, this globally recognized incubator has expanded its impact by establishing partnerships and satellite locations across North America, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Today, the DMZ has helped over 500 companies raise more than $1 billion in capital through its flagship Incubator program and Bootcamp.
During Covid-19, Canada’s start-up community, particularly companies relying on physical workplaces and co-working spaces, were faced with difficult choices. The DMZ pivoted by changing its program structure to expand its support for founders across Canada and globally, accommodating an 80 per cent increase of international interest. Additionally, the DMZ doubled down on supporting Black and women founders, and honed its customized approach, which meets the needs of each founder rather than the traditional one-size-fits-all approach favoured by other incubators.
“Every industry has been disrupted [during the pandemic]. We need to think about holistic approaches to supporting small, medium and large enterprises and being able to engage in the innovation and digital space,” Snobar observed. “In Canada, we weren’t leading the way as a country in recognizing the crucial role that start-ups play in our economy. But we’ve been able to sprint down the line because of the pandemic, and solve real and new problems.”
Finally, Snobar shared his advice for would-be founders with business ideas: the journey ahead will be lonely and challenging, so make sure you’re starting a business for the right reasons. Passion—for sectors and solutions, not profit—is the new currency for founders. Build an extensive network and a committed, diverse team so you can leverage the people who are there to help.
During the Q&A session, TL Insiders asked Snobar about the importance of building a community, Canada’s “scale-up problem,” and how the country’s start-up community can navigate existing and emerging challenges.
Learn more about the DMZ’s story, programs and successful companies here.