Construction Innovation

For over a decade, the “street smarts vs. books smarts” debate has provoked business leaders, entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, N.Y. Alley, Austin SWSX, college students across North America, and TV audiences worldwide, for the reality shows, like, The Apprentice.

Should I drop out and follow in the footsteps of Jobs, Ellison, Gates and now Zuckerberg?

Ninety percent (90%) of start-ups fail, or pivot, and 50% of start-ups shut down, within 5 years. These are horrible statistics. The Next36 is going to try to change these statistics. By reducing the failure by just 1 company in 10, portfolio management can have a significant ROI performance improvement. We arm these teams with better knowledge from experience in a collaborative way.

As much as it takes to be a team player in a large multi-national corporation, there may be power-struggles and battles for promotion, resources, power and compensation. The central themes of “Street vs Books Smarts” at the core is 1) hard work, 2) emotional intelligence, and 3) creativity and 4) and team leadership.

Jon French, Director of Marketing for the Next 36 stated the group’s vision, “We are looking at developing high impact entrepreneurs as well as start-ups and the vision is a long term play. We expect our alumni to be behind some of Canada’s most successful companies when we scan the business landscape in 10-15 years.”

Integrative thinking and a prestigious university network is now trying to change the game for Canada. The Next 36 is deliver change to Canadian innovation and may well leapfrog past US VC and acceleration systems and to drive innovation. N36 drives their cohorts very hard—they teach students, to think how to think with top professors—not only with leading entrepreneurs.

Next 36 Faculty Adjunct Professor & Entrepreneur in Residence, Brendan Calder, runs an award-winning course called “Getting It Done” focused on delivering global best practices in performance management, continuous improvement and with street-smart curriculum on passion, courage and goal-setting performance, with a focus on bottom-line results. This mandatory course for cohorts is also offered to Rotman’s EMBA and MBA-level programs.

Calder, a long-time board member of Canada’s largest construction firm Ellis Don, is generous with his business introductions to program cohorts. He teaches approaches from Bill Reddin, and Michael Kami and Peter Drucker. Drucker, who plays an influential role, stated in 2012, “What the Rotman School is doing may be the most important thing happening in management education today.”

The Next 36: YCombinator Meets Rhodes Scholars

The Vision of N36 is to increase Canadian prosperity, and is a competition-based hybrid educational EMBA program combined with acceleration. Academic partners include McGill, Queens University, Ryerson University, Simon Fraser University, The University of British Columbia, University of Waterloo, Western University and founding academic partner, University of Toronto. Investment partners include Alignvest Ventures LP, Relay Ventures, and Slaight Communications. Sponsors have included Cougar Global Investments, Mentorship Wealth Management, Sussex Strategy Group, Tomkins Insurance, Cisco, Royal de Versaille, and Rolex. Most notably, national partners include MaRSdd, TD, Rogers Communications, Osler and EY.

N36 is a 6 month remote program (5 to 6 course-load) with 3 months of acceleration. Students live in residence and regularly pitch to angel investors and VCs. The original Founding Patrons include Jimmy Pattison, Hon. Paul Desmarais (deceased) and Galen Weston. And, N36 collaborates with 250 top leaders of Canadian corporations, incubators and VCs.

French further described, “Innovation breeds innovation. Putting forth Canadian role models who are engaged and have intensity will drive future leaders, innovators and entrepreneurship.”

Extreme Ventures—the top-ranked Canadian accelerator by Angelist for 2014—N36 invests up to $95,000 in the start-ups. N36 focuses on undergrads, because “this is the best time to fail and fail quickly” he stated.

“To the extent that we can connect start-ups and students for internships to technology firms or recruiters, we will do so,” French confirmed.

The N36, and The Next Founders—a program of the Next 36 that focuses on seasoned start-up entrepreneurs—welcome collaboration from traditional VCs and the Angels. N36 has worked with 2nd ranked Creative-Destruction Lab at Rotman School of Management, the University of Toronto—the program host, and with MarSdd and Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ). Ideas must come from the students to ensure they are passionate. All-star faculty in 2013 include professors, deans and partners from Rotman, UBC, Harvard, Wharton, Ivey, Georgetown, M.I.T., Sussex Strategy Group, Osler Hoskin & Harcourt, and Boston Consulting Group.

The Next Founders

The Next Founders, for more experienced entrepreneurs accepts a variety of applicants and last year, promoted two college drop-outs.

“We do not discriminate based on the applicants’ educational background. They demonstrated early success and early traction in some cases with venture capital and have potential to build high impact businesses,” said French.

The Next Founders “does not provide equity, nor financing, but introductions. There is no working space, no dedicated mentor, but a network of advisors.”

I spoke with Mallorie Brodie, a co-founder of Bridgit, a start-up focused on mobile technology serving the construction firms, based in Waterloo, Ontario.


Mallorie Brodie’s company Bridgit, deploys mobile technology to expedite and automate a paper-based deficiency repair process for the construction industry. This mobile application allows inspectors to identify, photograph and highlight defects and improves response time, workflow and lowers costs. The application adds voice recording to describe the defect, rather than having inspectors type or handwrite comments.

This is a particularly astute design since contractors typically work with safety gloves, have reduced finger dexterity in cold weather, and may find it difficult to type in a construction setting. The firm met very little resistance to change in their beta-test client PCL.

Getting projects completed faster means that the general contractor gets paid more quickly. With deficiencies, it costs more to return to the site and repair, especially when hiring contractors from another city or town. Users found the application useful for safety, general tasks, and deficiencies.

The firm has received inquiries from a hotel, a feeder company, and a manufacturer, but does not have any plans to license for other industries at this stage.

When asked on the most important aspects of the N36 program, Brodie revealed “we were forced to meet certain milestones. When you have a bad day, week or a month, it’s really easy to give up on the idea. But, when you’re part of a program and they push, you have to continue to set more aggressive milestones for yourself.”

Brodie reiterated the program strengths, “It’s really important—the overall guidance in the early days of the company; the network of the N36—investors, advice and exposure to top business leaders.”

Brodie saw N36 bridging an experiential gap between entrepreneurialism and management, “Getting things done and hitting milestones.” She found value in learning to answer questions of ‘What’ (needs to be done) and by “When” and not stopping at business analysis.

Pictured: Academic Director, Ajay Agrawal, The Next 36 Peter Munk Professor of Entrepreneurship, University of Toronto Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, MA Visiting Scholar at Harvard University and MIT

I asked her about leadership training received in the program, and she described,

“There’s no way not to grow when the bar is pushed so high—you just lead. You don’t have time to think about leadership.”

“By the end of it, you look back,” she reflected. “And, I know a lot more than I did 9 months ago.”

She continued, “One of the founders—he’d bring in a top business leaders every week—CEOs from Canada.” She received advice, asked questions and commented, “They’re still regular people. That motivated us. It’s important to be exposed to someone we can relate to.”

Brodie and her partners will be launching version 1.0 of their product in March. The company is focused on meeting with general contractors across Canada including PCL, and EllisDon—a $3.4 billion construction general contractor with 1400 owner-employees. Calder is both a faculty member of N36 and a Board Member of EllisDon.

“We’re really focused on next 24 months, drive as much market share as we can, and developing more solutions that will help construction industry become more efficient.”

Also, when asked if she would recommend this program to her friends and associates, Brodie affirmed, “Definitely. When you’re coming out of school, it’s really hard to imagine yourself starting a company. It’s a really a powerful program because it brings all these entrepreneurial people.”

“Creating a healthy ecosystem when there are successful entrepreneurs that invest back and mentor start-up is needed; young innovative companies that have had success and have been through the process need to give back to the younger students.”

Bridgit is charging ahead and already giving back. “Our director of marketing came up with an idea to give back to high school students in Ottawa. In April, during entrepreneurship week, we are participating in a speaker panel, holding a coding workshop, and raising awareness of entrepreneurship in high school.”

On Leadership and Entrepreneurialism

Geoff Smith, President of EllisDon, won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for Canada in November 2013. He has advice for improving innovation in Canada, and simultaneously addresses the “D” grade given by Conference Board of Canada, for innovation in 2013, because of these factors: patents, manufacturing technology, export market share, trademarks, ICT investment, venture capital, R&D spending, and connectivity. First, Smith delivers on “connectivity” through engagement with The Next 36, Rotman and the University of Toronto.

His advice addresses 2 additional aspects alluded to by the Conference Board Report: culture and efficiency.[1]

So, two things. We’ve worked very hard ever since to push autonomy and accountability (freedom and trust) down absolutely as far as possible throughout the company and to run it very openly — everyone should be getting every bit of knowledge about their project and the company — and with a minimum of bureaucracy. We are crystal clear on our values and try to be equally clear on expectations and accountabilities, but then we strive to just let people do their jobs. Our systems must support this trust, not undermine it. It’s a wide open, entrepreneurial culture, and it’s not for everyone, but it works for us.

More importantly: To a very significant extent, I understand now that effective leadership means getting out of the way. And then—this is key—ensuring that our other leaders are also getting out of the way. Demonstrate confidence in people—top to bottom—and you will have a company of leaders. And, if everyone’s a leader, everyone has to get out of the way.”

- Geoff Smith, President, EllisDon


Al Leong is formerly a writer for TechVibes. He earned an MBA from the University of Toronto in Global Management, Strategy Consulting and Innovation. And, a certificate in Product Management from MIT/Sloan. If you found this article useful, go ahead and “recommend” or share it. And, feel free to view some other articles in this collection.


· Mallorie Brodie:

· Jon French, The Next 36:

The Next 36 130 Bloor Street West, Suite 702 Toronto, ON, M5S 1N5 | phone: 647-259-8943



Award-winning CMO; Projects: Adobe, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Disney, Sony, Siemens, US Department of Defense, Microsoft, IDC, Microsoft, InfStones

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Al Leong

Al Leong

Award-winning CMO; Projects: Adobe, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Disney, Sony, Siemens, US Department of Defense, Microsoft, IDC, Microsoft, InfStones