Building a culture of embracing change

If you’re like me, you spent the past month riveted as the Toronto Raptors exceeded expectations and advanced through three rounds of the NBA playoffs for the first time in franchise history. As I watched this scrappy underdog team defy the odds and seemingly will themselves to victory over heavily-favoured rivals, one thought kept occurring to me: Raptors’ all-star point guard Kyle Lowry would make an outstanding entrepreneur.

How so? At six feet tall, Lowry is small as professional basketball players go. Yet even among these more experienced, larger, admired rivals, Lowry frequently found a way to win. How did he do it? He viewed the floor, assessed his opponents and made adjustments on the fly. Every team goes into a game with a plan, but the teams that win know success is built on being able to change your game.

That’s a key commonality with entrepreneurship — go in with a plan, but plan to change. Because the reality of the modern business world is the game will very likely change during the course of your incubation. You may conceive of your idea in one set of business or financial circumstances, but then emerge into the market facing a very different environment. Change is not merely some obstacle to be overcome. It’s not elective: It’s a necessity.

Take the real world example of DMZ company Rewordly. As a research curation and collaboration tool, Rewordly learned a common startup lesson: less is more. At the DMZ, they relaunched as two unique, significantly pared-down products — a process that was time-consuming and unpleasant, but yielded immediate results, demonstrating that flexibility and adaptability are requirements for success. By refocusing and stepping back from their ambitions a little bit, Rewordly was able to take a big step forward in building their business.

Like startups at the DMZ, our organization had to make some tough decisions in order to adapt to an always changing landscape. Those of us who work in this world know that incubators are not a parking spot, they’re a launching pad. The DMZ has become one of the best incubators in the world because the people who come here, go on to take the best of their competitors in the most daunting conditions.

The pace of change and innovation in our environment can be dizzying. It’s hard to build a foundation for something great when the ground is moving. So the essential quality for successful leadership for a startup and an incubator is to read the changes around you, adjust and keep a laser focus on the goal. For us, that means refocusing on what matters: our values and our mission to fuel the growth of early-stage startups with unparalleled support, passion and drive.

When Kyle Lowry steps out onto the court and is confronted with new defensive match-ups or unfamiliar faces called up from the end of the opponent’s bench, he’s not going in blind. He has teammates he knows he can rely on. He has scouts who share their insights about the opposition. He has a coach that mentors him. He even has fans energizing him from the stands. When the ball is in his hands, he’s in charge, but he’s not alone.

That’s how incubators add value to startups, too. Nobody could or should be expected to figure out every aspect of launching an idea. The best incubators and accelerators — and I humbly but proudly count the DMZ in that rank — are resourced with teams that are constantly surveying the environment for the latest opportunities and developments. They connect startups with mentors who’ve been through the process. They provide a network of potential partners and investors. And they provide a peer group that has your back.

As Lowry and the Raptors ultimately saw, every trip down the startup hardwood won’t end in a slam dunk. But by leaning on your incubator support resources, learning from your mentors and peers and plugging into a network of partners, you’re ready to rise to the challenge — no matter what obstacles come your way.