Connecting Canadian entrepreneurs

Last month CBJ attended the Enterprise Toronto Small Business Forum and discovered an intriguing social media presence—Sprouter.com. This online ‘one-stop-shop’ community resource for entrepreneurs caught our eye. We were able to catch a minute with Community Manager Erin Bury to find out how the company began and its plans for the future.

What is sprouter.com?

Sprouter.com is an online social networking site connecting entrepreneurs with other entrepreneurs, via a Twitter-like platform of 140-character-based messages. Profiles are free to create, and members establish their own pool of ‘followers’ with which they can communicate and ask questions. There is also a Q&A section where numerous industry experts are available to answer questions regarding early stage start-ups. It is somewhere that Bury says, “You can put your hand up and get help on a daily basis.”  Sprouter also organizes offline networking events called “Sprout Ups” held across North America, where members can meet face-to-face, listen to guest speakers and network.

The company was conceived by Sara Prevette from London, Ontario, whom Bury describes as a kind of “serial entrepreneur.” After a failed business startup of her own, Prevette was prompted to start Sprouter. Explains Bury, “She was very tech-savvy, but realized her failing was in her network of entrepreneurs. She didn’t know where to find entrepreneurs online to ask questions, get feedback, and basically help her along in her business.” And so, the idea of an entrepreneurially-based social networking site came to fruition.  

Where is the revenue?

It is an engaging online space with a clean design that is easy to navigate. One can clearly see the community is active; CBJ spent some time perusing the site, checking the Q&A archives, and seeing the various types of interaction. It seems to be a valid source of information for the early stage start-up and a great way to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. But a question remains—how does Sprouter generate revenue?

Sprouter.com is privately funded by an angel investor who is on board with the company’s primary mission to build the site’s functionality and evaluate member’s interests—before mapping out a revenue model. And indeed, a valid online community has grown here. But where is the future revenue source? Unfortunately, the question goes largely unanswered.

Just this month social media giant Twitter, who still hasn’t figured out how to generate revenue, began rolling out a pay-per-tweet advertising program for companies to leverage their twitter accounts with a wider audience. If a social media monster like Twitter is still stumbling out of the gates, is there any hope for a start-up niche community like Sprouter.com?

A dating service for investments?

The answer may lie in Sprouter’s newest venture, which caught the ears of the CBJ team. The company is launching a service called ‘Sprouter Introductions’, which is intended to connect angel investors and venture capitalists with early stage start-ups. A sort of dating service for investment, the intention is to link together viable start-ups with the appropriate investors. The idea sprung to life after research showed the most common question start-ups have is, not surprisingly, “Where do I find funding?”

Start-ups will complete a profile outlining the company product or service, the owner’s background and history—and how much money is needed. Investors do the same, and the idea is that a “match” will be found. Says Bury, “We have these investors who are saying: we’re looking to invest, we’re looking for innovative companies. All these companies have to do is provide us with the intros and we’re off to the races.” Sprouter intends to do it all in-house—and yes, there is a screening process. Explains Bury, “We’re not going to waste the investor’s time nor the start-ups time; we’re going to tell you if you’re in an industry that is not conducive to the investors we have on the site.”

Intriguing? Definitely. A revenue generator? This very well could be. If the company can ascertain a viable business model to accompany its existing online network it has a much greater chance of sustaining a long-term presence. As supporters of all innovative Canadian entrepreneurship, we would love to see Sprouter.com successfully roll out into more than just a community.  

We’ll keep our fingers crossed for this one.