How to Skill Your Startup
Each phase of an early startup requires a new set of skills, says MarsDD's Venture Operations Manager.

TechPORTFOLIO spoke to Sonia Strimban, manager, Venture Operations at MaRS Discovery District about the ideal evolution of startups within the accelerator community and the issues startups run into when it comes to finding employees with the right skills.

Sonia Strimban, manager, Venture Operations, MarsDD

We have such a large portfolio: we support 1,300 companies. The skill requirements change at each stage of the business.

In the beginning, when the startup is starting out and there’s a cofounding team, they’re either tech heavy — they’re coming out of lab, coming out of R&D, or university — and they’re missing the business side. The engineering skill is there, but they’re lacking the go-to market business capability, to understand how to productize, how to speak to customers, and attract investment.

Sometimes you have the opposite — a business team which has a great idea, they can design a great business plan around it — but they don’t have the tech capability on the team to build a MVP.

Our first intervention is to make our team aware of this. Nobody is going to give you money for an overdeveloped product without a business model.


The second level is when they have built the product, when they have early traction and validate it. You’re looking a more mature capability to help launch and avoid some early business pitfalls, such as scaling too fast, hiring unnecessarily, and keeping it lean. You’re looking for an executive who has domain expertise and the background to manage a growth phase.

At series A [funding], typically, we see the most benefit in an executive in sales and marketing. If you’re not selling and you can’t accelerate growth, you’re pretty much toast. You need somebody who has revenue growth capability.

The last phase in the scaling phase is when they need someone with an operations skillset. A lot of founders are completely lacking that skillset. To scale a business from a ground up… You need a real COO/CFO capability and many people are lacking this.

This interview has been edited and condensed.