The Entrepreneur Podcast
The Entrepreneur Podcast

Episode · 6 months ago

Entrepreneurship can change the world.

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This can often feel like a throwaway line to make something seem more important than it really is. But Jocelyn Mackie, HBA ’03, is a believer.

 

In fact, she lives it every day as the Co-CEO of Grand Challenges Canada, an innovation platform that has supported over 1300 innovations in 90 countries. Joining the Entrepreneur Podcast, Mackie shares many of their great success stories and breaks down the nonprofit’s selection process, and funding model for innovative ideas.

 

Join Eric Janssen on this important episode and discover Mackie’s personal journey, and how Grand Challenges Canada is changing the world, one innovative idea at a time.

You are listening to the entrepreneur podcast from the western Morrisset Institute for entrepreneurship, powered by I be in this series. I be entrepreneur and I'd be faculty member. Eric Janson will anchor the session. Innovation isn't just about technology. It's about bringing together users, understanding problems and analyzing collisions. For this topic, I wanted to bring in a guest who not only understands innovation but funds it as one of the largest impact first investors in Canada. Today's guest is Joscelyn Macki, the Cocyeo of Crand Challenges Canada. Funded by the government of Canada and other partners. Grand Challenges Funds innovators in low and middle income countries using their unique approach called integrated innovation. Grand Challenges Canada has supported a pipeline of over one thirteen hundred innovations in a hundred and six countries, and their investments have they even improved lives for tens of thousands of people. Joscelyn's role as the CO CEO is to give leadership and insight to all aspects of the organization's Innovation Platform. Prior to becoming the CO CEO. Joscelyn was a lawyer at Gilbert's LP and in this episode we talked to her about her journey from practicing Intellectual Property Law to running an innovation platform. Enjoy this visit with Joscelyn Mackie. Maybe, Joscelyn, if you don't mind, a quick intro and background on grand challenges and and if your personal story, I think would be interesting for students as well. Okay, or rate. Well, grant challenge is Canada. So we are an innovation platforms. So we have supported over one thousand hundred innovations and over ninety countries around the world and we are designed to support innovations that are scientific and technological innovations, business innovations and social innovations that are driving sustainable impact at scale. So what do I mean by that? So impact is about for us, mostly saving and improving lives, and...

...at scale. We want to do this for a lot of people. Were designed to leverage resources, so dollars from the public sector, the private sector, were predominantly funded by the government of Canada, but also other governments around the world, the US government that you pay, the Dutch, Australian government and some big philanth repeats. Also, we have an annual budget of around fifty million a year. We deploy grant and on grant financing, so some patient capital, some some early states loans and equity investments. We've invested in a global health investment fund, Impact Fund, and we're trying to launch a second fund focused on women and children's health, and so we're a funder and the enabler of innovation for impact. That sort of GCC in a nutshell. But I'd love to talk a little bit more about some of the areas that we focus on. So one of our big areas that were was known for his global health. So we have innovations to around saving and improving women and children's lives around the time birth, mental health. We have a big portfolio, or one of the largest funders of mental health innovations in the world, Early Childhood Development, sanitation, sexual reproductive health and rights. Those are kind of some of the areas of the innovations that we work in in global health and I'm going to give an example. So this is Ben Poo and the challenge that they're addressing is that newborns are often unable to regulate their body temperature and that can relate results in hypothermia. So that's a condition that affects about eighty five percent of newborns globally, and so this innovation is a device that will alert mom and dad if their newborn is hypothermic, which allows for easy medical intervention. So that's one example in our our health portfolio. This one's really cool. So this is from Halla systems, and the challenge that they're...

...a dressing is that air strikes have been one of the largest single cause of civilian deaths in Syria since two thousand and thirteen. Over eightyzero civilians are estimated to been killed and many more kind of injured. And so their innovation is called century and it's like a an internet of things air raid siren system. So through you artificial intelligence, they can identify and predict threats for people living in conflict zones and then they send them an early warning through like facebook, twitter, radio and even like physical sirens, about seven to ten minutes ahead of an air strike so that people can get out of the way. So that's a really cool one in our humanitarian portfolio. And then, last but not least, are our newest area of impact is in indigenous innovation. So this is a portfolio, also funded by the government of Canada, focused on supporting women and two spirit indigenous entrepreneurs to to test their ideas. This is cheekbone beauty and it's a cosmetic company using plant waste to produce sustainable packaging and products, incorporating indigenous world views and processes, and all of their products are recyclable, repurposable, biodegradable and I believe they may have just gotten picked up by Sephora. So I think they might be in Sepphora now. So that's one of the innovations that we've supported. So, Joscelyn, can you just so we break it down into very simple terms. So someone, how does your innovation process work? So you are an organization that's set up to help, I guess, source, screen, fund and then grow innovations or businesses. How does this work? Someone has an idea, they go to your website. Like, logistically, how does this happen? Yeah, so where...

...we start with is that we define grand challenges. So what a grand challenges? Are significant barriers that, if overcome, they will lead to impact. So once we defined what a grand challenges and we do that definitional process with experts, so you know, people who have lots of degrees at the end of their names, but also people with lived experience, other innovators, entrepreneurs, policy makers, buyers at the end of the day. So we define what the problem is, but we never define what the solution is. And by doing it that way it then allows the solutions to be to come from anywhere, be anything. We have innovators who came up with a new way to birth babies and he was a car mechanic. So that's an example. So then what we do is we launch calls for proposals. So a request for proposal goes up on our website, we promote it and people apply. Generally they first apply for a seed grant, so an early stage grant to test their bold idea. A hundred to two hundred thousand dollars is sort of the general amount. And really there we're looking for, you know, is it doesn't go, doesn't have traction. Know, will it work to a certain extent, at least in a limited setting? And we expect a lot of failure there. So we have a high risk tolerance for failure at that early steed seed state. So you know, our our our call, our stars called for proposals. That just closed. We got maybe a thousand applications and will fund about sixty of them and of those sixty, about fifteen percent we tend to pick up at our next stage, which is called transition to scale, and that's where we get. We start to look more like venture capital, but softer, but still venture capital with an impact focus. And those fifteen percent who have the most traction that we think are most likely to...

...succeed, then we work with them. Our investment managers or our program officers work with the innovators to develop their next stage of their proposal and then those get pitched to our investment committee and we find that different phases and trunch's depending on how far along the innovation is, what kind of support that it needs, and the investment committee is really looking at, you know, for kind of big questions. Is it bold, like innovative? Can It have scale sustainably? What is the role at GCC like? Do we bring value add to it because of someone else is going to fundness? Then then we kind of back off and and we won't get involved. Bold, innovative, scale and sustainability. And what's our kind of we want to be catalytic. We want to make sure that our dollars are catalytic, and so then you can move along the stage from transition to to scale one, which generally is about half a million dollars, to transition to scale two, three four, kind of up with bigger dollar amounts and at that stage will find with grants. But that's where also the risk capital comes in. So helping entrepreneurs, you know, get their first share holders agreement, crowd in other funders, because we require other funders to be at the table, or other investors or partners with skin in the game at that stage, with the hope that by the time you finish phase for you're picked up by someone else, whether that's the public sector or the your you know, generating some revenue, but you don't need our kind of government grant capital. Got It. Your approach to innovation, the integrated innovation, can you break that down for us? I think that's part of what or baby is what makes your organization so unique. So what is integrated innovation for you? Yeah, this is a concept that we kind of codeveloped early days with our founding chairman, the late Joseph Rotten.

And the real concept here is that it's the coordinated application of different types of innovation. So everyone knows about kind of technological innovation or scientific innovation, right, so the new the new iphone or the new technology. But but we felt and what we've observed is that the innovations that also really take into account social innovation. So you know, what is the local con and text and what are the the the social structures that play with your end consumers or buyers at the end of the day, and looking at the you know, ethical, social public policy, you know all that kind of stuff, and there's lots of interesting social innovations that we have. What are around behavior change often. So when you when you think about social innovation combined with the technological innovation, so the human component of taking up a new product or service, with the third aspect, which is business innovation. So what's the appropriate delivery mechanism? You know, what kind of sustainability model do you have? Are you just selling to consumers, so are you totally taking a private model, or do you you know, should you be selling to governments or should you sell a certain price and certain markets and subsidize that for other markets so that you can have broader reach. We have other business innovations that we've dabbled with, including development impact bonds. You may have heard of social impact bonds, so we have one in Cameroon. That's a which is like an innovative financing mechanism, which is also a form of a business innovation to figure out how to pay for some of these innovations that are more in the public sector. When we look at your innovation process, so like sourcing, screening, funding growing, what are you seeing like? What did since you get so you see so many of these right. You see literally thousands of people saying Hey, I think I have something cool on the sourcing or screening side. What are...

...you seeing as the most, I don't know, otherre takeaways or things that we can learn as the people who want to come up with some of these innovative ideas? What are some of the patterns you see from ideas that are maybe, I don't know better's the right word, but the ones that you are more interesting for you versus others? Certainly the basics for us are the you know, the evidence, like, does it work right? There's been lots of stories out there. You know Tharanno's and others about things not actually working the way the right so we're a very science kind of evidence heavy shop, and so that is really important to us and we recognize that it's not cheap to achieve that right. So will often in our seed stages support that evidence generation. So one example there is the friendship bench and that's a social innovation. It's a a cognent of behavioral therapy delivered by Grand Mothers on benches in Zimbabwe. And the problem there is that, you know, twenty five percent of the population have common mental illness and there was only about, check my facts here, ten psychiatrists and the entire country of thirteen million people. So clearly you can't service this through service mental health through psychiatrist. A social innovation or a delivery innovation on how to deliver cognitive behavioral therapy and a different way that was actually going to be possible to scale. But the innovator had to be able to show that it worked right. You don't your the government's who are thinking of implementing this and some of the private sector players who are now partnered with it wanted to know that you actually can get outcomes through grandmother's delivering the therapy and not psychiatrists. So we funded a clinical trial that showed, through two cohorts, that it actually reduces suicidal ideation by five times reduces...

...depression by three times. So that's really critical for us. It's got to work and there's got to be some evidence behind it. So ideas you're looking the initial funding. They have some sort of maybe you help them get more evidence, but you're looking for some evidence that what they have is actually already working, it's already got traction. It's not just an idea, it's like part of partly executed already. Is that right? Some, I mean for this seed stage when you're coming in, you don't necessarily need evidence. It's more about your idea. A little bit of evidence is helpful, but it's okay if you don't have the evidence yet, and so our grant can help you get that initial evidence. Got It, got it, but that is key for the ones that we won't take them forward if there is an evidence at like at the next stage. Second thing is definitely, you know, the classic. I saw your hustle and grit, the grit, the perseverance of the entrepreneur, and often it changes right. So often we'll have the kind of pheno type of the chief tech officer, chief innovation officer, chief scientists or even an innovator that's in a university and then they spin out into a start up, but then they have to bring on a Seeo who's different right then they than the innovator. So we don't all have all the traits that one needs to usually make a business successful. And so really figuring out for you what is your stick? I mean, you guys are all on business school, so I suspect it's more the the business and the sustainability and the partnership stuff. But we often see that not one person can do all of those things. But we certainly are looking for a leadership team or leaders who've got that perseverance, because there are always bumps in the road, there are always challenges and it's you either got it or you don't and you can stomach startup journey. So that kind of Grit is another one. And then, I guess the third one for us for sure, our partners. You...

...can't do the stuff along and what we're really looking for our partners with skin in the game. We get lots of applications and said, Oh, I have this nice letter and this business is going to help me. We're looking for, when they actually put dollars on the table or resources on the table, that real skin in the game, that they believe in this and the more partners around the table, the more likelihood of succeed to succeed. We recognize that when the innovations come to us they may not have any and that's okay, but as they continue on the journey, that's what we're looking for, what we need to see to see that there's someone else out there who believes in this innovation, believes in this business, believes in the social enterprise, and it's not just government dollars that are backing it up. So that becomes more and more critical as they go on their journey towards scale and sustainability. You are in some ways a lot like a venture capitalist, right. People apply to you with their ideas. You have some criteria to evaluate them. Maybe your metrics are a little bit different than a traditional metric capitalist. Then you fund them. Let's spend a few few minutes on funding. It's not a topic that we spend a lot of time on at IV. Typically, a venture capitalist is of want to take an equity stake, you're going to dilute your own ownership in the company. Wanted to see if there's how do you typically fund these innovations? So we always start with grants, because it's just the stuff that comes to us is usually very early stage. Even pretty money is grants. Free Money, is that? We're okay, free months. So we start with free money. All right, got it. Yeah, free money. So grants is what we start with because we recognize that these these ideas are really hard to get off the ground. Now it's free, but it comes with, you know, it's comes in milestones and you have to achieve outcomes. You know, it's not just we write you a check and say good luck. Right, so it's it's done in a traunched way so that we can mitigate our risks also, but yes, free money, and and then add the transition to scale phace. So once you have some evidence and you have some other partners, if you're a business,...

...then that's when we start looking at not free money, so very patient capital. Usually loans is where we start, with really long time horizons and we've learned over the years to structure them more like like, with really small repayments kind of monthly repayments at a certain time rather than a big bullet payment. We just find the businesses we support can handle it. So it's prob like your mortgage right you pay, you know, as a business you're paying three thousand dollars a month to gradually, you know, pay it back in kind of seven to ten years. So very long time horizons and we don't usually take security. Sometimes, if they're strong IP portfolio, will take some security on the IP, but we won't take security on hard assets and we take if we take security on the IP, it's only in pursuit of what we call global access, because we're in impact first thunder. So we want to make sure that the public dollars that we put in are going to have impact at the end of the day for pop underserved populations. So I could talk a lot more about that. But we also sometimes take get a license right in low and middle income countries to ensure that the innovations will be made accessible. So that's a kind of an aside. And then we'll do some equity investments. Also really cautious about how much were, you know, asking the entrepreneur to dilute, as you said, their steak and making sure there's enough room for them to crowd in future rounds because we're so early. But we're of the belief that if this enterprise is going to be commercially successful, task pairs, which is who we're funded by, should have those dollars returned so that we can continue to do good work. We're not for profit, so that's sort of the balance right. We're willing to take risk and willing to get as much impact as possible with that risk, but if there's going to be a commercial success, we want at least our dollars back so that we can do more and more at these yeah, got it. Got It.

So we talked in glass earlier about innovation being combination of having an idea, making it valuable for some stakeholders, whether it's customers or the business or broader society, multiplied by execution and actually getting it out there into the world. So what have you learned about actually getting ideas, once they're funded, and out and out there? There's got to be some best practices that these future entrepreneurs can learn about, like how do you make sure that they actually are executed properly and are able to have the impact that they promised. Yeah, great question. I mean, I'm a big believer, but anything successful is about ten percent strategy and ninety percent execution. We often wish it was the other way, those of us that everybody scribbling. And here, Joscelyn, there. That was good. Yeah, ideas are awesome and and we need them, but in my opinion, organizations and businesses fail or on execution, not on the lack of good ideas. So I mean you really need to make sure that on your team, if it's not you, there's somebody who's really strong and execution. Yes, my title was VP operations. It's not actually one of my straits, but I figured out how to bring good people around me and how I enabled them to really plan. You know, okay, what's that's where your plan? How are we going to work backwards? You know, project management is really the skill that you need, and then that allows you to have some foresight on some of the risks that are going to come up. You still need to be able to nimbly adapt, because you can't plan for everything right, and that is what I am good at and and I can deal with in the moment and change course. So you need a bit of both. You need the planning and the kind of operational heft, but then you also need, as an entrepreneur, to be able...

...to be nimble change course, you know, double down on things that are working. So I think it's that that mix and it's very rare, in my and my observation, that somebody has both. So surrounding yourself by people who are not like you is really important and figuring out how to get the best of that. So that's one of the real things. Another thing on the execution is really really understanding what your buyers need. A really good example another innovation I can talk about asking what Hela. So this is, you know, really relevant in our covid time, and this is a an oxygen they provide oxygen and Kenya and it's not really a technological innovation because they're kind of oxygen cylinders. There's nothing really that innovative of the technology itself, but it's really a business innovation and how they partner with the local counties who run the hospitals so that the oxygen can be provided as needed. And it's these partnerships with the local counties and this business that is is the key here. If hey what all they didn't really understand what the county's needed, what they could deliver, what they couldn't deliver, this innovation never would have gotten off the ground. So really understanding what your customers, your buyers partners need and then figuring out how to deliver on that is a critical point, because if you don't have buyers or customers, you know you don't really have anything. So that it goes to market research and real engagement with your end your end users or buyers. This is off script, Joscelyn, and totally not related to innovation, but in our precalls and during this conversation you strike me as someone who loves her job and is all in on her work, and obviously there's a lot of accrudu months that come along with that. How did you find this role? I always it sounds so horrible, but this was my...

...like eighteen year old brain. I was not sure if I wanted to run the world or take over the world like that was my thing. A team right, and so I started at Huron College, down the street from you folks, and I was in international development and I I went and dug latrines and hunterists and I we started a social enterprise and I'm like, okay, I'm gonna like work to help save the world. That's my calling. But then I started getting really frustrated and seeing how limited and difficult that was and I was frustrated without with the lack of practicality that people were approaching the problems. And so then I accepted my pre acceptance to ivy and I went to business school and I loved it. I was like, okay, I'm going to go into business and I'm going to change the world from within, from within big business, and I worked for pharmaceutical company and and then I got disillusioned and and then floundered for a bit. I did a master's in bioethics and looking at ethical decisionmaking and in the bioscience industry, so Farma and tech, and I looked around the people that were leaders and they were either physicians or had a PhD and philosophy, or lawyers. I'm lawyers in my family, but I felt like that was the fastest way that I could get out there and start making a change. So I went to law school and I really worked in health policy and work for an intellectual property firm and got to do some really cool work. I worked on the hill in Washington changing working to change legislation on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, trying to get access to drugs, trying to get cheaper drugs out there. So, you know, mostly representing generic pharmaceutical companies, trying to fight the big bad brands. I say...

...that with Jess because they're all doing important work in different ways. And I stayed in private practice in law for much longer than I expected and grand challenge just Canada. Peter Singer was our founding CEO and he he was my thesis supervisor and I I was ready to make a leap. I was pregnant with my friends at the time and I made a pitch to them. They were about five people and I said bring me on as your general counsel. You'll save a lot of money, but I want to be part of the strategy. And so I helped build the investment committee, build our processes, our partnerships and worked my way up to be operations and yes, I do love my job. And then when stepped down, my and I, who kind of does the science and the programmatic stuff, and we co applied to be Coceo's and I do love my job and I think the reason I love it so much is because I get to bring business principles and my knowledge from kind of being an intellectual property lawyer and that kind of this is how the world works. There's just a practical aspect of getting stacked to my conversations with government, with entrepreneurs, with partners towards making an impact, to saving and improving people's lives, and so it's that mix that really jazzes me up and I found that where I spend most of my time is what I call translating, you know, enabling indigenous leaders at GCC to change our processes, to decolonize them, to make them less western and more grounded in indigenous ways of knowing and being. And so I'm I'm translating that to our board, for example, when talking to government, I'm translating what the innovators on the nap, on the ground need so that they don't impose terms on us that we have to impose on innovators that are going to, you know, destroy innovation before...

...it gets off the ground. So I spend a lot of time speaking, quote, different languages, not not actual languages, but different types of speak to bring different partners together. That's great. No, I did. It's a helpful to get the context in the back story. So feels like there's no way you could have predicted that you would be the CEO of Grand Challenges Canada, Winding Road, not unlike. I don't know anybody we've ever had into the class before. So that's great. One question. I like. That's all our guests. Any advice to your twenty year old self? You were here just a few years ago the old iyey build, and assuming I was too. But any advice to your twenty year old self? Yeah, I mean I think I wish I could have just trusted the process a little bit more. I was so anxious about making a wrong decision or knowing what my path was going to be. I remember being in tears during my master's going what am I doing? You know, I just and knowing that the bad decision, so to speak, you'll learn something from and it will take you in a place that you won't know. So guess what I'm saying is that there are no bad decisions because you'll learn from it. They'll be like okay, I definitely I was a pharmacutical sales wrap and I hated it was horme Um, but I really learned what I didn't want to do and it, you know, I pivoted and then I kept going. So no decision is a bad decision. This kind of a path is super normal now. It wasn't thirty or forty years ago, like you're supposed to pick and you sort of stay. It's really accepted now that you dabble and you try and you figure this out and and when you're going for your job interview or you're pitching your vision to your investors, the our path is what makes you interesting,...

...it's what gives you wisdom. So embrace that and try, I mean with all of our you know all the anxiety in the world's mental health. You know, try and enjoy the ride and and know that you'll you'll figure it out and that the bad decisions are important to that's what I was iding. That's great. Well Drawstin for some of with such a busy calendar and such a big mandate. We certainly appreciate you taking an hour plus of your time with the preparation everything else. So thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it. Thank you very much. The entrepreneur podcast is sponsored by quantum shift, two thousand and eight alum, Connie CLARICI, and closing the gap healthcare group. To ensure you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast player or visit entrepreneurship dot UWO DOT CAA podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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