Starting a new business is easy: hundreds of thousands of them are launched every year. However, successfully operating and growing one is not. A lot goes into it — having a great product or service, strong leadership, hiring the right people, raising cash for expansion, and being prepared to scale up when things take off. Many tech start-ups wither on the vine because they make costly errors that hurt growth or fail to invest in services that could give them a competitive advantage.
For Isabel Galiana, CEO of Montreal-based Neuroflex, the past few years have been a whirlwind. The company, which uses intelligent brain health technologies including leveraging virtual reality to diagnose concussions and vestibular disorders, launched in 2016. Since then, Saccade went from being part of a tech incubator to seeing solid sales growth. Recently the company completed an international merger, purchasing an Australian health technology firm called Digital Health Organization (DHO). For Galiana, who comes from an academic background and has a Ph.D. in economics, taking on the Chief Executive role had a steep learning curve beyond handling the day-to-day operations of the company. Her relationship with Imaginal Ventures gave her the tools and insights she needed to build her confidence to make the difficult decisions required of CEOs every day.
Galiana first met Imaginal Ventures founder and CEO Dorothy Spence in 2019 at a retreat for female founders. After a few years of working in an incubator setting, Spence's sessions stood out. "It wasn't the usual kind of start-up retreat approach where it's like, let's talk about your value proposition," said Galiana. "We were kind of forced to interact in a more honest way."
“I was really struck with not only the quality of who she is, but also the quality of the company she was leading," said Spence. "She has really amazing products and technology, and I saw the potential to do something different and unique in the world."
Galiana started to meet with Spence several times a month after the retreat. The sessions were direct and focused on specific goals to ensure that important topics were covered. "Within those two hours, we got through more than I had gotten from numerous previous advisors at all of the incubators," said Galiana. "Dorothy explained to me that 'this is the phase you're at, and this is where you need to be.' "
The coaching relationship between Galiana and Spence continued to grow. With her years of experience, Spence knew the challenges to growth and what was required at the various stages of a company's development. Building up Neuroflex's capabilities would permit the company to accelerate its growth smoothly.
After a few months of this coaching, Galiana took Imaginal Venture's purpose led business school module on Business Mechanics, a program designed to create structures and systems that give entrepreneurs the essential tools to improve operations and maximize revenues. Unlike her experience in incubators, where the focus was on pitching the company to investors, "it was really about how are you going to build a business that's solid and aligned with your values," says Galiana. "It's hard to maintain the energy and the drive yet still push through all of the issues you're going to have if the company is not aligned with your values."
"Isabel is the kind of client that we work the best with," said Spence. "Typically, it's their first time running a business, and they have a strong product or technological focus. They know enough coming from the product side that they understand the importance of building things sequentially and the logic behind it."
Galiana decided to invest in specialized training with Spence with a focus on strategy. This included participating in Imaginal’s School focused on Human Dynamics. This program focuses on the importance of building a strong company culture and staffing it with aligned people. It promotes open, transparent communication between leadership and the team to ensure that everyone buys into the growth and scaling strategy.
Human Dynamics is critically important for Neuroflex as they wrap up the merger with DHO. The company will more than double its workforce by the end of 2021, going from 12 to 30 employees. The organization is looking for biomedical engineers, data scientists, and machine-learning experts. They need to find people who are a cultural fit with the company while also having the required skills and abilities. Hiring someone who doesn't mesh with the culture can trigger several adverse outcomes — making everyone work less efficiently, with less energy and motivation.
Neuroflex, like most companies, had a challenging 2020. It was difficult to demonstrate or test a product that needed to go on different people's faces. However, it did allow her to put all that she learned in the Business Mechanics and Human Dynamics courses into practice and build out Neuroflex’s systems using the Conscious Business Operating System . Part of the teachings is to recognize the difference between a conscious and unconscious choice. And that helped build her confidence in making difficult decisions.
"I look back [before the school], and the way I made decisions was checking with five million people to see if it was the right choice," said Galiana. "Now I'm more comfortable making decisions, and I think a big part of it is I'm making conscious decisions. So I've made this decision based on all the evidence and for these reasons. For someone to change my mind, they will have to present new evidence and new reasons that supersede what I've been looking at."
Galiana's relationship with Spence and Imaginal Ventures is only getting stronger. In the wake of the merger of DHO, Neuroflex' board is tapping Spence to provide advisory services to the expanded, merged team in Canada and Australia. Two team members will also attend the Imaginal School to ensure that everybody has a shared vision.
Starting a new company can be daunting. There are so many pitfalls that cause even experienced business people trouble. For someone inexperienced, the challenges may seem too great. But having an outsider to provide coaching, perspective, and advice can increase the odds in their favour. Imaginal Ventures has helped many companies develop strategies and build infrastructures that will empower them to grow while creating a strong workplace culture. Access to experienced professionals could be the difference between success and failure, and is well worth the investment.