My name is Victor, and I’m the CEO of Onova. We are a seven-figure innovation consultancy that sells large-scale hackathons or “innovation sprints” to Fortune 500 companies. Our customers are the world’s largest companies like McDonald’s, HSBC, BMO, and Capgemini. We run innovation sprints of all sizes, from eight-hour single-day sessions to week-long marathons. And so far, we’ve had tens of thousands of employees from over 40 countries across the globe participate. These sprints aim to rapidly build new products, foster an innovation culture, and upskill employees on new technologies, all done at scale.
Our mission is to help foster an innovation culture within massive organizations so that they can build products that, in turn, impact millions of their customers. The way we do this is by empowering and rewarding their top entrepreneurial employees through innovation sprints. We went through the journey ourselves as intrapreneurs in building Onova and have deep empathy for all the challenges that stunt innovation within huge organizations. It brings me a lot of joy to help corporate innovators find deep meaning and fulfillment in the work they do.
Over the years, we’ve since taken the profits of the consultancy and reinvested that into starting a micro venture fund investing in early-stage tech startups while also incubating a couple of software products of our own. One of those products is PokerGPT – the world’s first AI poker coach. The other is a hackathon management and logistics platform that we often sell with our innovation sprint services.
With us now investing and building multiple other ventures, our consultancy is evolving into a startup/venture studio model. This is incredibly fun as it’s basically an entrepreneur’s playground, getting to test and launch new ideas and see what sticks. It also ensures that we are keeping our own entrepreneurial muscles fresh as we continue to advise on and design innovation programs for clients.
Tell us about yourself?
I am a five-time founder, startup investor, and semi-professional poker player. I was born and grew up in Toronto and spent my mid-20s in San Francisco before becoming a nomad in 2019. I have since worked and lived across South America and Asia and now split my time mostly between Toronto and Asia.
I started my career trying to build a tech startup straight out of university. I had joined the Queen’s summer incubator program and ground away at the startup for about a year before eventually deciding to shut things down. I had a job offer to work at Capgemini and decided to try out the corporate consulting world before finding my way back into startups.
My co-founder and I met each other in 2016 while working for Capgemini. We started running community hackathons on the side and eventually saw the opportunity to take the model commercially to clients. We spent six months fundraising internally before raising enough money to turn the venture into our full-time jobs. A year and a half later, after running dozens of hackathons, we decided to spin it off as our own independent consultancy, which is what became Onova. We retained our clients and relationships from when we were operating within Capgemini. We are 100 per cent independently owned and operated, and now Capgemini is both a client and partner in our business.
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Starting a business is a momentum game. The more you delay your process, the more excuses build, anxiety starts to build, and the lower chance you ever have to eventually turn that idea into reality. It doesn’t take much to start a business today with all the advancements in technology and, in particular, AI. If it’s something you really want to do, carve out some intentional time for yourself to learn, build, and launch something. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish in even just 24 hours of focused time.
What problem does your business solve?
Large companies struggle to innovate. They have much more to lose by taking big risks, and layers of process and bureaucratic hierarchy often get in the way. Top-tier employees at these companies struggle to find truly fulfilling work where they can exercise their creativity and entrepreneurial muscles.
Through our innovation sprints, we are helping massive companies build innovation cultures that last. Ones that allow them to rapidly produce meaningful new products while also empowering and engaging their top employees.
What is your magic sauce?
As a consultancy, our product is our people. Our magic sauce is that we’re deeply passionate, obsessed, and a lot fun to work with. I can, without a doubt, say that we have some of the best people in the industry for doing this work. We do things in an unconventional way and often challenge the status quo in a way that is refreshing for our clients. We also pride ourselves on not just being consultants but entrepreneurs and investors at heart. We bring our deep curiosity and nature for problem solving and building and apply it to the world of massive corporations. We’re constantly learning and sharpening our own entrepreneurial muscles so that we can be the latest in tech and industry trends and practices to our clients.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
After recently breaking seven figures in revenue, our goal is to surpass eight figures within five years. We plan to grow the consulting side of the business and continue reinvesting the profits into our software projects and investments side of our business. Our vision is to become the go-to company for helping Fortune 500s innovate faster and better while also becoming experts in Generative AI and its implementation within massive organizations.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced so far is the financial stress, uncertainty, and risk of running a business. We had a fairly smooth trajectory in the first four years of our business, but we had a tough start to the year when we lost 80 per cent of our expected revenue, largely due to factors outside of our control. The team persevered, and we’ve managed to recover. Knowing that your business can decline significantly in any given year and maintaining a level head to power through and continue having conviction in what you’re doing is not easy. Especially when you have employees dependent on you for their livelihood. I’ve luckily been a poker player most of my life, and that has very adequately prepared me for the swings of running a business. We manage this risk by maintaining a large amount of our overall financial portfolio in cash so that we have enough runway to survive the difficult periods. This strategy was especially prudent for us this year.