Daniel Drouet, lecturer
Finding happiness in entrepreneurship!Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Future engineers who are trained at École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) are called upon to make significant contributions to the future economy. In light of this, it is not surprising that many of them want to discover whether entrepreneurship – or a company-based project that they are already working on – is the best fit for their aptitudes and aspirations.
To support them in this adventure, what is needed is someone who combines experience and entrepreneurship, along with an in-depth understanding of technology. Someone who fits that profile is Daniel Drouet, a Lecturer at ÉTS since April 2020 who teaches the Introduction to Entrepreneurship course.
From Electrical Engineering to entrepreneurship
After earning a Bachelor degree in Economy from McGill University in 1990, Daniel Drouet spent a few years travelling and working before returning to McGill in 2000 to pursue a second Bachelor degree, this time in Electrical Engineering.
Back then, the Internet was in its infancy and cellphones were nowhere near the smart phones we see today – all they could do was make calls!
With an affinity for telecommunications and data networking, Daniel got his first job as an intern at JDS in Ottawa. The future engineer and two colleagues were assigned to a relatively secretive project: finding a way to produce, on a large scale, optical amplifiers that could augment fibre-optic signals without having to decompose every wavelength.
Their mission was a resounding success. In fact, the demand for the devices was so high that their business unit, which originally comprised only three engineers, quickly grew to 350 employees working 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, thanks to the computerization of the production floor, which was implemented by the engineers.
According to Daniel Drouet: “A significant portion of the modern Internet, especially when it comes to streaming video, depends on the technology that we developed at the time, because it allowed for a massive reduction in bandwidth cost, thus making the Internet that we know today economically viable”.
In his final year as an undergraduate student, Daniel was hired by a Bell affiliate that was responsible for the company’s 350 largest clients, including governments and multinational corporations. It was there that he learned how to negotiate with companies and became familiar with corporate sales, network operations and partnerships.
In 2004, he brought his expertise to the Institut international des télécommunications in the area of training and consultation for a variety of clients in the Americas, Africa and the Middle East, in partnership with an agency of the United Nations. He was also assigned to the first research centre in North America to deploy 3G technology, which made high-speed data connections accessible to the public via mobile devices!
“We were trying to imagine the possibilities of combining telephony with the Internet long before it became a reality”, he recalls.
The start-up adventure: Learning from your mistakes
Understanding that 3G technology would lead to innovations – especially in connection with mobile applications – Daniel Drouet and a friend asked themselves why there was no venture capital hub Québec. That was when he left the Institut international des télécommunications.
The two friends then launched a venture capital fund called Montreal Start-Up (renamed Real Ventures three years later) with the support of Investissement Québec and the Fonds de solidarité FTQ, which invested $5 million. Three years later, they launched a second fund in the amount of $50 million.
“At that time, I suffered from imposter syndrome, because I had never started a company myself, so I resigned from Real Ventures”, Daniel Drouet humbly admits.
By way of proving himself, he decided to launch his own start-up company: Ajah!
He continues: “I wanted to lead a team of engineers and build a product from A to Z. I expected to establish the company and then leave in three years, but it actually took me five years. The start-up experience was painful, but I learned from my mistakes.”
What was the biggest mistake? “We didn’t have any external members on our Board of Directors! As entrepreneurs, we are so focused on the daily grind that we lack perspective, which is why it is so important to have people who are not involved in the day-to-day management to provide a longer-term vision.”
Although he once considered Ajah to be a personal failure, Daniel Drouet is proud to see that the company is still in operation 10 years later, giving people an opportunity to make a decent living.
“Entrepreneurship can be scary at first glance, and the fear is justified, because it is not an easy road”, states the Entrepreneur In Residence at Centech, the ÉTS business incubator.
In paraphrasing the Greek philosopher Aristotle, Daniel Drouet says: “In life, as in entrepreneurship, knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. As a Lecturer, I want to challenge my students to evaluate their own aptitudes with respect to becoming an entrepreneur. I did my time as an entrepreneur, but I found happiness in it!”
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