Working with technology startups, it’s all too easy to forget that a great, innovative and marketable technology does not make a business in itself. Successful companies require people—talented people. Having spoken with investors from all around the world, it’s become clear that a strong team can be just as important as the technology.

Recruiting and retaining top talent is hard for all businesses. There is tough competition and employees no longer stay with one company for their entire careers. These challenges are increased for startups, as new businesses are often cash strapped and require employees to perform many roles.

For technology-related positions, startups often look for employees who have in-depth knowledge and experience in a niche field. New hires need to possess the right skill set and be able to apply it to an innovative technology.

On the business side, startups require support in areas including leadership, marketing and sales, business development and operations. Quite often the CEO will split up his or her duties and time, taking on tasks as diverse as directing a new marketing video, developing strategic relationships and heading up human resources initiatives.

Case study: SPARQ Systems

Murray McCaig, managing partner of ArcTern Ventures and acting CEO of SPARQ Systems, believes that up to one-third of a CEO’s time should be focused on talent. He knows what he’s talking about, having successfully filled two top SPARQ Systems positions in the last year. He is currently looking for a CEO for the company.

SPARQ has developed an innovative microinverter that converts direct current power generated by solar panels into alternating current power that can be used in homes and businesses. Praveen Jain, a recognized leader in power electronics from Queen’s University, developed the technology.

SPARQ Systems microinverter
SPARQ’s innovative microinverter converts direct current power generated by solar panels into alternating power that can be used in homes and businesses

The company has a great value proposition, offering lower upfront costs and a microinverter lifetime that matches the solar panels it is connected to (and is twice that of competitors). From a technology standpoint, SPARQ has been a strong company for some time. However, it’s only really been in the last year or so that it has taken off, securing sales in both Canada and Mexico. Why? Its success can be attributed to two strategic hires who have the knowledge and relationships required to rapidly accelerate growth.

SPARQ’s new hires

Last summer, SPARQ hired Mark Abrams as its vice-president of product management and business development. The company recruited Mark from Enphase Energy, the market leader for microinverters and its strongest competitor. Mark’s experience in the sector is proving invaluable in managing SPARQ’s launch of the world’s first quad-microinverter.

Not stopping there, SPARQ hired Corey Geiger as its vice-president of marketing, sales and customer support, stealing him away from Soligent, a leader in services, technology and financing solutions for distributed solar projects (such as residential solar panels). SPARQ’s target customers are solar distributors and Corey’s knowledge of the industry, including customer goals and processes, will catalyze sales.

The cost of recruiting talent

It’s not just the CEO’s time that needs to be taken into account. In SPARQ’s case, the entire senior management team was involved in the hiring process. Finding the right candidate is only the first step; getting him or her to jump on board is the really important part. For SPARQ, this meant an aggressive promotional effort, including multiple face-to-face meetings in California, lots of hard selling and even a paid trip to Las Vegas to attend a solar conference.

Mark and Corey needed to know that SPARQ was serious and willing to compensate them appropriately. Paying top dollar for talent is something many startups shy away from, but to get the best talent you often need to pay the right salary.

SPARQ Systems team
SPARQ Systems team

Why finding the right talent matters

SPARQ’s two new hires helped put the company in a position to successfully secure $11 million in financing in October 2014. The funds will help launch the company’s new product, open a San Francisco office and accelerate growth.

Around the same time, SPARQ’s then-CEO, Randy MacEwan, was recruited away to join Ballard Power Systems. Finding talent is only part of the equation; keeping employees is the other. Hopefully we’ll have another talent acquisition to announce in the near future, as SPARQ is now actively looking for its new CEO.

Photo credit: Lesson by kaptainkobold under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / modified

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Jennifer Minelli

Jennifer manages the accelerating ventures program at MaRS, supporting high-growth ventures in the cleantech, health and information & communications technology (ICT) sectors.See more…