That, along with a strong background in the computer industry, makes Keefe a perfect fit to lead Startup Zone as its interim CEO.
Startup Zone, located at the corner of Queen and Water streets in Charlottetown, launched in June of 2016 with financial support from ACOA and the province.
Keefe took the interim CEO job this year to fill in for Christina MacLeod, who is on maternity leave.
Keefe, 35, grew up in Summerside. He got his first taste of a startup company with a website development business while at Acadia University studying computer science. Since graduating in 2004, he has worked for Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Greenwood in Nova Scotia as a software developer, founded Logikl Technology Inc., served as the CTO and co-founder of the Charlottetown-based startup GetGifted Inc., and worked as a senior project manager for Shared Services Canada.
Keefe sat down with The Guardian this week to talk about Startup Zone, its role in the business community and why he decided to come on board.
Q: Why did you want the job with Startup Zone?
A: I’ve been passionate about startups for a long time, since I started my own business in university. So, I actually don’t follow sports that much. I follow startups like many people would follow sports, not only locally but across the world. I’m interested in how these companies are developing and the teams behind them. So, when I saw this opportunity come up, I was eager to apply because you get the chance to participate in supporting the success of startups. That’s what really has me excited about this. Every day you get to come here and actually work towards the success of other startups and build that startup (entrepreneurial) community in Charlottetown and P.E.I.
Q: What are some of the challenges startup companies face?
A: Especially if you’re a first-time starter, you have a great idea or maybe you’ve uncovered a really painful problem, whether it is in yours or someone else’s business that you want to solve. That’s usually the start and you don’t know where to turn, because there are all these different areas, all essential to business success – human resources, marketing, accounting – and as the founder of the company, you’re responsible for everything. But, all you want to do is build your product and sell it to somebody. But there could be individual problems in any of those areas.
Q: So, how does Startup Zone help new businesses deal with these problems?
A: First, by making sure their business is built on a good foundation, meaning they have a quantified customer need, they know their vision for their company, have a foundation of pricing and a business model that supports a real company. Because sometimes you can have a good product but not the financials to support a company behind that product. We also provide specific guidance.
Q: How else has Startup Zone helped new businesses?
A: We’ve been able to have 30 companies come through here, which is kind of exciting. Hopefully what we’ve done is been able to fast-track some of these companies, either to success or to the point where that they’ve decided it’s not going to continue. And, that’s OK. We still see them as having learned something valuable through the process, regardless. Because if they come back with their next idea, they will have made a lot of those same mistakes first and they maybe have learned from other people that they’ve been around. Startup Zone has been able to bring companies together that might not have otherwise known about each other, so it brings that awareness.
Q: What are you looking for in an applicant for Startup Zone’s residency program?
A: We want somebody who is really committed to building a company (and) someone who has an opportunity that is growth focused. You don’t have to already have a product or it already being sold. We don’t need a big business plan or anything like that. It’s about communicating your vision to us and as long as you’re committed to delivering on that vision, we’re here to support you.