Haroon Mizra – Tech guru

Haroon Mirza, a young entrepreneur from Toronto, has amassed a million dollars in wealth by his own efforts and is now only 29 years old.

Success for Mirza and his two business partners in selling their software company to Intel last year can be attributed to their diligence and good timing in receiving guidance.

However, Mirza acknowledges that his status as an immigrant contributed to his success. The thirteen-year-Pakistani old’s parents emigrated here from Saudi Arabia via England, and his siblings and he followed a few years later.

He says that when you consider what your loved ones gave up for you to be here, “you’ll be highly motivated to be successful.” When I was younger, I had no idea what I wanted out of life or how to get it, but I did know that I would go after whatever goal I set for myself with all the vigour I could muster.

He argues that immigrants are more likely to already possess the innate qualities that contribute to an entrepreneur’s success. Moving far away from all you know in the hopes of starting over is an emotional investment and risk not unlike taking a chance on your own ideas and seeing them through to fruition.

Financial and entrepreneurship professor Douglas Cumming from York University’s Schulich School of Business agrees that this makes good sense.

He explains that the “best people” are the ones who are making the transition abroad, rather than the “ordinary person” in their native country. “The risk-taking aptitude that allows someone to travel overseas also bodes well for their success in business.”

As an entrepreneur, Mirza inspired others, including Faizal Javer and Shahzad Malik. While attending Carleton University in Ottawa to study corporate finance, the three buddies held monthly brainstorming meetings.

The one certainty was that we wanted to go into business together, he says. We were all driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and shared key principles. Our goal during those meetings was to identify which businesses could benefit from our proposed solutions.

There was the techie, the businessman, and the entrepreneur, and together they made the ideal team. However, they needed answers, so they consulted an expert who had previously carried out a similar strategy.

Suresh Madan, Excalibur Capital Management Inc.’s executive vice president and portfolio manager, was their guest. Madan is responsible for overseeing a total of $110 million in assets, most of which are invested in startups.

Madan is not only the founder and CEO of his own company, but also the head of the Toronto branch of the business networking organisation TiE (Talent, Ideas, Enterprise).

In 1992, a group of successful South Asian businesspeople in Silicon Valley formed TiE with the goal of assisting other aspiring entrepreneurs. Since its inception in 2001, Toronto has been home to one of TiE’s 57 active chapters across the globe.

When asked what his company’s focus is, Madan replied, “entrepreneurs” and “helping others create businesses.” To to the authors, “We feel immigrants have the benefit… the urge that causes someone to immigrate provides a certain risk-taking aptitude that is essential in launching a new enterprise.”

When Mirza and his pals first joined TiE, they were paired with a mentor who spent many hours helping them perfect their business plan.

The guidance counsellor was quite useful and pushed us to clarify our thinking. In order to learn more about the digital signage market, we did a lot of research and studied all the technology news,” says Mirza.

Do you recall the electronic posters that used to be displayed in Tim Hortons? We found out that companies are making greater efforts to monitor their advertising. They were interested in knowing how many individuals were seeing them, what demographic they belonged to, and how long people spent looking. They needed a way to gauge the impact of the posters they put up.

We pondered if there was a way to solve the problem.

It turned out they were able to. CognoVision is the brand name of the company that created the software that uses facial recognition to give marketers feedback on the effectiveness of their commercials.

This technology can track how many people see an advertisement, how many people pause to watch it, how long they watch it, what gender they are, and how old they are.

Its technology was first entered into the annual TiEQuest Business Venture Competition in 2007. Even though it didn’t come out on top, this company nonetheless managed to get the eye of some very large competitors. The Canadian Innovation Exchange recognised it as the country’s most innovative business in 2009.

Their acquisition by Intel began in 2010. Analysts have speculated that Intel spent between $17 and $25 million for CognoVision, although Mirza has refused to comment on the matter.

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