This entrepreneur’s innovation formula? Never give up

4-minute read

Paul Pednault, Sponsorium

In the 1980s, Paul Pednault split his time between running an accounting firm and his hobby—racing cars.

In his quest for sponsors to fund his passion, the Montreal entrepreneur realized he was a natural at raising money. He founded a company that matched sponsors with arts, sporting and other high-profile events.

He took the next step when he founded Sponsorium in 1987 to advise companies on dealing with the complicated and time-consuming job of managing their sponsorship portfolios.

He developed a methodology for evaluating requests for sponsorships and donations, and then automated it as software.

Almost 25 years after its creation, his PerforMind methodology—now a cloud‑based platform—helps companies to manage sponsorships in 45 countries and 22 languages.

A BDC client, Sponsorium has major corporations on its client list, including AT&T, MasterCard, HSBC, Air France, BMW and McDonald’s.

Here’s what Pednault has to say on:

…the beginnings of his business

I have always been an entrepreneur. When I was five, I was selling lemonade for a nickel. By 12, I was selling mail‑order shoes; by age 15 it was radios; and by the time I reached 18, I was selling encyclopedias door to door.

I am the accidental founder of Sponsorium. In another life, I owned an accounting system company and raced cars for a hobby. Our racing team didn’t always make the podium, but it always had the most sponsors. I had a flair for attracting sponsors, so I started helping other groups find financial supporters.

In 1982, I founded Communicart, a company that specialized in matching sponsors to events. Few people were involved in this type of business, so we expanded rapidly.

In no time, our client, Alcan, asked if we would take on their sponsorship portfolio. This is how we started providing consulting services to sponsors through a new division—Sponsorium.

Big corporations receive thousands of sponsorship requests each year. The PerforMind methodology helps our clients find out the extent to which an event or project meets the objectives of the company, and second, at what cost.

…on growth

One day, one of our clients asked me why we hadn’t marketed our methodology beyond our client base. That’s how the software was born. We soon abandoned our consulting services to focus exclusively on implementing PerforMind on international markets.

It was tough at the beginning. Selling a software solution is complicated—there are IT security and installation challenges to consider. We were a consulting business at heart, not a technology company.

We made the transition to cloud‑based software in 2002 and that really made things easier for us. The client gets a password, logs in and that’s it.

Since&nbasp;1994, we’ve had only one product—PerforMind. We are at version 12 with this software, and each year we track our clients’ needs and add about 35 improvements. The extent to which a product can be refined is amazing.

We are in acquisition mode. We plan on adding to our current service offering, but we will not stray from PerforMind. My ambition is that, one day, every company will use our software.

We now have 30 employees, including six software engineers, and five offices outside Canada, in London, New York, Melbourne, São Paulo and Dubai.

…on persistence

A developer who was working on producing the cloud-based version of PerforMind was supposed to deliver the product in October 2001. Instead, he vanished with the cash deposit I had given him. At the same time, our sales in the U.S. were hit badly by the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

We didn’t have the cloud software and the vice president of sales we had hired had nothing to sell. The stars were clearly not aligned.

We didn’t have much money left from what we had borrowed. We had to get creative to convince our clients to pay us before the product was even out. We kick‑started the development of the cloud‑based software and launched our product in the summer of 2002.

It’s at a time like that that BDC’s flexibility and patience are invaluable. By deferring our principal payments, BDC helped us get through those tough times. It’s unbelievable how easily people around you will say, “Well, you tried. You can see that it’s not working, so maybe you should move on to something else.”

My motto—and maybe my best advice to other entrepreneurs—is to never give up.

For sure, it’s not always easy. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, starting with your banker. If you really believe in your dream, you have to see it through. Never, ever give up on your dream.