Photo: “There’s a great spirit of people working together and there’s an excitement around things, and people want to build stuff; I think it’s terrific for Canada – it’s great,” says Nadir Mohamed, former CEO of Rogers Communications, on his visit to Waterloo Region.

Daunting is filling the shoes of one of Canada’s most iconic businessmen, the late Ted Rogers.

But in his five years as CEO of Rogers Communications, Nadir Mohamed proved he was more than up to the challenge, and was behind the wheel when Canada’s largest telecom provider acquired the country’s most lucrative sports conglomerate, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Since Mohamed stepped down from Rogers in January, he has served as a CEO-in-residence at Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, mentoring students along the entrepreneurial path.

Last Friday, he visited the Communitech Hub for the first time, and we had a chance to chat with him about entrepreneurship and the growing relationship between Waterloo Region and Toronto’s tech communities.

Q – What one insight or lesson do you try and pass along to entrepreneurs?

A – Just keep at it.

There’s nothing like drive and just being relentless. I always find in life that if you have a sense of purpose, a mission that you’re trying to accomplish, there will be lots of struggles along the way, but don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to do.

Q – Why do you think it’s important for places like Communitech and Ryerson DMZ to exist? How has that changed over your career?

A – I will start with the second part of the question. When I grew up, the standard would be to leave university, get a job – depending on the company you did better or worse – and you thought of pedigrees of companies.

Today, we have two things that are happening in parallel that are driving change and behaviour. Number 1 is technology. When you think of what has happened with cloud computing or big data, it has created conditions where entrepreneurship can happen with very limited capital.

Before, that world didn’t exist, and if you combine that with people feeling that they want to own what they are doing, as opposed to working for somebody, I think it’s a perfect marriage where entrepreneurship becomes a great outlook for people saying, “Hey, I have finished my studying; I can start up a business,” and it doesn’t take much capital and there’s a great environment – we’re talking Communitech – that people with similar aspirations can share ideas.

Secondly, I think that the environment is ripe for entrepreneurship, without question. I don’t think that would have happened without the technology change.

Q – What do you think it is going to take for Canada to produce those larger companies that will help us compete on a global scale?

A – I don’t think that we should think of this as an overnight thing. I think that we are doing exactly what we should be doing, which is building environments like Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone.

One of things that I’m keen on making sure is that we don’t get parochial; these are initiatives that we can learn by sharing and collaborating. So one of the things that I am excited for is how Toronto and Waterloo Region can work better together and be stronger as a result, and effectively have a corridor that can be our stamp in Canada.

Having a global view is also important and one of the things that we are doing now is creating global relationships. We started in India; we’re looking at Israel and about a half a dozen countries, so that our young entrepreneurs have the best access, whether that’s local markets or global markets.

I think that it will come; we just have to stay at it.

And my last point is that in every model that I’ve looked at that has been successful in the world, it has taken universities; private equity, as in entrepreneurs; corporate people, Canada in this case; and government to come together to make it happen. It doesn’t come from any one, but comes from all working together.

Q – The corridor between Toronto and Waterloo Region is important for overall success?

A – Absolutely.

I think it’s one of the logical next steps; we just have to get on it, and you will be hearing some announcements very soon.

Q – Now that you have visited the Communitech Hub and Waterloo Region, what are you thoughts?

A – it’s my first chance to visit and meet with some of the startup companies. And probably the takeaway is the spirit. There’s a great spirit of people working together and there’s an excitement around things, and people want to build stuff; I think it’s terrific for Canada – it’s great.