Nicole Verkindt, CEO and Founder of OMX

Nicole Verkindt on success, failure and tips for future entrepreneurs and recent grads

By Sucheta Shankar, Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Nizam Ahmed

Photo courtesy of Nizam Ahmed

The National Business and Technology Conference 2013 (NBTC’13) took place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre between March 8 and 9. The event treated delegates to star-studded panels and workshops. From the Women’s Entrepreneurship Panel, we met Nicole Verkindt, CEO and founder of OMX (theomx.com), an online database that allows users to find Canadian companies in the defense, aerospace and security sectors.

What led to OMX focusing on such a unique field as aerospace and defence?

My family business was always in this field and my first company focused on manufacturing parts for this industry. So I was always in that field. In my previous company, I was selling parts to a massive network of large government contractors like Lockheed Martin and Bowin. I had all my own personal frustrations with that, and this company, OMX, was started out of those frustrations. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and had an idea — I was living with this issue for years, and when you are so intimate with such issues, the next step seems obvious.

So is it a passion that led you to this focus?

I wouldn’t say I was passionate about the industry in particular. I just had so much domain expertise, knowledge and contacts. Once you start to get that, you don’t want to just leave it. Instead, you have to leverage off of it and move on to the next stage.

If someone aspires to be where you are today, how would you recommend approaching that goal?

One step at a time. Be very open-minded to everything you are learning along the way. One day, it all becomes clear that the job you had sweeping the floor when you were 15 was there to teach you how to manage that person with empathy one day in the future. My other piece of advice is to have mentors or at least figures that you look up to. Steve Jobs was one of them for me.

[pullquote]Tenacity is number one. On low days you need to pick yourself up, get off the ground, pick up the phone and keep pushing.[/pullquote]

If you were to advise undergraduates who are interested in starting a company, what would you counsel them?

I would say intern. I might be biased because I love having interns, but I find when I meet students that they have this energy about them, and if they don’t know, they don’t know, right? I was the same way when I left school and I thought, “I want to start my own company.” But there is some value in knowing that you don’t really know everything, and it’s great to surround yourself with people who have done it before. Some mistakes are really expensive and cost you an entire business.

What you do look for in an intern?

The best interns are the ones who just genuinely want to be successful. I’ve had interns who have worked way harder than our middle management staff because they have that energy. It’s all about passion and energy.

Are there role models you look up to who keep you motivated?

I think I have a thousand mentors. Every time I read biographies — I am super-hungry for them — I think you pick and choose and take pieces from everybody. You are basically stealing the best parts of all the mentors or people you read about. Everyone says it’s good to have a structured mentorship, but I don’t agree with that.

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