Posted on 2021-01-20
Nick Iozzo, founder and CEO of DPM Energy Inc., and Erez Zevulunov, founder and CEO of M.I.T. Consulting, both joined the Toronto chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization in 2013. The two met through EO and have evolved from acquaintances, to a client-vendor relationship, to authentic friendship. We caught up with Nick and Erez in December 2020 to ask about their entrepreneurial journeys. Here’s what they shared.
What is your message to up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
“I think the biggest fear people have of jumping ship and working for themselves is wondering if they’re making the right decision. Most decisions don’t prove themselves for five or six months,” Nick said. “Don’t be afraid. Trust yourself and jump in.”
Erez added the importance of being prepared for the amount of hard work it takes to launch a successful company.
“There’s a bit of a façade on social media that if you open a business or start a software company, you’ll be rolling in Bentleys. People think every entrepreneur is a success story,” Erez said. He recalled a New-Year’s-Eve-gone-wrong 10 years ago when a data center breach kept him there until 4 a.m. to solve the problem.
“You have to put your company’s survival before yourself. A lot of people don’t realize the amount of effort it takes. It’s 24/7 for the first couple of years, which is why a lot of businesses fail.”
How are you supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs?
For successful entrepreneurs, one coveted opportunity is sharing what you’ve learned with the next generation. Nick does so by serving as EO Toronto’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) programme champion.
GSEA is a global competition designed to recognize and award the world’s future innovators for combining two demanding roles: Operating a business while attending university. The annual event starts with thousands of entrepreneurs competing at the local EO chapter level. It culminates with the Global Finals, where the top 50 student entrepreneurs in the world compete for the grand prize.
Nick runs GSEA’s local Toronto competition and helps organize Canada’s national competition: “It’s refreshing and fun to be around young entrepreneurs. They have great energy, enthusiasm and bright ideas―it reminds me why I’m doing what I do and inspires me to try new things.”
“I consider GSEA to be EO’s greatest contribution to non-EO members,” Nick said. “We’re giving back to the community in supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs. It benefits the community and the future of entrepreneurship.”
How has COVID-19 impacted EO membership?
Erez is EO Toronto’s membership chair. He explained that, despite the global pandemic, it’s been a banner year for the organization in attracting new members.
“In a typical year, we hold multiple outreach events where prospects can learn about the benefits of membership. In 2020, even though we haven’t held outreach events, entrepreneurs came out of the woodwork to inquire about EO membership,” Erez said. “As a result, the Toronto chapter is on track for its biggest growth year in membership, ever.”
Erez gives credit for this membership surge to the Toronto chapter’s Board and current EO members, who have shared the value of EO to their businesses during the pandemic. As a result, Canadian entrepreneurs understand the many benefits of joining a network of like-minded leaders.
“EO has brought a lot of value to the table through learning events focused on running a business during challenging times and provided multiple ways to connect with and help other entrepreneurs within EO,” Erez said. “For example, back in the spring when PPE was scarce, we found some within 30 minutes by reaching out to members on EO’s Slack and WhatsApp channels.”
How does your company give back?
As leaders of companies that have thrived during the pandemic, Nick and Erez know it’s better to give than to receive. Many charities are falling behind in fundraising efforts because they couldn’t hold galas or golf tournaments this year.
“Instead of spending money on client events, we’ve given to front-line workers,” Nick explained. When COVID first started, DPM Energy partnered with a local restaurant to feed local hospital workers for a week. They’ve also donated PPE to a non-governmental senior housing organization and followed that with a cash donation.
“Smaller charities are struggling. We’re fortunate that COVID didn’t negatively affect our company, so we can give back,” Nick continued. “Our marketing team came up with a “Pay it Forward” programme where we give each employee $75 to support a local business of their choice. Our staff is really enjoying it!”
These efforts didn’t go unnoticed: DPM Energy was honoured by Waterstone as one of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures for 2020.
M.I.T. Consulting is also giving back. “We service non-profit and charity organizations as one of our verticals. Instead of client lunches and holiday gift baskets, in 2020 we donated $50,000 in cash and in kind to local charitable organizations,” Erez said.
The company provided free IT support, cloud transition, and phone service to nearly 40 non-profit and charitable organizations in 2020.
“We helped transition over 1,000 seats to Microsoft 365 and G-suite at no charge,” Erez said. “It’s been a significant initiative, and Microsoft noticed our work. As a result, Microsoft is feeding us even more nonprofits that don’t have the resources to make this transition in their organizations.”
“Nick and I have gone from meeting each other at EO social events to working together in a client-vendor relationship,” Erez said. ”It’s been a very interesting journey. Nick is much more than a client―he’s a good friend and trusted advisor.”
Nick agreed: “We have a lot in common and enjoy spending time together. Erez is a foodie, like my wife and I are,” Nick said. “As soon as the pandemic is over, I can’t wait for us to go out to dinner and maybe enjoy another opera together.”
In life, entrepreneurship and EO, the possibilities are endless.