Altitude Accelerator Advisor Nick Iozzo of Arck Holdings shares what excites him most about new opportunities in cleantech, working with entrepreneurs, and his best advice for startup founders.
By Angela Bourne, Altitude Accelerator Entrepreneur-in-Residence
BIO – For over 37 years, Nick Iozzo has provided services to the utility and private sector. He has unrivalled experience in managing large-scale development and utility renewal projects including: many Light Rail Transit projects, reconstruction of Queens Quay, reconstruction of Cherry St., reconstruction of John St., Pan Am Athlete’s Village, and many past BIA Lighting projects. Nick is a Registered Professional Engineer in Ontario and Alberta. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto.
Nick, it’s so great to sit down with you today to have a chat! Thanks so much for all that you do as an Altitude Accelerator Advisor. We are so fortunate to have such a deep bench of 70+ advisors in nearly every sector working with our entrepreneurs. As an introduction for our readers, we’d love to learn more about your career to-date.
I’ve spent my entire career in the utility space. I’m an electrical engineer by education, and I have spent my entire career working with local power distribution companies and developers.
Initially I started working primarily with developers and designing new subdivisions and getting power to new commercial industrial and residential subdivisions. Over time, that business grew, and we started to work directly with utilities more and helping them rebuild their infrastructure.
I had built that segment of the business for two other companies, and the third time I decided to do it for myself. So about 12 years ago, I created DPM Energy, which was my “kick at the cat” to start a company. And it was pretty successful! We sold it last year. I’m “on my way up” to retirement, but I’m still involved with DPM at a high-level when we get into large complex projects, such as the planning of large communities.
Some of the projects on our plate now include the Downsview Air Force base redevelopment where we’re putting a city of about 150,000 people in the middle of Toronto. We’re doing a lot of work for Waterfront Toronto on the revitalization of the waterfront, and we’re sorting out how to get new services to an island. We do some pretty complex projects. We also do a lot of what’s called public realm: really cool and funky parks, like the Bentway – the park underneath the Gardiner Expressway.
I love the park underneath the Gardiner Expressway, especially ice-skating in the winter months. It sounds like your team has grown quickly and DPM Energy really became “known” as the go-to for this type of work.
We have a great team and excellent partners, including some terrific architects who pulled us into some fun projects. So, we’ve grown over time organically just by being pretty good at what we do and building a really good roster of partners that are successful.
The big growth over the last four or five years is government spending on mass transit. So, you can’t really build a transit line in the middle of Toronto without moving a whole bunch of stuff. And we are involved with helping move utilities. So, it’s been a big growth path. We’ve actually worked on every LRT in Toronto, and our string is going – our team won the Ontario Line South, which used to be called the Relief Line. We like to say that we pride ourselves on being small parts of very big projects.
Clearly you love what you do. What excites you most about everything that’s being built in Ontario?
Absolutely, our business is really exciting because I get involved in a lot of interesting projects that most people recognize. Even though transit projects can be frustrating to live through and commute around, when they’re finished, they’re benefiting society as a whole. We’ve been working with Waterfront Toronto since around the time they started. Now, to see how lively the West Donlands has become, and then all the buildings along Queen’s Quay, and the park system along the waterfront – we were involved in all of that.
I think the most exciting part about what we’re doing is just that; being proud to be a part of projects that are always in the newspapers and always in people’s minds. We can take a little bit of pride in being a small part of those projects, and our team members can drive through the city and say, “that was my project.”
What an incredible legacy – working on projects that will be around for generations to come. In addition to the work with DPM Energy, you’re an advisor with Altitude Accelerator, and an Angel investor. Tell us more about that.
I really enjoy being an Altitude advisor and working with startups. I have very specific expertise that is especially applicable to cleantech startups. And, now that I’m into semi-retirement, I’m getting into more angel investing. Specifically, I’m involved in an Angels investment group called AngelList. What they do is they tag along deals that have these high-level VCs attached to them. I also have a couple of my own investments that I have with other people I know, or businesses I saw that were interesting to get involved with, like in the cleantech space.
Altitude has especially deep expertise in the cleantech space and we’re very fortunate to have you as a cleantech advisor for our entrepreneurs. What are your thoughts on this area of innovation in Canada?
When you think about cleantech, that’s where I get really excited. I’ve been in the industry for a long time and given what we’re doing with renewals and development there’s always talk about how we’re going to decarbonize and the impacts to the grid.
And because we have a pretty solid understanding of what it means to utility infrastructure in general, we’ve kind of always been on periphery of what anybody calls “cleantech.” Our main role is delivering the electricity – and we still have to deliver it, no matter how you create it!
So, when I started to think about advising startups as well as my own investments, it was a natural progression for me. I know a little bit about generation, and I know how to move electricity around. This is very helpful knowledge for founders in this space.
And given your extensive experience, you can discern which cleantech startups have a great idea, which ones are solving a real need – and which ones will get the implementation “right.”
Exactly. On that subject, I am helping bring to market a new intellectual property around wind energy. It’s what we believe is a very disruptive way of using wind to create electricity – that we can also deploy in dense spaces. So, we can put it on top of rooftops in downtown Toronto and be able to create wind much more closely to where it’s actually consumed.
That’s so smart. You really can’t deploy huge wind turbines in dense urban environments!
Those propellers would not be safe in a city. So, with this startup we actually have a very unique way to harvest the wind without actually seeing it as a wind machine. We’re currently trying to find a manufacturer that can help us take it to market, and I think that is pretty exciting!
We think it’s disruptive to wind energy and we’re actually creating a version that will fit in the top of a long-haul truck and charge batteries as you drive. The name of this company is Purus Power.
As you’re working with Purus Power, how has working with Altitude Accelerator benefited you?
Joining Altitude as an advisor really helps broaden your network. Sometimes when you spend so much time in one industry, all the people that you associate with are tied to that industry. There’s so much value to understanding where other people are coming from and what other people do.
What is the most exciting thing about working with entrepreneurs?
As an advisor for Altitude Accelerator, it’s incredibly exciting to help founders who are at various stages of their business journey. In a span of 12 years, I started and then sold my own company. I enjoy sharing my experiences and lessons learned with others.
I’m also actively involved with an organization called EO – Entrepreneurs’ Organization. EO runs a global student entrepreneur awards program, which was recently featured in a documentary produced by Disney and National Geographic. It’s called “Own the Room” and you can watch it on Disney+ Plus. It’s really exciting to watch these talented students pitch to win the $50,000 grand prize.
I’m very keen to grow this student entrepreneurship program throughout Canada. Innovation is a continuum – from students to young adults who’ve graduated and entered the ‘real world’ and joined incubators like Altitude Accelerator. Helping them early on in their careers gives them a great leg up. They’ll get the right early foundational support when they’re students, start to establish invaluable networks, and then be able to grow and scale quickly. Big picture – it’s great for Ontario, and great for Canada.
In June 2023 we’re having a big EO Canada conference and we’re going to showcase Canadian student founders in front of ~500 Canadian entrepreneurs. We’re going to make sure they get the proper coaching to build their confidence so that when they hit the global stage and they get more cameras in front of them and more people in front of them, they don’t freeze up!
It’s so important to help entrepreneurs with media training. At Altitude we do this too – help with PR, writing press releases, and pitching media. Understanding how to work with journalists is an important skill for an entrepreneur.
Exactly. Getting people in front of the media is important because there’s a lot of noise out there. Being able to tell your story clearly to all audiences is essential.
What excites you most about the work you’re doing with Altitude startups? What types of companies do you think would benefit the most from your expertise?
I like what they call “hard tech.” Infrastructure technology that will make a change in the whole system. Hard IP that you can touch and feel and DOES something. Not just in cleantech; healthtech too. A startup that really excited me recently was a founder who created cameras and AI technology to help diagnose and track the progression of Alzheimer’s remotely. I’m not so interested in “flash in the pan” stuff. I like tech that you can look at and hold and see how it makes a difference in our lives. I’m interested in big impact in the world in a good way.
What’s your best advice for startup founders?
I work with a lot of entrepreneurs – from the student entrepreneurs in colleges and universities, to Altitude Accelerator entrepreneurs who are now scaling their businesses. The most important question I ask – and I really push them on this – is, why the heck do you want to be an entrepreneur versus an employee? Why are you doing a startup? Is it just about the money? Is it about the ability to change the world? Is it about independence?
It’s important entrepreneurs really dig in and deeply understand why they’re doing what they’re doing – and they’re not just being like their friends and going out to get a good job. So, I think the most important question is to ask, why you? What’s driving you to start a startup? In their minds they need to have clarity, because this clarity gives them energy and the focus to keep going when things get really tough. You’re not going to be hitting it out of the park on day one. There’s no such thing as a unicorn two days after you come up with an idea.
That’s so true. A lot of founders we work with at Altitude Accelerator speak about their business as it’s more than a job – it’s a vocation, a calling of sorts. Like, there are a handful of people who know how to do what they do. So, they MUST do it.
Exactly. That’s why they need to understand why they’re doing it. A lot of entrepreneurs stumble into it and think it’s fun. They like being the boss! They think it’s cool. Everybody thinks it’s cool being your own boss until you’re actually your own boss. Tell you what, you try and make payroll and you’ve got no money in the bank and see how exciting and fun it is.
I think that’s why I push them a lot on trying to understand why they’re doing what they do. Because there’s going to be a lot of days where you’re going to say, it’s so much easier to go work for somebody else.
Entrepreneurs are certainly very fortunate to work with you. What’s the best way to get in touch with you Nick?
About Altitude Accelerator’s Advisor Network
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