Gerry Pond has offered $500,000 to any university or other body in Atlantic Canada that establishes an academy to teach international sales.

The Co-Founder of Mariner and East Valley Ventures was the 15th panelist to speak on educational reform at an Association of Atlantic Universities symposium on Thursday. After several speakers had called for action and urgency, Pond brought the room to life by announcing he would contribute half a million bucks to any group that sets up an institute to teach curriculum in sales. (He said the winner can add the words “and marketing” if it likes, but the goal has to be the training of sales people.)

The focus on international sales – especially tech sales – is nothing new for Pond. He was an early investor in Q1 Labs and Radian6, the two most successful tech companies in the region. Since they announced exits in 2011, he has devoted his energy to funding and mentoring a succession of startups in the region. East Valley Ventures, of which he is a key member, has invested $10 million in about 30 startups. He is also a co-founder of the Pond-Deshpande Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of New Brunswick. 

He’s long held that the innovation in the region is tremendous, but there is a dire need for people who can sell technology in the global market place. Atlantic Canadian companies simply can’t scale to significant size without greater expertise in selling to international customers. He says the need is pervasive in Canada and acute in Atlantic Canada, and he called for some institute to remedy the shortfall.

“It will take an international sales academy that will produce competencies in these skill sets,” Pond told the Atlantic Leaders Summit. “I will put $500,000 into that institute today.”

The mid-afternoon announcement roused the crowd. Christine Hamblin of the Masters of Technology, Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at St. Mary’s University rose to say her program would offer a sales course in the coming year. Before she could tell him where to mail the cheque, Pond pointed out that his plan would take more than a single course because the skill sets that must be taught are quite complicated.

They include:

-  Cross-cultural communications;

-  Basic communications skills, including listening;

-  Clarity of messaging;

-  Negotiations;

-  And problem-solving.

Pond said the final point is critical because good sales people find ways to solve their customers’ problems. That, he added, is why engineers make great salesmen.

Pond indicated that he’s willing to be flexible on the fine points of the program, but he envisions a university initiating a dean of sales position and a complete curriculum in collaboration with the private sector.

Atlantic Canadian tend to think of sales people as being slick and sleazy, he said, but developing a professional, effective sales force is essential to building good businesses.

It’s a huge absence in the ecosystem now.

“I know enough to know that’s what is inhibiting Canadian companies, Atlantic Canadian companies, from scaling,” he said. “That’s where the problems are.”