MY STORY: IT ALL STARTED WHEN…
When I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur at the end of University, it was pretty late in the game and I found it difficult to connect with other like-minded co-founders. I had just turned down a job offer as a PM at Microsoft, and, gauging the economic recession, was beginning to think I just shot myself in the foot.
I’m a prolific excuse generator and came up with countless reasons why I failed @ my entrepreneurial pushes @ ubc (check my resume for the specifics):
- clubs don’t have any way of networking co-founders and are not hands-on
- students who have raw talent want to FIND jobs and don’t have the passion to innovate & CREATE jobs
- my engineering program didn’t offer me the support and mentorship to turn my entrepreneurial project into a company
- I don’t have any good business training or friends to pitch my ideas
- It was too late to join the New Ventures Design Course, which partners engineers with business students to start a New Venture
- (the list goes on)
When I got out of University and experienced, for the first time, the current vancouver startup scene (via an amazing hands-on experience with innovation camp, the great stuff Bootup Labs is putting out, the cool startups springing up in Gastown, the Network Hub, etc) I felt like a kid at Disneyland for the first time!!! How did I not hear about any of this while at UBC?!?!?
This automatically leads to problem #1:
There is a major disconnect between students & universities, and the REAL vancouver startup scene. Students don’t know (& aren’t included in) many of the current innovative startups launching right out of their backyard!
As an example of this disconnect: the climax of hands-on entrepreneurship @ UBC is APSC 486 (past companies include EasyPlug, etc). I hooked up with a few teams, and found that the majority HAVE NOT EVEN HEARD OF BOOTUP LABS, NETWORK HUB, or the companies they’re accelerating… How can they not have heard of the only startup accelerator in town!?!??
WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM!?!?
I looked at other areas of high startup output (Waterloo in Canada and Silicon Valley in the Bay Area) and realized Vancouver differed in one major area: students in those areas had their fingers on the pulse of startups. Stanford students were always keenly aware of the newest and greatest startups to try and work for; Waterloo CS students were all creating their own online or mobile startup companies.
What a startling contrast to Vancouver!!! Where the generally accepted consensus for success is getting good grades so you can a) work for a big company, and b) go on to grad school. Now, neither of these are necessarily bad things if the students pursuing them are generally passionate and motivated.
Unfortunately, I see most students following that route simply because
a) a better option has not been presented, or
b) that better option is “way too risky”
What we need, is a completely different paradigm shift!
Simply put, I do not believe Vancouver can become a centre for startup excellence, the “silicon valley” of Canada, if students are not at the forefront!
- have pure passion and raw energy (you can buy talent, but how often can you buy passion?)
- are already on the cutting edge of technology
- are experienced at learning quickly
- are risk adverse (in terms of money and time)
- have nothing much to lose to throwing it “all in”
And most importantly, students have been, and always will be, the future leaders of tomorrow.
What better traits would you want to have in an entrepreneur or a startup’s first employee?
Don’t mistake me as having the audacity to say that students are the only way to revolutionize Vancouver’s startup scene. What I am saying is that, in Vancouver, they are a vastly underused & untapped potential of innovation, if given the right encouragement.
THIS LEADS TO ANOTHER PROBLEM…
However, this automatically leads to the second problem, which I came across when I ended up at a meeting with all the president’s and execs of the different entrepreneurship clubs discussing Innovasion 2009. My networking & passion must have paid off as I was the only non-club member present. To our surprise, there was no place to collaborate our efforts and share the events that each club was driving. Furthermore, many clubs were actually working on similar projects and events and seeing minimal student excitement.
PROBLEM #2: The entrepreneurship clubs & organizations across Greater Vancouver are acting as individual silos of activity, instead of combining efforts for more reach and greater impact.
For example: Several clubs tried running SIMILAR events at their campus that engaged individuals to submit their ideas. However, there was minimal student entries in each case. What if they had combined their efforts and targeted both campuses?
I hope to create this kind of collaboration via the solution below. Want to know more? Read on…
TURNING LEMONS INTO LEMONADE
Back to the story: About this same time, I was networking and meeting with different entrepreneurs and was encouraged to meet up with Minna Van, the superwoman behind the Network Hub. It wasn’t what I expected – I told her about all my problems and was expecting to be connected with other like-minded entrepreneurs. That didn’t happen. What did happen is that she told me plain and simply, “You’re full of excuses.”
Those weren’t easy words to hear, but, to her credit, she was right. I was so used to complaining about the problem and coming up with excuses, I wasn’t using my innovative and creative skills to turn these problems into an opportunity.
THE SOLUTION: A CROSS-COLLABORATION BETWEEN TECH CLUBS
This, as well as attending Innovation Camp, began my journey of bridging the gap between the students & the startup scene in Vancouver. Instead of complaining about the problems I faced as a budding student-entrepreneur, I want to create an ecosystem that helps people like me find their passion for entrepreneurship and creating great spinoffs & startups! I want them to get over the inhibition and fear of failing, and learn to “fail fast, and fail often!” instead of merely talking about it. This collaboration has these goals:
a) get students to become not only aware of, but excited at the Vancouver startup scene,
b) collaborate the individual silos of effort between the different clubs, and
c) connect students with the local startup scene
d) Vancouver startups and accelerators begin to leverage and even originate from the vastly undervalued talent-pool of students
THE FIRST HANDS-ON EVENT: SPEED DATING FOR STARTUPS IN JANUARY 2010
Our first event will be a “startup speed-dating” event for students and young entrepreneurs sometime in January.
This will be a cross-club collaboration for individuals who either
a) have ideas, and want to form a startup team
b) have talents and want to be part of a startup team
c) just want to keep there fingers on the pulse of what crazy ideas Vancouvers budding new entrepreneurs have
d) are tired of endless roundtable discussions or talks and want to actually do something.
THE NEED IS THERE:
I’ve met up with presidents and “champions” from the two main clubs of UBC’s VSEA and SFU’s SIFE who are excited and passionate about bringing this together! Anoop, President of SIFE SFU, and Winnie, President of UBC’s VSEA, are very excited, totally on board and want to see this happen.
“We don’t need another silo,” said Anoop, and I totall agree. For this to work, champions from each club need to step up and take ownership to drive this with as much passion and excitemet as their own events.
I’ve also met with countless individual students who are more than eager to “get their hands dirty” but don’t know where to start. When told about this event, they gave me their emails and asked to be updated when the event would go down.
Though I’m passionate about seeing Vancouver become an incubator for great startups, I’m not tunnel-visioned to think that my solution is the only one. I’d love to hear from others who are passionate about helping and adding their creativity and innovation to actually do something about this problem!
Are you a student who would like to get involved with the “startup speed-dating” event?
Are you a startup or a startup accelerator wanting to leverage the talent pool of students?
Are you a club (I have or haven’t contacted yet) that wants to join our collaboration?
Email me or post a comment! I would love to hear from you!
YOU KNOW YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK WHEN YOUR’E NOT MOTIVATED BY MONEY
I’m doing this full time and am surprised to find this the first project I’m working on where financial profit isn’t my motivation. People ask me “Well, how are you going to make money?” and for the first time I don’t have an immediate response. But when people ask me that, my new response is “Have you heard anything I’ve said?!?!”
If this is successful, creating the link between individual tech clubs and the link from the clubs to the Vancouver startup scene will provide so much value that money right now will be irrelevant.
WHAT ARE YOUR CREDENTIALS:
To borrow from what Mack Flavelle said to me when I asked him what credentials he has for running Innovation Camp:
“Nothing. Nothing but the fact that we’re actually doing it when no one else is. We’re so passionate about this kinda stuff we have no credentials except for the fact that we’re actually doing it.” (paraphrase of course)
I’d like to say the same. I may not be the most qualified, but I’m so passionate, I’ve got the energy, and I’m doing it. I’m actually bridging the gap between schools and the Vancouver Startup Scene and being the catalyst for great innovation in Vancouver. SFU and UBC are already on board.
Want to join us?