Posted in entrepreneurial, personal, random, tech, Vancouver

My Current Passion: Revolutionizing Vancouver’s Startup Scene


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!?!??

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!


Because students:

  • 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.

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…

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.

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,
c) connect students with the local startup scene
so that:
d) Vancouver startups and accelerators begin to leverage and even originate from the vastly undervalued talent-pool of students

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.

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!

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.

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?



Jon Chui (pronounced "chew") has been building iOS/Android apps for the last 7 years, the last 3 working on Google Maps, Inbox by Gmail and Google's Search App. Though he grew up in a Christian family and to parents who would end up giving up their 25 years of hard-earned comforts/affluence in Canada to go back to China as missionaries when he was 14, being a Christian was always in his head, and he would constantly struggle with trying to unify the sacred and the secular - until last year. However, through a radical transformation[] @ work last year (which he can't take ANY credit for), he & his wife & 2 young boys have decided to leave Google, sell/donate everything they have so to serve the poor & marginalized with Jesus’ love as missionaries with's Family DTS in Kona, hawaii then to the Philippines. Read more about their family journey @, and reach out to him @ If you're a recruiter with freelance jobs or have tech projects for jon feel free to reach out to him -

18 thoughts on “My Current Passion: Revolutionizing Vancouver’s Startup Scene

  1. Jon, it’s great that you found a topic you’re so passionate about. “Follow your passion and the money will come.” of course I forgot where the quote came from.

    Anyhow, I don’t necessarily agree with all that you say. For the most part, you are right, there aren’t many tools out there that directly support students. But we/they need to be at the forefront. Coming out of BCIT, I am aware that our school provides some of the tools. ARLO, an entrepreneurial arm of the school that provides direct support and mentorship for students who are looking to create a startup. This is a fantastic organization and it could be very worthwhile to also connect with them and put the three powerhouses of UBC, SFU, and BCIT together. I am an alumni executive of SIFE BCIT and I am sure that the members would be thrilled to be involved. Let me know if I can make any connections.

    As for my individual contributions… I actually tried to start “speed interviewing” event while I was going through BCIT. I never found the right angle to spin it but your angle could very well be the right one. Before anything, I feel you should plan this initiative like a business because that is the only way it will be able to grow with any structure. With that, I mean planning out the business model, the financials, and future goals and strategy. I can provide assistance and let me know how at


    1. Hey Toan,

      Thanks for the points. I agree with you that there are systems in place (like ARLO, Venture Labs/Connection @ SFU, Time Centre, UBC’s University Industry Liason (UILO) ), but they are not having a big enough effect, simply because of their limited resources. As I said, they are all “silos of individual effort” at each school – I want them to be able to collaborate and leverage the reach and resources of ALL the schools, as well as organizations such as VEF momentum, Bootup Labs, the Network HUB, etc.

      Having said all that, I’d definitely agree that this needs to be run right off the bat like a buisness and have been talking to many individuals about how to do that in a way that doesn’t ruin the core goal: to get students more connected & excited with the startup scene till they are either joining or starting their own spinoffs!

      We’ll definitely get in touch, as your connections in BCIT would be invaluable (i’m still waiting for Brent, the president there to get back to me). We’ll talk more offlne!

      1. I would recommend approaching it, for now, from a place where these organizations are listed and a blurb written about them with a contact person within the organization and a run down of what exactly they do to help startups. Your vision is excellent but be warned these individual groups at different institutions are already established in the way they do things.

        From my experience these kinds of projects are best received (by the groups mentioned)when they attempt to fit in with current systems and don’t try to ‘rock the boat’ just yet. I think to start listing, defining and organizing all the different resources will benefit both the project and the target audience.

        To infinity and beyond!

      2. Hey Kemp. Thanks for the very honest, direct assessment.

        I think that’s definitely a great place to start and is definitely very doable. I have already begun listing off valuable resources I’ve found, so what a great idea to let others see it as well.

        However, though that’s a step in the right direction for sure, I wonder how it’s different than any of the other directories out there? And how will I be able to do it all myself? Or how it will provide real value to people, and be able to prove that it is? i.e. my end goal is to see students start pumping out real startup companies, learning innovation and creativity by doing it, and failing fast yet failing often. But say a student uses my directory to do just that – how will wek now that we succeeded?

        I’ve always been somewhat of a “boat rocker” so I thought it was pretty funny that you mentioned that. However I only “rock the boat” when I see or experience inefficiencies in a system and see a real potential improvement. In this case, I see a real potential in collaborating resources and reach to create a better impact on students.

        Of course, having already approached the different clubs across Vancouver, I have definitely begun to experience the warning you heeded about individual clubs being established in what they are already doing.

        I’m going to get on it. Thanks Kemp.

        Would love your continued experience and input if you have time!


    1. Thanks for the encouragement Mack!

      Building is under construction. I’ve already met with a number of great, intelligent and passionate individuals – that alone has been so rewarding. Can’t wait to see what else will come out of this!

  2. Hi Jon,

    My friend James from AdHack mentioned your name to me last week.

    At Bootup Entrepreneurial Society, we are very passionate about inspiring and supporting early stage digital media entrepreneurs. We are a non-profit managed by entrepreneurs that was created to expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem in BC and across Canada. We host a number of events (Democamp, Launch Party, Mentor mixers) and workshops with experienced mentors such as Brad Feld, Paul Kedrosky etc. that may interest you. You are most welcome to join us at any event or possibly duplicate a similar format on campus. We share an office with Bootup Labs. Feel free to send me a message and drop by the Lab sometime!

    1. Hi Maura!

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and yes, James had nothing but good things to say about you. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person!

      I’ve actually been to a lot of Bootup’s events already and was really impressed! I believe Bootup is doing a great job at impacting the Vancouver startup scene and providing lots of valuable resources and infrastructure for early stage high tech entrepreneurs.

      Looking forward to talking person soon, Maura! I’ll be in touch.


  3. We started the company that became @mobify during the last semester of university, when my co-founder @johnboxall turned down a PM job at Microsoft.

    So, it’s up to you : ) Welcome to the scene!

    1. Hey Igor,

      Love what mobify’s doing! ( I actually heard about it before you contacted me!)

      After I stopped making excuses about the PM job @ MS and started trying to make an impact & solve the problems around me, I realized maybe shooting myself in the foot wasn’t such a bad idea.

      I’m still waiting to see but can tell you I’m more excited about Vancouver’s potential than ever!

      Would love to chat offline – email me when you get a chance!

  4. Hey Jon, great post

    we met earlier at UX camp (Design Vetica team) and would love to help/get involved in any way with this 🙂

    ok just realized the post was a while ago, but nevertheless we are students and definitely need something like this to happen.

    1. Hey David,

      Thanks for dropping by! You guys are already involved by starting! I love how you guys just went out there and did it too!

      E-mail me and we’ll definitely get you guys involved someway. Even if it’s just sharing your story to other students on how you brough design vetica to where it is now!


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