We want you! – Looking for contributors

Finish Line, CopperDog 150, Calumet, Michigan by Lina Blair (linainyoop) on 500px.com
Finish Line, CopperDog 150, Calumet, Michigan by Lina Blair

I was talking to April Dunford . It’s was a private message, so I am hoping April will forgive me for sharing, but it indicated how Jonas , Jevon and I have felt about our role and the role of StartupNorth.

“We’re all making this shit up on our own when we should be sharing best practices.” April Dunford

We can talk about how Toronto is broken, as long as “this is not a complaints department, but a solutions playground” (great quote from Mark Kuznicki at the first TransitCamp in 2007). When we started StartupNorth in 2007 because there were not a lot of people talking about high potential growth, emerging technology companies and emerging business models (if it is easier, you can think venture backable technology startups). There was a lot of great technology companies being built in Canada. We wanted an easier way to bring together people who were interested in the new companies and the ecosystem to support them.

“We launched TechStars NYC with the goal of enriching the New York City entrepreneurial ecosystem; tapping into the rich resources and energy of NYC and galvanizing the community through mentorship.” David Tisch

We launched StartupNorth in 2007 after 2 years of a completely unorganized effort (that supposes that this effort approximates organized vs the anarchy that it is) of hosting events like BarCampToronto, DemoCamp, a public Skype chat, and a Google Group. We didn’t have a fund. This wasn’t our full time jobs. We’ve never thought of StartupNorth as a high potential growth technology business. We thought of it as a way to help other entrepreneurs like ourselves. We tried to build what we thought was missing.

  • Funding in Canada
  • Getting access to foreign markets
  • The amazing talent in Toronto and across Canada
  • Events that bring together others interested in the same space to enable collisions (finding cofounders, hiring employees, business relationships, potential mentors, etc.)
  • Events like StartupEmpire, DemoCamp and StartupCamp

We are contributors to both the solutions and the problems that exist. But that doesn’t mean we can’t contribute.

We are Canadian entrepreneurs.

Back in 2008, Jevon told us about “how startups will save venture capital in Canada“. You can look at the recent acquisitions (including Jevon’s GoInstant) are providing liquidity and bigger better investment opportunity. (OMERS Ventures has participated in rounds totalling >$112MM in the past 2 weeks alone: $80MM Desire2Learn, $20MM Vision Critical, $12MM Hopper Travel). Canadian entrepreneurs

We want you!

We are looking for new contributors to StartupNorth. We don’t want puff pieces. We don’t want press releases. We want to highlight Canadian startups, founders and technology. We want interesting stories. Let me help all y’all, launching is not an interesting story. I’d like to see posts on:

  • Cost effective solutions to common back office problems, tell us about how your financials, payroll, A/R works.
  • Look at the Upverter Under-the-Hood article and tell me about your infrastructure, personally I’d love to hear about Hopper’s Hadoop or Wave Accounting, etc.
  • Marketing automation and optimizing customer engagements. What tools are you using?
  • We’ve heard about Facebook’s Growth Team and their decision making, what about Freshbooks? Or Dayforce?
  • The impact that CRTC and Competition Bureau rules have on Canadian startups? I’d love to get Michael Garrity to tell the Community Lend/FinanceIT story. But there are more.
  • Examples of effective use of Facebook, mobile or other early customer marketing

This list is no way comprehensive. There are lots of interesting stories. Got an insight, tip, cobbling together of tools that can help startups save money, grow faster, go further. We want to share. As April said, “We’re all making this shit up on our own when we should be sharing best practices.” and we want to help share.

Just send me an email (davidcrow at gmail ) with a draft of your post. I will read, provide initial feedback, socialize with Jonas and Jevon and then we will set up an posting schedule.


Book Review – Startup Communities: It’s About the Entrepreneur

Brad Feld, managing director of Foundry Group, is no stranger to the Canadian tech startup scene – he was a speaker at the C100’s AccelerateMTL event in 2011.

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to get to know him and he has been a source of inspiration and support to me professionally. Brad is one of those rare VCs, his contributions don’t stop with the money. He is very generous with his advice and has been on a passionate mission in the past year to crack the code on how to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem in any city, hence the title of his new book: Startup Communities

Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City
(pre-order available) isn’t a book you that you will put down easily, but is one you will pick-up often. In fourteen chapters and one fell scoop; Brad makes us smarter and wiser about what it takes to nurture a vibrant startup ecosystem in any community.

Startups are Everything

Feld sets the tone early in the book by stating that “Startups are at the core of everything we do.” Feld implies that it’s easier today to create and evolve startup communities “as a result of our networked society”, and he tosses away long-drawn old-school frameworks and previous theories that were primarily based on macro-economics, socio-demographics or geographical parameters. His thinking is framed around what he labels as “The Boulder Thesis”, a fresh framework that is based on pragmatism and lower barriers of entry. It’s all about on-the-ground reality as a lever to making things happen.

The Boulder Thesis

“The key to every successful startup community is startups. If you do nothing else, make sure all the founders and founding teams are visible and connected to each other.” That’s a golden statement to be reminded of. Remember, his message is aimed at the entire community.

Feld doesn’t mince words when he places the role of the entrepreneurs as the most critical component. “Lots of different people are involved in the startup community and many non-entrepreneurs play key roles. But unless the entrepreneurs lead, the startup community will not be sustainable over time.” Amen.

The Boulder Thesis is grounded in four key components: a) entrepreneurs that lead, b) leaders that commit, c) an all-inclusive mentality, and d) activities up and down the entrepreneurial stack. The book details them.

A 17-year resident of Boulder, Brad observed that while Boulder didn’t have a lot of local VC’s, it did have a large number of VCs that viewed companies in Boulder as attractive to invest in. This fact alone means that any city cannot complain about not having a lot of local VC’s. Rather, they should focus on making themselves attractive to VC’s wherever these VC’s may be.

Rightfully so, Brad advocates that activities such as “hackathons, New Tech Meetups, Open Coffee Clubs, Startup Weekends, and accelerators” are more important than “entrepreneurial award events, periodic cocktail parties, monthly networking events, panel discussions, and open houses” because they engage deeper into the entrepreneurial stack. To each city that’s listening, take inventory and assess your gaps.

Leaders and Feeders

Then comes a key tenet of the book: there are Leaders and there are Feeders to any ecosystem. If you’re in a startup community, know who you are, and what your role is, but don’t confuse the two. So, who is a Leader and who is a Feeder? “Leaders of startup communities have to be entrepreneurs. Everyone else is a feeder into the startup community. This includes government, universities, investors, mentors, service providers, and large companies.” Entrepreneurs, rejoice.

Driving the Leaders vs. Feeders point hard, Brad asserts that “the absence of entrepreneurs as leaders, or the overwhelming leadership by feeders, will doom a startup community.” Message aimed at the Feeders mostly.

Classical Problems

Chapter Six gets at the crux of the community build-out, and something that every city wants to know: What are we doing wrong? Brad nails the classical problems:

  1. The Patriarch Problem, when those who made their money many years ago are still running the show.
  2. Complaining about capital, because there will always be an imbalance between supply of capital and demand for capital.
  3. Being too reliant on Government. This is self-explanatory, but there’s a whole chapter on it entitled: “Contrasts between entrepreneurs and government.”
  4. Making short-term commitments. Well, it takes a long time to build a startup community. Twenty years to be exact.
  5. Having a bias against newcomers. Instead, swarm the newcomers.
  6. Attempt by a feeder to control the community. Why? Feeders retard the actual growth of the startup community.
  7. Creating artificial geographic boundaries. They don’t matter much at all at the state and city level. Waterloo-Toronto: are you listening?
  8. Playing a zero-sum game. This means stop thinking that “Our community is better than yours”.
  9. Having a culture of risk aversion. Make sure you learn something from what didn’t work.
  10. Avoiding people because of past failures. Rather, embrace the failed entrepreneur because it encourages more entrepreneurs to take more risks.

Brad goes on to list in great details the many activities that make-up Boulder’s community what it is. My advice: when you get the book, use it a checklist and see what your city is missing.

Accelerators and Universities

In Chapter Eight, Brad takes us on the case study of TechStars, and in it he rubs in the fact that there is a distinction to be made between Accelerators and Incubators because they are formed differently and have different objectives.

Chapter Nine focuses on the role of Universities and it ends with this advice for the entrepreneur: “The relationship between a startup community and a university can be a powerful one, but is often complicated. By focusing on specific activities and remembering that the university is a feeder to the startup community, great things can happen.”

Myths of Community Building

Aided by Canadian Paul Kedrosky, one of the ending chapters lists the common myths about startup communities. I’ll highlight two of them:

  1. We need to be like Silicon Valley. “If that’s really your goal, save yourself a lot of heartache and simply move to Silicon Valley.”
  2. We need more local venture capital. “Venture capital is a service function, not materially different from accounting, law, or insurance. It is a type of organization that services existing businesses, not one that causes such companies to exist in the first place. While businesses need capital, it is not the capital that creates the business. Pretending otherwise is reversing the causality in a dangerous way.” That fits well within the Leaders vs. Feeders theory.

Startup Communities is a call for introspection aimed at any city, community, entrepreneur, developer, funder, leader or feeder. The book makes you think about whether you’re doing the right thing. It should prompt every city or ecosystem to answer the tough questions: Do we have enough leaders as entrepreneurs? Are we going to stop making excuses? Can we work better together?

If you’re involved in technology startups, this book will not just touch a nerve. It will run through your spine.

How do you think Canada is doing in regards to building entrepreneurial ecosystems in the major cities?

Editor’s Note: The author, William Mougayar is CEO of Engagio, a universal Inbox and Discovery Network for social conversations. You can pre-order Brad’s book on Amazon and ensure delivery as soon as it’s published in September.

Win a Ticket to GrowConf 2012

We at StartupNorth are huge Grow Conference fans. We’ve been lucky to be involved since it’s inception in 2010. There are great industry events around the globe (think Mesh in Toronto, ad:tech in SF and NYC, OSCON in Portland, Dreamforce in SF, SxSW in Austin, etc.) there are only a few events aimed at enabling Canadian emerging technology companies (Grow, StartupFest, CIX). It’s not to say there aren’t events focused on emerging technology entrepreneurs: Under the Radar, Launch, Disrupt, Demo. It is the focus on empowering and enabling Canadian entrepreneurs that make Grow special.

As part of this we’re working with Debbie, Clare and the Dealmaker team to give away a ticket to Grow Conference and a Nokia 800 phone.

If you want a shot at winning the phone and a free ticket to GROW2012 on August 23rd, all you have to do is the following:

  1. on Twitter
  2.  on Twitter
  3. this post (including the hashtag #GROWNokia)

This contest starts now and ends August 13th at 3pm PT.

Winners will be notified via Twitter on August 13th at 5pm PT.  Your ticket and Nokia 800 will be waiting for you when you arrive at the registration table at GROW 2012. Good luck! (*You must be in attendance to get the phone, will not ship).

The GROW Conference is one of North America’s leading technology conferences and is the place to meet your future business partners, investors, and mentors. This year’s speakers include Cheezburger Network, Box.net, Modcloth, Zendesk, and more speaking about how they’re keeping up and staying relevant in a new era.

If you don’t win, we have a $100 discount using the promo code: SN when registering for Grow.