CVCA, #FFdemoday and AccelerateMTL

Chris Arsenault (LinkedIn, AngelList, @chrisarsenault) sent me a message yesterday about writing about the CVCA conference. And I was looking at the conference trying to figure out why as an entrepreneur that I might want to attend this event. It is “the premiere networking and professional development event for Canada’s venture capital and private equity industry”. Well I don’t work in venture capital or the private equity industry, and the professional development I can get that at Ladies Learning Code or Udemy or O’Reilly. So why should I care? Maybe a “free Blackberry Playbook” would get me to pay for the registration. Disclosure: RIM is a sponsor of StartupNorth, though we don’t have any free Playbooks. 

Then it struck me.

  1. FounderFuel DemoDay
  2. AccelerateMTL
  3. CVCA

My goodness, this is an incredible opportunity for Canadian entrepreneurs. If you plan this correctly, you can connect with investors, other founders, folks form NYC, Boston, the Bay area. While the specific sessions at CVCA aren’t necessarily my cup of tea, you could sit in the lobby at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth and meet every investor in one shot.

CVCA attendees will have a “free Blackberry Playbook” . Just like LinkedIn, I’d be building an HTML5 optimized version of my application and making sure as hell it works like gold on a Playbook (which has a great implementation of WebKit browser). You could call the Fairmont and set up an espresso stand and give away coffee to everyone that demos your application. Hell if nothing else a big sign with “Free Latte” for all of the hung over CVCA attendees and have a student running to a local coffee shop for fulfillment. Great opportunity to get out and hustle.

On top of all of this you get to see some brilliant demos at Founder Fuel. This is going to be a killer event, and you could make it a very interesting opportunity to get in front of potential investors, partners and folks from outside Canada for relatively little cost.

Spilling the secret sauce

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Cory Mcculloch (Linkedin, @CoryMacculloch). Cory studied law at UofT, works at Brooks Law and was a summer student at Cognition LLP. Follow Cory on Twitter @CoryMacculloch.

The following is not legal advice and may not be full depiction of the law. Do not rely on anything stated below without first speaking to your lawyer. By publishing the information below, there is no creation of a lawyer-client relationship.

At every entrepreneurial event that I go to, I, without fail meet at least one person who guards his or her business idea like it is the coordinates of a hidden treasure and I am a pirate looming for an opportunity to pillage.

While I always respect one’s decision not to disclose details about their business idea, one cannot forget about the benefits to be gained from people who, like myself, enjoy connecting entrepreneurs with others. Granted, sometimes the decision to remain confidential is wise, but I suspect people are often misguided.

When to “shut-up”

If you are working on a process or machine that you wish to patent (assuming you know what can be patented and what cannot be patented) and you believe that it is going to be more than year or so down the road before you are able patent it, then it may not be a wise decision to disclose details about your process or machine in its early stages. This is because of the “novelty requirement” embedded in the definition of “invention” in the Canadian Patent Act. As interpreted, an otherwise valid patentable subject matter becomes unpatentable when one *discloses how their invention works, and *discloses enough details to enable a skilled reader to make or construct that very invention. This is again assuming that the subject matter for which your “invention” is patentable Most general business ideas that people devise are not patentable inventions, and even if one’s idea is patentable, telling someone your target market and how your business idea will work is generally not enough to violate the “novelty requirement” of a patent as described above.

If you have signed an employment agreement, consultation agreement, shareholder’s agreement, or any other agreement that has a provision labeled as “confidential information”, then for the sake of legal safety do not disclose any particulars about the related party’s business model or any secrets until you have understood the substance of your promises. Often these agreements are intended to protect the company’s “trade secrets”. With that being said, generally agreements provide that something that is already public is no longer is a secret.

If you haven’t signed any documents with anybody but you have devised ingredients or steps for the making of a product or code, or you have received those ingredients from someone else, then it may also not be a good idea to disclose what those ingredients are. Even if you decide not to patent your invention, the common law affords a limited amount of protection for what is classified as a “trade secret”. A trade secret loses all of its protection when it is no longer is a secret.

When it may be a good idea to reveal

If none of the above situations apply to you and you have the ability to discuss general details about your idea (i.e. what kind of hot sauce you are planning to make and your target market) then it may be a good idea to disclose general details without disclosing the essential ingredients of your hot sauce.

Contrary to popular belief not everyone you talk to is in the business of ripping off ideas. A very costly mistake is creating a business without early validation. The only way to get any validation is by hearing the plight and praise of potential customers and this may require some opening up. Funding opportunities, staffing possibilities, and connection building are also some essential building blocks that people may miss out on.

So although there are times when it may be wise to not “spill the secret sauce”, there are other times when giving a little taste test can lead to valued feedback and responses.

Waterloo’s Next Five Years

Following on with Jevon’s original post of Canada’s Next Five Years, I want to discuss Waterloo.

Five years ago, I organized the first StartupCampWaterloo. It built on the great community and open space tools from BarCampWaterloo and focused participants around startups. Simon Woodside, Ali Asaria, Mic Berman, and myself felt like we needed to something a little different to get the grass roots high tech startup community moving in Waterloo. It was a year after the Accelerator Centre opened and the community was just finding its feet. Waterloo felt bold and creative with a strong core of startups but it was small.

With the aggressive growth of RIM and Open Text, the Waterloo community has spent the last five years building a strong and diverse tech community. In addition to the homegrown companies, the community was fuelled by a few California based companies making some big purchases in Waterloo Region. These three purchases resulted in the parent companies building a larger presence in the Waterloo Region:

In the last couple of years Communitech grew beyond simply being a promoter and connector for local tech companies. Communitech has established a home base for startups in downtown Kitchener. They took the bold move to put a vibrant space for startups in an old Tannery complex, which has also attracted the likes of Google and Desire2Learn, each with hundreds of employees based in the building. The Communtech Hub is a strong message to entrepreneurs that the community is there to support you.

However, the next five years are where all the attention the Waterloo region has drawn to itself is going to have to transition to results and further momentum growth. This will depend a lot on the companies that have been founded in the last five years and includes some that are now YC-backed.

Looking at what Canada needs to do, what role does Waterloo play in that?

Education

Waterloo is home to arguably the top Engineering School in the country, the University of Waterloo. With programs like REAP, CBET, and living environments like VeloCity it is committed to educating and supporting students with regards to entrepreneurship. It is also focused on having them experience it through the Co-op program that allows students to work anywhere in the world with many choosing to work at Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, and a ton of different startups in the valley. This results in students that have a big head start in terms of building a network as well as learning about problems that could turn into great product ideas. That experience and opportunity is a big win for Canada’s startup community. We can see the rise of Waterloo alum lead startups like Vidyard, Kik, Upverter, Well.ca, TribeHR, LearnHub, Thinking Ape, Pair, and others.

And it’s not just UWaterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga college are also doing their part. The MBA program at WLU has a focus on entrepreneurship and they are leveraging the Communitech Hub environment. Conestoga College is educating the work force in the region making it a very important partner in ensuring there is a workforce for growing companies.

Community as the Framework

The Waterloo Region has a ton of tech oriented events. A lot of folks assume the trick is to find time to attend all the events you want to attend. The real trick is figuring out which events you should attend, and how to make the most of your attendance. Are you attending for education? recruiting? to find funding? to be part of the startup scene?  More entrepreneurs need to clearly identify their desired outcomes from each event, and they participate accordingly.

What there needs to be, is a greater focus on founders and information sharing.  Peer mentorship, breakfasts with friends at Angie’s, or just chatting at the end of the day. We should avoid gossip, we don’t want or need a ValleyWag for Waterloo Region. Building a company is difficult enough that we don’t need to be hindering each other. Entrepreneurs need to be able to establish trusting relationships with each other, to build I see it happening more and more but there isn’t enough peer mentorship going on.There are a large number of entrepreneurs that have been through the ups and downs of a startup. It includes fundraising, business development, channel partner discussions, contract gotchas, etc. We need to help entrepreneurs build connections with each other.  There is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to build trustworthy relationships and share their experiences.

Tighter connections to elsewhere

Jevon calls for tighter ties to Silicon Valley. But it’s more broad than that. Canadians need to get out of Canada. We need to build stronger connections in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Buenos Ares, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Eastern Europe.

We are doing a pretty good job at getting exposure in Silicon Valley. We have companies going to YCombinator (Vidyard, Allerta, Upverter, Pair and others). The C100 has done an amazing job identifying Canadian expatriates and connecting them across the country. The C100 has expanded to NYC and to the UK. Entrepreneurs need to expand to.  We have startups raising money from NYC (Kik raised from USV), Boston (TribeHR raised from Matrix Partners). We need to get out of the local ecosystem and build products for global customers.

I would be remiss to ignore the need for tighter connections to Toronto as well. Whenever anyone says “Toronto is better than Waterloo for…” or “Waterloo is better than Toronto for…” a kitten dies. Stop it. No one really cares and outside of Ontario people think it is just one big region. Lets build stronger ties and use both cities for everything they have to offer.

Policy

Beyond establishing the Hub, Communitech has done a lot of work on building connections with all levels of government. They have a big role to play with influencing policy as does Canada’s Technology Triangle Association.

Grow Like Hell and Don’t Stop

Hootsuite is mentioned but Waterloo is home to tech companies that have taken the long path to growth. RIM, Open Text, and Desire2Learn are examples of rapid growth (over a 10 year period) tech companies. What Waterloo needs is more of that. The challenge is going to be getting the talent that knows how to work sales funnels, marketing, etc to live in the Region in sufficient numbers.

What I would guess is going to happen initially is that US VC-backed companies that started in Waterloo will have to find a way to balance having their product teams in Waterloo and marketing/sales teams in major US startup hub cities. That means an office in Waterloo and one of Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Francisco, New York, or Boston. This allows them to hire developer talent outside of the higher salaries zones that is on par (or better) but feed on the energy in those cities. The US market and understanding it quickly is key to many of the current fast moving startups in Waterloo.

For the Region of Waterloo to live up to the expectations, in the next five years these companies will need to attract that marketing/sales talent to move here for work or be able to use Toronto for that.