The Upside Foundation – Give back a little while you are busy taking over the world

One thing that has really been exciting for me in the last 3 months has been the Salesforce Foundation. When Marc Benioff founded Salesforce he committed 1 percent of stock, 1 percent of employee time and 1 percent of licenses to charity. It’s an incredibly small amount of equity and resources but it has had an amazing impact. Google and others have copied it and it has become a widely used model.

I wish I had done the same thing with my most recent startup. I could have benefitted a charity I am passionate about with very little burden to me or my investors. It’s powerful but it is hard to do. Legal structures, convincing co-founders, convincing investors and then there is all the overhead and work of setting up a foundation and managing it.

The Upside Foundation is launching to make that easier. They are creating a foundation structure which you give options to which convert on an exit and The Upside Foundation then donates the proceeds to charity.

The model is simple and powerful – early-stage companies donate stock options to the Upside Foundation, convertible at exit into a small portion of their equity. When a liquidity event occurs, the Upside Foundation sells its options and donates the proceeds to charities in Canada.

The Upside Foundation board is full of some of the best investors and entreprenurs in Canada, including  Rob Antoniades (ON), Mark Skapinker (ON), Mark Macleod (PQ), Gerry Pond (NB) and Ben Zifkin (ON).

I’m excited. Let’s start giving back while we build amazing companies right here in Canada.

Lean Startup Day @ MaRSDD on Dec 3, 2012

Lean Startup Day Toronto - Dec 3

The team at MaRS and JoltCo are providing local access to The Lean Startup Conference Livestream. Sure they’ve been crazy enough to invite me to host the event and a panel, but that shouldn’t keep you from attending. This is a full day event, it starts early (because we’re EST) and continues late (because the conference is PST).

The event is divided into 2 streams:

  1. Stream 1 – Hands on stories, workshops and discussion with people in the local ecosystem
  2. Stream 2 – Livestream of the conference from California and the program looks outstanding with Matt Brezina, Danny Kim, Jocelyn Wyatt, Stephanie Hay as well as the usual luminaries (Eric Reis, Steve Blank, etc.)

Great opportunity to connect with other founders and entrepreneurs. Talk about what is working, what hasn’t worked, and what else you can try. The benefit of having a strong community like we do in Toronto, is that we can get together and share. The community is not an end in of itself, it is a means to an end. And while entrepreneurship can be lonely, there is an accessible community of other entrepreneurs, mentors and others that can help.

First, you need to put yourself in a path for these unexpectedly good things. Second, you have to be able to see these serendipitous events — you have to make the connections. And third, you have to be able to act them. The definition of luck is that you were willing to do something.” Lane Becker

Startup “ecosystems” in Canada are doing well but…

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jesse Rodgers. Follow Jesse on Twitter . This post was originally published on November 21, 2012 on

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The Startup Genome released another report mapping top startup cities but this time a bit more specific than it’s heat map from April of this year. Canada did well depending on how you interpret it with Toronto at #8, Vancouver at #9, and Waterloo at #16. In its previous report, Startup Genome ranked Toronto at #4, Vancouver at #16, and Montreal made the list at #25. Oddly Waterloo wasn’t listed in the previous ranking but made it into the top 20 in the new report while Montreal remained outside of it.

Focusing on my Ontario centric nitpick – the separation of the Toronto and Waterloo “ecosystems” when they are anything but separate is not going to give an accurate picture of Canada’s awesome startup communities. They are unique communities but their strength comes from how they work together in the same ecosystem. The emotional energy (and money) burned in defining how they are different is holding Canada back from an even better and sustainable growth curve. That energy is in the report.

In the report:

“Toronto competes for startups with regional competitors such as NYC, Boston and nearby Waterloo.”

Then in the Waterloo profile:

“In the near future, it will be interesting to see whether Waterloo is able to hold on to its talent base or whether it will be sucked into Toronto.”

Would you say that about Palto Alto sucking talent to San Francisco and vice versa? No. It’s the valley. A huge area that is far more developed but very similar to the Toronto – Hamilton – Waterloo. The problem, I think, is that at some point in the past when local economic development groups were competing on a similar scale for tax dollars (and manufacturing plants) they narrowly defined regions (Golden Triangle, Golden Horseshoe, etc) where everything above the escarpment is barbarians and the urban modern folk live below next to the cold blue lake.

There can be (and there are) distinct communities inside the larger Toronto – Hamilton – Waterloo ecosystem. Each community has its strength. Each success in the larger ecosystem helps the entire ecosystem.

The big problem the ecosystem faces (in Toronto):

Startups in Toronto receive 71% less funding than SV startups. The capital deficiency exists both before and after product market fit. Toronto startups receive 70% less capital in Stage 2 (Validation) and 65% in Stage 4 (Scale).

The ecosystem most likely lacks a sufficient quantity of all kinds of startup capital sources: angels, super angels, accelerators, micro VCs, VCs etc. As a result Toronto startups rely more on self-funding, or rounds from family/friends.

The other big problem (in Waterloo):

Waterloo has a funding gap (96% less in the second stage) for early stage startups before product market fit, probably due to a lack of super angels and micro VCs. There are high numbers of accelerators and much lower numbers of super angels and VCs than SV.

Solving the funding problem in Toronto also solves the problem in Waterloo, more companies that able to find the money and the talent to scale in either or both communities helps both or am I missing something?

Building a strong economy, community, and ecosystem isn’t a zero sum game.