GROW Conference | BCBusiness

GROW Conference | BCBusiness
The upcoming GROW Conference will be straying slightly from its strictly entrepreneurial roots.

Now in its fourth year, the Aug. 14-16 conference casts a bigger and broader vision

Events are either worth your time and money or they’re not. The GROW Conference has been, since its launch in 2010, the former. It began when San Francisco’s DealMaker Media, the organization behind the popular Under the Radar series of innovation events, pulled together a robust lineup of speakers for a first-time conference. Industry veterans such as Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, venture capitalist Dave McClure and Vancouver’s Jason Bailey, CEO of East Side Games, owned the stage over three days and caught nearly everyone off guard. Outsiders were surprised to see an event of this calibre in Vancouver and Vancouverites couldn’t believe the star power.

Fast forward to today, and GROW is preparing for its fourth run, which will stray slightly from its roots as strictly entrepreneurial. This year promises to be an “intersection of design and entrepreneurial thinking,” meaning that perhaps more than ever, GROW will feel like a cross between South by Southwest and TED.

This subtle change might have a few folks worried. After all, GROW wasn’t broken, so why fix it? But the team behind the event deserves our trust. Historically focused on uniting Canada’s disparate startup communities, this year GROW is thinking bigger and broader, aiming to reach a breadth and variety of attendees that Vancouver is not used to seeing but is eager to embrace. Packing a roster of speakers from global titans like Google and Microsoft to local startups such as Perch, this year’s GROW once again ensures a bounty of ingenuity. But there’s just as much talent mingling in the networking halls, where entrepreneurs and investors are never short of valuable introductions.

One example of the event’s connective value was seen at the inaugural event in 2010, when tech wunderkind Brian Wong attended. Then just 19 years old, he had already raised $200,000 from Phil Black of True Ventures for his startup, Kiip, but still found tremendous value in the conference, noting last year that “GROW provides a venue where the next generation of entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and from around the world can experience the collaborative Vancouver culture, which results in a combustible environment for creation.” It was there that he met Frank Christiaens, founder of CrossPacific Capital, who became one of his first angel investors. And to show his appreciation, Wong returned in 2011 to speak at the event.

“In order to maximize success, entrepreneurs need to make it happen by recognizing fleeting moments of opportunity and by surrounding themselves with the best and brightest,” Wong wrote on U.S. tech blog VentureBeat. “This rarely, if ever, happens by chance. That is the benefit of conferences such as GROW.”

New to the conference this year is the House Party @ GROW, a multi-venue event in which attendees can walk to and from each “house party” to observe tech hubs around the world. Developed in collaboration with the team behind Launch Party Vancouver, GROW describes this new feature as The Olympics for entrepreneurs, likening it to the Holland Heineken House and the Sochi House that entertained thousands during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. “The concept is a way to get the Valley thinking beyond its borders and exposing the world to the innovation that’s happening everywhere,” says Debbie Landa, CEO of DealMaker Media and the executive producer of GROW.

This year, the conference anticipates 1,200 people. For Vancouver—and for the Canadian startup ecosystem—this is a massive number, especially considering how many attendees travel from Silicon Valley and other U.S. hotspots to take part.

“In Silicon Valley, we tend to think that everything is Valley-centric,” adds Landa, “but it’s simply not true.”

Robert Lewis is president of TechVibes Media Inc. and editor-in-chief of Techvibes.com, an online technology media company.