Boosting B.C. Startups Through California Connections

B.C. entrepreneurs benefit from links with Silicon Valley expats.

B.C.’s Silicon Valley connections | BCBusiness
B.C.’s tech startups can benefit from finding “like-minded” innovators, such as the companies in Silicon Valley.

B.C. entrepreneurs benefit from links with Silicon Valley expats.

Boosting the number of B.C. tech success stories requires continued focus on innovation and commercialization, and both require capital. However, a pile of money and a clever innovation don’t guarantee success. Effective commercialization requires experienced, networked and focused entrepreneurs, something that B.C. has in scarce quantities. But rather than lament that many of our tech companies are run by first-time entrepreneurs, let’s help them find like-minded technology people who have “been there, done that.”

We could learn a lot from Silicon Valley. In early March, I attended a fantastic event in Palo Alto that had been set up by two groups of Canadians who live and work in Silicon Valley. The C100 was created two years ago to form a tighter bond between Canadians working in the U.S. technology industry and entrepreneurs based in Canada, and to help the next generation of Canadian-based technology companies be successful sooner.

Following the same theme as established by ethnic technology groups like TIE (Indian entrepreneurs) and Monte Jade (Asian entrepreneurs), C100 hopes to leverage patriotic sentiment into real, meaningful assistance and introductions for these Canadian technology companies. Digital Puck is a similar organization founded by Rob Chaplinsky of Bridgescale Partners, based in Silicon Valley. Rob is from southern Ontario, but has been in the venture capital industry in the Valley since the early ’90s.

At the event, Bob Courteau, president of SAP AG North America, met with a few CEOs of visiting companies to discuss how SAP could help them. Among them was Rob Burgess, who grew and sold Alias Software and then did the same with Macromedia. Corporate development people from Google and senior vice-presidents from Juniper, Microsoft and Intel were also in attendance. Throughout the day Chaplinsky made introductions, shared insight and tried to make the right connections for the 20 young Canadian companies that attended.

The Silicon Valley ethos of “fear of a missed opportunity” (as opposed to the very Canadian ethos of “fear of failure”) has rubbed off on all the expat Canadians who live and work down there. They may only have known you for 20 minutes, but they will reach into their network to help you find a salesperson, connect with a potential customer or get the conversation started with a potential acquirer. They are genuinely fuelled by trying to create, invest in, be involved with or otherwise be associated with the next big thing.

B.C. was well represented at this invitation-only event. Of the 20 Canadian technology companies there, six were later-stage companies from B.C.: BuildDirect founder and CEO Jeff Booth; Payfirma founder and CEO Michael Gogturk; A Thinking Ape founder Kenshi Arasaki; Victoria-based Terapeak’s new CEO Kevin North; Kelowna’s Vineyard Networks founder and CEO Jason Richards and Vision Critical founder Andrew Reid. Each company met a fellow Canadian in a senior role with a large technology company to share their story and challenges. Following up after the event will be key to creating lasting connections.

C100 also runs two events for earlier-stage entrepreneurs each year, called 48 Hours in the Valley, and the organization supports many events, such as the annual GROW Conference, where high-level executives in big U.S. technology companies actually show up and mingle with the startups.

Technology people are event junkies, and it’s not just the startups who feel they can benefit from meeting others at these events. It is embedded in the culture of technology – even for the experienced people who give advice, mentorship and contacts. The event organized by C100 and Digital Puck was a superb venue for making connections. I hope there are many more like it for B.C. entrepreneurs to attend.