Secrets of Building a Tech Ecosystem

technology | BCBusiness
Dan Gunn, Victoria Advanced Technology Council

Dan Gunn is recognized for his role in building a community of entrepreneurs in the Greater Victoria region

On May 12 Startup Canada officially recognized Dan Gunn, executive director of the Victoria Advanced Technology Council (which prefers to go by the handle VIATeC), as B.C.’s “entrepreneurship ecosystem builder of the year.” The award recognizes the person who has demonstrated the “greatest impact in advancing the success of entrepreneurs, startups, startup communities and entrepreneurial activities locally. . . and who has been a leading evangelist and champion of entrepreneurship.”
BCBusiness caught up with Gunn and asked him to explain what VIATeC is and what makes him “ecosystem builder of the year.”
What is VIATeC?
We’re a one-stop hub that connects people, knowledge, and resources to grow and promote the Greater Victoria technology sector. My role is to be cheerleader, coach, counsellor, and party planner for entrepreneurs and their companies. In short, I’m the “community shepherd” of Victoria’s thriving $2.5-billion-plus tech industry.
What makes you an “ecosystem builder?”
I’m honoured that Startup Canada should use these words to describe what I do, but I think this is a question for others to answer. What I do know is that we have something special in Victoria. While VIATeC does a lot of heavy lifting and focuses on maximizing our local strengths, it’s the community spirit of our entrepreneurs and their teams that really provide the support and leadership for our ecosystem.
How long have you been doing this work in Victoria?
I came to Victoria 15 years ago, originally to attend Royal Roads University’s Entrepreneurial Management program. I fully expected to return to Ontario following graduation, but one of my professors was running VIATeC, and he had other ideas: a seven-month contract with the organization. I was enjoying it so much I kept showing up after the contract was completed. They kept paying me, and in 2005 I was selected to run VIATeC.
What do you do outside of VIATeC?
Family is important to me, and Victoria has treated us well. My wife, Jeanie Gunn, is manager of convocation and events at the University of Victoria. Our 3-1/2-year-old son, Max, is an aspiring astronaut/garbage man/rockstar. So yes, I have a life outside of work, but I’m very passionate about what I do with VIATeC. I love working with other entrepreneurs and seeing them succeed.
What qualities are essential to being an “ecosystem builder”?
Here’s my list:
• Think like a startup. Disruption is opportunity. Lead by example.
• Say “yes” to new ideas. You are not a regulator, you are an enabler.
• Engage the willing.
• Focus on Impact.
• Be magnanimous. Provide opportunity and support and don’t get bogged down when people disappoint you or try and take advantage.
• Be candid. You are going to be disappointed, and it’s better for everyone to have an honest discussion about it so that you can work together again.
• Get out of town. You need to experience other ecosystems to better understand where you can improve and what you are doing well.
• Never say no to live music. Balance your life with passion, creativity, and art.