Vancouver: Innovation Hub?

Vancouver Convention Centre | BCBusiness
The Vancouver Convention Centre, built for the Olympics, will host TED in March

While many Vancouver locals take their home for granted, organizers of the TED Conference saw its potential as a hub for innovation

We live in an age of sharing. Things we didn’t share at all before, such as what we ate for lunch, now plaster every virtual wall on the Internet. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with sharing. And, judging by the traffic to meme sites and funny YouTube videos and kitten-based “listicles,” people have a seemingly insatiable appetite for content, so why not keep spreading it around? But it’s not that simple.

To go viral, content requires substance: a certain quality to it that compels the reader or watcher to inform his circle of peers about it. If it’s a video of a fluffy kitten tumbling off a couch, consuming that media evokes a simple happiness, an emotion the watcher wants his friends to experience, too.

Higher-calibre content, such as long-form journalism or a presentation on stage, is held to a higher standard before being deemed share-worthy—it needs to shock, enrage or inspire the audience profoundly.

When the TED conference was first launched in 1984, American architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman likely did not envision a model built around creating viral videos that would benefit from YouTube. But in hindsight, that’s what he was creating: quality content built to be shared and posted for free online.

To be clear, TED was successful long before Internet for the masses, and admittedly YouTube hasn’t transformed the organization in any significant way. Still, social media has undoubtedly made the organization’s slogan easier to achieve than ever. “Ideas worth spreading” is a simple, attainable and sustainable ideal to which to aspire. It creates a positive impact on the audience and is virally appealing by default, and it’s essentially impossible to run out of content. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

These “ideas worth spreading” will establish roots in Vancouver this year, the first time the world-famous, annual four-day conference will be held outside of California. And the salience of this move is not lost on locals. There’s a quietly growing buzz on the street—who hasn’t heard of TED, after all?—and those in important positions are eagerly looking to capitalize on this high-potential opportunity.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said in October that he wants to make the most of TED’s presence in the city, and launched a series of spinoff events to engage the public and showcase our innovation. TED’s two-year commitment is even spurring the creation of local venture capital funds for startups, according to Robertson.

Of course, the boon TED is poised to be for Vancouver isn’t going to compare to, say, the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. But it also won’t saddle the city with debt, inflate real estate prices and annoy businesses whose storefronts become inaccessible during the construction of a hastily built new SkyTrain line, either.

Without causing a ruckus, TED will help solidify Vancouver’s newly forming reputation as a real, hard-working city capable of punching above its weight. The organization said last year that it chose Vancouver because of the city’s livability, walkability, sustainability, innovation and stunning natural beauty. Sound clichéd? To a native Vancouverite, sure. But here’s the amazing thing: those clichés are all true for Vancouver, and they’re often not true of other cities. As casual West Coast Canadians, we’re often too humble to recognize the gold mine we sit on. We take for granted that we live in one of the greatest places on earth. But TED didn’t.

In fact, between events such as TED and GROW, companies including HootSuite and BuildDirect, and power players like Mike Edwards and Boris Wertz, Vancouver is rapidly legitimizing itself as a force to be reckoned with.

TED is another step toward Vancouver realizing its potential as a world-class hub of innovation. Now that’s an idea worth spreading.

Robert Lewis is president of TechVibes Media Inc. and editor-in-chief of