Debbie Landa, CEO and Founder, Dealmaker Media and GROW

Debbie Landa, Dealmaker Media and GROW | BCBusiness

Media maven Debbie Landa funnels Silicon Valley dollars to fledgling startups in Vancouver

Like many people who can—and frequently do—move mountains with a cheery phone call or texted request, Debbie Landa can’t think of any particular mountain off the top of her head. The laid-back Saskatchewan native is on the line from her minimalist SoMa office in San Francisco, trying to come up with something tangible and specific that she’s done for Vancouver’s rocket-fuelled startup sector—and why dozens of its entrepreneurs sing her praises for towing them onto the launch pad over the past 18 months. Her events company, Dealmaker Media, hosts business tech events all over the U.S. and is behind the much buzzed-about GROW Vancouver, a conference launched in 2011 as a way to connect promising B.C. entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley ingenuity, mentorship and seed cash.

“Wait, I got it!” Landa says. “Are you in front of a computer? Good. So Google ‘Startup Ecosystem Report’ and ‘Startup Genome,’” she instructs. The results bring up an excerpt from a first-of-its-kind report released late last year called Startup Genome, a website that ranks the world’s top 20 startup ecosystems. Vancouver is a very respectable ninth—middle of the pack globally just behind New York, London and Toronto and ahead of Chicago, Paris and Waterloo.

“You see Vancouver? Not bad, ninth. Now check out its ranking in the Mindset Index category,” she says. The category measures “how well the population of founders in a given ecosystem think like great entrepreneurs, where great entrepreneurs are visionary, resilient, have a high appetite for risk, a strong work ethic and an ability to overcome the typical challenges startups face.”

Vancouver entrepreneurs rank second—second—in the world, just behind the masters of industry in Silicon Valley in what is the single core catalyst of requisite business DNA: to see opportunity and grab it, no matter what’s in the way.

“That’s something I like to think I helped foster in B.C.,” Landa admits finally.

Despite her impact on the Lower Mainland’s startup landscape, Landa only arrived on the scene as a favour to Danny Robinson, founder of tech incubator Bootup Labs Inc., and his wife Maura Rodgers, founder of social media marketing company Media Inc. The three of them had met at Landa’s Under the Radar Conference in 2006.

“They made me do this! I pitched the idea to a group of super angel investors during a dinner in March 2011 and most of them agreed to present at my little conference based on the fact that they love Vancouver. They didn’t know much about the opportunities there, but they just wanted an excuse to visit B.C.”

Within days she had confirmation from Zappos IP Inc. CEO Tony Hsieh and Pandora Media Inc. co-founder Tom Conrad. “This blew up bigger than most conferences in Silicon Valley,” she recalls. She got on the phone to Robinson and Rodgers “and they promoted the hell out of this.” Last August the event was even bigger. The impact of GROW hit Landa when a local coder told her, “You don’t understand how amazing this is. My entire Twitter feed is standing next to me.”

The wild success of the inaugural event and its bridge between Silicon Valley and B.C. has resulted in the GrowLab accelerator, to keep the resources and goodwill of GROW Vancouver for local startups available year-round.

This year, Landa says the GROW conference, running August 14–16 (, has expanded to two days with one dedicated to specific tracks like games, music and e-commerce and the other more focused on thought leadership. She’s also expecting, um, 1,200 people.

The event has also launched a travelling roadshow of sorts, by way of GROWtalks, a “one-day conference focused on how to create simple, actionable metrics and use them to make better product and marketing decisions for startup success.” It hit Toronto and Montreal last month and is in Seattle, Portland and L.A. this month.

Landa’s ability to broker meetings and deals between B.C. entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley royalty comes down to trust, and so does her definition of influence. “I’ve been doing these business events for 12 years,” she says. “The CEOs who are agreeing to hang in Vancouver in 2013 for a few days are the same people who came to my events a few years back looking for a break.”