WET DREAMS OF VANCOUVER

Sitting at an overcrowded 49th parallel I’m reminded of the caffeine peddling, downward dog posing, juice truck cleansing, pot puffing and vitamin popping stereotype that marks the quintessential Vancouverite.

Granted few individuals are engaging in all of these activities regularly, or simultaneously for that matter. But typecasts exist for a reason, and I can’t help but smile as the reputation might be ascribed to much more harmful behaviour. Guns anyone?

On this wet Saturday afternoon (wait it’s more like early evening), I’m somewhat baffled to witness so much coffee being consumed and with such vigour. I envisage it comparable to the euphoric atmosphere when prohibition was finally lifted in 1933. Stereotypes aside, something wonderful has been happening in this city besides its artisanal movement. Startups.

Silicon Spreading

First let me back up and explain how I came to have these newfound lenses for which to see my hometown anew. Just before the turn of the century, I moved to San Francisco. I was drawn to the California lifestyle as well as the pulsating energy of the 7 and a half-mile long city. I was there during the Dot.com boom and bust which today feels similar but very different. If by chance you’re wondering if we might be back in similar shoes, you should read this.

After the implosion, I migrated like many to Los Angeles. Although only there for a short time, what was then still a town for Hollywood dreams has now come to include Silicon fantasies. L.A. has seen tremendous growth in the startup arena, so much so that that the area surrounding Santa Monica labeled Silicon Beach.

Then as if by some large magnetic pull, I was drawn across the Atlantic to the old world where my grandfather was born. In London, his home was just a stone’s throw away from Brick Lane – notorious for the garment trade run by Jews. Today this area is pulsating with a new and entirely different energy. Completely transformed — it plays home to a vibrant and buzzy startup community dubbed Silicon Roundabout.

Beyond Pixels

Splitting my time now between a beer-fuelled London and a caffeine-dosed Vancouver has given me these strange hybrid googles. I had recalled friends going on about Vancouver’s brain drain and plentiful safety deposit boxes in the sky. I heard about inhabitants being viewed by outsiders as cliquey as well as the city’s provincial attitude. And I’m rather embarrassed to have believed what I heard through the grapevine without investigating myself.

Yes talent is fleeing to other cities — but many are also choosing to stay. Yes the property prices in many areas are outrageous — but East Vancouver and beyond is still affordable and also can claim to be the most diverse place in Canada and arguably the world.

Most of all, I am thrilled to see that the city has blossomed into a first-rate startup hub. It only takes one stroll down Cordova or around Mount Pixel to see that brilliant things are happening all over the city. Only two years ago the city was rated 9th in the world for startup ecosystems.

A State of Mind

Largely due to the removal of the ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ as a measuring stick has Vancouver dropped in it’s rank from 9th position. One view, OK maybe just my view, is that a disproportionate amount of West Coasters long to be in control of their destiny. Whether that be running a spin studio, working as a freelance designer, or a craft beer tour guide (again with the stereotypes) — it’s the autonomy which is the driver. A very healthy entrepreneurial spirit is evident and if we opened our view of startups to include lifestyle businesses — Vancouver is the hot ticket.

It was challenging to confront the skeptic in me that doubted the city’s startup prowess. Perhaps I just needed some time. More likely, it was just some investigating and consequently discovering spectacular folks that make it their mission to connect and cultivate the community. After many conversations — I am convinced that most have chosen to call Vancouver home for reasons stretching far beyond its beauty.

These startup stars are building out the new economy, creating jobs, promoting creativity, pushing innovation and improving the world in the process. And it’s because of them that I get to boast about where I come from.


10 organisations shaking shit up

— In no particular order and by no means exhaustive —

Vancouver Startup Week

Taking place each year this week long event celebrates all things startup in Vancouver. A highlight was VR City put on by the folks at HUMAN. [One of their founders, Boris Mann, also runs Wearable Wednesdays — showcasing the best in VR & AR.]

Creative Mornings

This global morning shindig for creative types is definitely the monthly events to join. Hosted by the humorous Mark Busse, it’s no bullshit atmosphere and speakers aim to engage and inspire as opposed to preach and promote.

Stanley Park Ventures

One of the notable venture firms in Vancouver. It’s led by brothers Jonathan and Joshua Bixby along with Mike Benna, operating as a progressive investment studio with in-house designers, developers and marketers to help its portfolio companies grow.

Launch Academy

Having been involved with Launch for some time now, they have done some incredible things to support startups and contribute to the ecosystem. At the helm is Ray Walia and Alex Chuang who go about doing their thing with serious gusto: That’s translated in over 350 early stage businesses launched, $57 million in funding and 635 jobs for the economy.

Entrepreneurship@UBC

This program now in its third year is a 5-week intensive accelerator. Paul Cubbon and Blair Simonite who run the show, have been instrumental in supporting high growth startups. Most notably is Recon Instruments, which was acquired by Intel last year.

TED

For it’s 30th anniversary TED moved from it’s original home in Long Beach, California to Vancouver. If that’s not telling of something of the city, I don’t know what is. Its offshoot TEDxStanley Park is taking place May 28th and the theme is Ideas to Action.

THNK School of Creative Leadership

Opening last year in the Sun Tower building, this branch of the Amsterdam based education company was founded by Vancouver born Lee Feldman. Having met several alumni, I can vouch that they’re staying true to the vision of developing 21st century leaders who will change the world.

Spring

Spring has gone from strength to strength blending the better parts of co-working, incubation, events, funding and community building. Led by Keith Ippel, their popular KICK program has seen countless social ventures quickly launch and scale around the world.

RED Academy

New kids to the block, this Academy has witnessed first hand the demand for talented designers, coders and marketeers. Founded by Colin Mansel, they have big plans to grow the number of happy graduates, help more community partners and offer top tier innovation training to industry.

BCTIA
BC Technology Industry Association has been instrumental in help growing the tech industry — supporting 9,000+ startups that employ 90,000+ people. Their HyperGrowth program is second stage program designed to attract and accelerate future billion dollar tech companies in the province.

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