Here is a model that Startup Weekend has designed that represents an entrepreneur’s journey.
When people evaluate startup ecosystems they usually start analyzing at the point after a startup has already been formed (i.e. at accelerator programs). The problem is so many things happen in an entrepreneurs life before they actually launch a company. Entrepreneurship is a mindset that is developed through a series of experiences and strong ecosystems have elements that understand each part of an entrepreneurs journey and can take an individual and grow them into entrepreneurs that grow companies. In our model instead of starting at step 4 Startup Weekend really likes to play within the first three steps. We understand that it takes far more than generating more accelerator programs to grow entrepreneurship but communities need to inspire people to follow their passions. Communities need to create forums where people can discover their own tribes of entrepreneurship. And then communities need outlets and environments where their entrepreneurs can take action.
These steps are the very first pieces towards a developing ecosystem and Startup Weekend gets to see first hand the growth of communities all around the world from day one. I have been to over 20 Startup Weekends in communities all around the world and have been able to build a pretty unique perspective on community design and ecosystem potential. This is why I am writing this post and this is why I would say out of all the places I have been, investors need to start looking seriously at Vancouver, BC.
I recently just got back from facilitating Startup Weekend Vancouver and it was remarkable to say the least. Jesse Heaslip (lead organizer) and the rest of the Startup Weekend Vancouver organizing team absolutely KILLED IT! I witnessed so many core fundamentals of an ecosystem that has tremendous potential that if I was an investor I would start building great relationships with the people there to get in on the ground level of something big. Here are my reasons why:
The demand for entrepreneurship in that city has just grown drastically. Startup Weekend is simply 3 days out of the entire year and our one event got the demand of 150 eager startupers that launched 17 startups and had another 150 on a waiting list which will be filtered into the next Startup Weekend Vancouver set to be in November. Besides SW, other key elements to the Vancouver ecosystem that are gaining traction are GrowLab (Vancouver accelerator program that was just featured in TechCrunch) and Launch Academy (which is a co-working space that is evolving into becoming more of a General Assembly for Vancouver).To add on top of those, the GROW Conference is starting to capture a lot of buzz within the entire north west. GROW is showing the early potential of becoming something like a SxSW but a NxNW.
Strong elements to the Vancouver ecosystem that are received so well build for bigger and bigger markets of entrepreneurs. Vancouver’s market is growing quickly.
In just 54 hours you have to push yourself and your team to the extreme limits to produce. One of our main judging criteria’s at a Startup Weekend is “execution” and to us that means in the time you are given what has your team done to show that you will be able to do whatever it takes to be a successful founding team. If you are building some software can you show us a functioning prototype that shows your high level technical skills? Have you gotten out of the building to test your initial hypotheses and found insights for new iterations or pivots? How many cycles of customer development where you able to do? Do you have customers for your business?
More teams at this event seemed to have a very intelligent approach in their entrepreneurship process. There were many iterations, pivots and restarts which showed the quality of startupers at ground zero. There was even a team that was able to get multiple paying customers who wanted their product and collected $25 that they showed to us on stage!
The high level of execution at the first step of an ecosystem means that this pushes the entire step ladder to a higher level of quality. I chatted with 2x Startup Weekend Vancouver judge Boris Wertz, founder and general partner of Version One Ventures, and I had asked him about his initial reactions to the teams at this event versus the last and he was very impressed on the quality of the teams who pitched. To summarize his reaction, he thought there were far more teams at this event there were higher quality than at the last. The point here is that the community is learning and they are learning quick which is a tremendous quality to this ecosystem. The entrepreneurs in Vancouver just seem to get it.
If you look at some of the hottest markets for entrepreneurship one of the core factors is there ability to generate buzz. In New York City and San Francisco they host the worlds biggest media sources. You have Mashable, TechCrunch, INC. Magazine, VentureBeat, Bloomberg, etc, then you have the major sources like the New York Times. Due to their HQ locations their own communities naturally get more buzz than the rest of the world would receive, thus pushing what is going on in their ecosystems a little bit further. It’s not necessarily that a place like New York city is launching more startups than a city like Seattle but part of the reason they are looked to be farther than us is simply because every launch in those areas gets huge media coverage. The ability to generate buzz is huge and this is something I saw Vancouver do first hand without the need of big media sources.
One small piece of proof simply came from our Twitter hash-tag. The Vancouver event used #VanStartup. We pulled our Simply Measured analytics from that event and in just 54 hours Vancouver had a Twitter impressions reach of 4.4MIL people. Let me repeat…4.4 MILLION! To give some context, Startup Weekend as a whole usually gets to that type of social media reach in two weeks, Vancouver did it alone in three days. This city really understands the power of social media and has the potential to generate an immense amount of buzz without the need of big media hubs.
Startup Weekend’s are designed to create chaos. Friday night is not one for the shy because you are in a room with 150 other entrepreneurs who are trying to sell their idea and form a team from the same group you are. We purposely don’t make the team formation seamless and easy because part of finding a cofounder is being able to step outside of yourself and show your passion to the community. Some people fail and decide this doesn’t fit their style and some people just rise to the occasion and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Some people complain that their idea didn’t get a fair chance during the team formation process and some others decide there isn’t time to debate equality but I have to make the most of the situation in front of me. In Vancouver the spirit of hungry entrepreneurs not only filled the auditorium but literally flooded outside into the streets.
At 10:45pm Friday night we had to kick everyone out of the auditorium because the lights and security system at the venue was going to go off whether we liked it or not. Teams could have complained that we didn’t have a space to conclude the evening and attendees could have easily left but the complete opposite happened. People continued to do whatever they could to form teams and work in the streets until far after midnight. The passionate, determined and positive spirit of everyone at the event carried them through the entire weekend and it definitely had ripples effects on the community of what the true spirit of an entrepreneur is really like.
With anything the potential of something is only as good as the foundation it is laid upon and from all the places I have seen around the world, Vancouver is on its way towards becoming something remarkable. Investors, I am spilling the beans here but if I were you I would start making my way over there, building strong ties there and writing some checks because if not I will be writing up a follow up post in the future titled, “I told you so!”
*Photo credits to Albert Law: http://www.albertlaw.ca/