Last Thursday, Jesse Heaslip wrote 'Two Problems with (Vancouver's tech community) and Three Ways to Fix it'. If you don't know Jesse, know this: he's crazy-irrational-passionate about the Vancouver tech community. For proof, I offer the fact that he organized 40 tech events that were attended by 1600 people in 2011. Talk about impact!
Jesse lists the two problems as:
1. How do we get companies to the stage where there is interest from acquirers?
2. How do we get those companies to stay?
First of all, for a really great backgrounder on startups in Vancouver and the various funnels that are in place, read Greg Aasen and Danny Robinson's post on the BCIC blog1. Money quote:
The only way to get more anchor companies is to start more companies. Some fail, some exit and some anchor. There is no shortcut.
For Problem #1, I first want to re-state the problem as "How do we get more companies to the Series A and/or acquire stage?".
I added "more" to the statement, since I think that's what we want.
Secondly, focusing on only acquirers is probably the wrong goal. Series A (before everything turned into super seed rounds etc.) used to be the first step of going big. Large VC funds2 earmark millions not only for Series A, but to support companies in their Series B, and so on. We definitely do want anchor companies that grow big right here in Vancouver.
Jesse's answer is "build a better community", phrased as weaving the threads we have together very tightly. Allen Pike's response focusing on homes for startups goes one step further and suggests shared spaces as the tactic to get us there.
I think the answer is simpler, and more like web traffic or a funnel as Greg and Danny wrote about: build more startups. Will a tighter community help us get there? I'm sure that is part of the puzzle.
Problem #2 is "How do we get them to stay?". Jesse's answers here are really three problem areas with suggestions on how to work on them. Academic-industry ties, #WeAreYVR community pride, and Hack Hut (a new coworking space).
I'm not convinced on school / industry issues, other than promoting startups as a place to work for new grads. As far as I am aware, new grads are not the main creator of new startups. As a counter-example, instead of accepting offers with Google / MSFT / Facebook etc. Cristian & Mircea turned down offers with those companies to do their own thing.
However, A Thinking Ape took those offers after graduating in Canada, moved away, then did their own thing, and then ended up in Vancouver. Time will tell if they stay.
I left after graduation in 1999 because the local opportunities that I could find in Vancouver were small and sleepy. I came back in 2004 because it was my home, and it just so happened that things were looking up.
Do we need to raise the profile of startups as a career option to keep some of this great talent in the local pool? You bet!
WeAreYVR. This seems to have the same goals as #MadeInVan. As I said in my blog post in response to that effort - great idea, how about we not re-invent the wheel - AGAIN.
This has been done badly again and again and again. A non profit entity like Vancouver Is Awesome could be the long running entity that might make a good home for this effort. But focus on the brand, on telling the story of local companies, not on the directory-done-badly.
On Hack Hut. Allen's comments on this are excellent. Allen mentions The Hive. They look like an interesting organization, and I think working with them might accelerate this initiative. Also as Allen said, WorkSpace was the first hub, and it worked. I wish it was still here. Let's vote with our dollars and support the spaces we already HAVE before deciding we need to create a new one.
Lastly (still on problem #2), I also don't think "getting them to stay" is an issue. We need them to COME BACK. Stewart Butterfield and Avi Bryant are coming back. A Thinking Ape came back. We need experiences (and money and connections) from elsewhere to come back. So we can close the loop and do it all over again.
OK, now that I've made lots of commentary on Jesse's post, let me say … I agree with him!
I think working together to raise awareness of the community and having shared spaces are the two strongest areas where the community itself can make an impact.
Other than that, the only thing I can suggest is to build more startups in Vancouver.
BCIC Funnel 1 It looks like the original Greg Aasen & Danny Robinson blog post has been truncated / removed / edited. I am going to try and find the original, since it clearly spelled out the stages and support systems of the BC tech ecosystem.
Update Sept 2013: here's the full length original, via the Wayback Machine.
Large VC 2 I had a brief chat with someone from a large VC fund the other day. Accelerators and the collection of angels and super-angels around them are often focused on acquisition as an outcome: turning a couple of hundred thousand dollars into a couple of million dollars is a big win. For large VC funds, they NEED companies that want to go it alone, so they can put in millions that turn into 10s or 100s of millions.
I give larger VC funds a bad rap most of the time, but in this case the goals are aligned: they want companies to go big.
May 4, 2013: This was first posted in February of 2012. In the meantime, Hack Hut is now Launch Academy, which is over a year old. It is a non-profit, and so a great home for all sorts of initiatives. My Reinventing the Wheel One Directory at a Time post has also been updated and has more details.