The Canadian Government now lists Calgary as having the country's largest concentration of entrepreneurs and the highest number of technology startups per capita.
Much of this success could be attributed to the growing startup community and entrepreneurial ecosystem here. It is important for entrepreneurs to feel supported to make it through the endless 80+ hour weeks, so having a community of like-minded people and strong mentors to bounce ideas off of is extremely helpful.
This process has been made exponentially easier by the co-working phenomenon. AcceleratorYYC in Inglewood, run by Tori and Christian MacLean and Pieter Boekhoff, has become the unofficial hub of tech startup activity in Calgary. On any given day, you're bound to see entrepreneurs working side-by-side — chatting, giving advice and even collaborating on projects. It also hosts several startup events, which are great ways to drive creativity and collaboration.
One of the highlight events of the month was "Are you an Entrepreneur or Wantrepreneur" by GrowLab, the leading startup accelerator in the country, held at the AcceleratorYYC on February 23rd. Moderated by Christian MacLean, the panel included successful entrepreneurs like Jason Bailey, founder of Growlab; Lori Stewart, EVP of eThor.com and eBay Canada; and Patrick Lor, President of Fotolia North America and former EVP of iStockphoto.
When I asked Lori Stewart her thoughts on why Canada is a good place for tech startups, she said: "Canada leads in higher education achievement, has a motivated work force, and attracts some of the smartest people from around the world due to its business-friendly immigration policy. Moreover, Canadian startups do not have to deal with high healthcare costs, as in the US."
That said, the general sentiment of the panelists was that, although we have plenty of local talent, Alberta's entrepreneurs need to be more aggressive in seeking help, seizing the opportunity at hand and just going for it full speed. Companies should ship now and worry about scaling later; after all, if you don't have enough customers, you won't have the need to scale.
Patrick Lor best summed up this sentiment, saying: "We see the same people at all the events asking the same questions. There's lots of talking and not enough doing. Just do it already!"
Lor, together with David Gluzman, president of Blacksquare — a successful local startup that builds applications for the wine industry — also run the quarterly DemoCamp Calgary, which was held on February 22nd. DemoCamp began with the mission to give budding entrepreneurs an open and free platform to showcase their products and get valuable feedback from the community. Some successful ventures like Tynt and PsykoAudio got their first break at DemoCamp.
"It's an uphill battle for local startups to attract talent; we're either competing with the oil and gas industry or with Silicon Valley," said Gluzman. "Through these events we want to show people how exciting it is to work for startups and become a part of a community with plenty of opportunities for advancement through knowledge sharing and mentorship."
For startups living in the shadow of oil and gas who are having a difficult time getting their story out, there is Techrev, an initiative that increases awareness of, and investment activity in, Calgary's technology sector. It also hosts Techrev Innovators, an annual event that recognizes the most promising startups in Calgary.
Other resources include Innovate Calgary, a full service organization offering technology transfer and business incubator services like company creation, intellectual property protection, business strategy, marketing, commercialization, investment attraction, and skills workshops.
Local entrepreneurs are also a huge asset in providing mentorships. The A100 is a non-profit, member-funded organization of "been there, done that" tech entrepreneurs and executives, interested and dedicated in helping Alberta's next generation of innovative startups in becoming successful.
It is important to realize that as a community, we're all in this together and together we can grow. If we support budding entrepreneurs, they can one day give back to other young startups. At the end of the day, it is not the amount of venture capital or incubators that make a community successful, but rather the support that the community provides for each other.
Here are some promising local startups to look out for in the next few months:
Katipult is a professional crowd-funding website that helps registered organizations (i.e., charities, non-profit) raise funds for social good. Organizations can share their story with words, photographs and videos to create awareness and secure funding for their campaigns. For more information contact Hafiz Mitha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IwillHelp.ca is a platform that enables people to donate a portion of their daily transactions to charity. With over 80,000 charities to pick from, this platform is designed to create and nurture strong and lasting relationships with clients, employees, friends, family members and anyone whom the user wishes to empower. For more information contact Grant Kelba at email@example.com.
Kudos is a corporate social network designed to enhance employee engagement. Kudos allows team members to give meaningful recognition and feedback in real time to one anther. For more information contact Tom Short at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natural gas producers are under increasing pressure to lower their CO2 emissions beyond current regulatory standards. SFN captures vented combustion by-products and turns them into a multi-use algal biomass that can be used to produce food and supplement products. SFN's prototype has successfully extracted up to 90% of the CO2 from engine exhaust emissions. For more information contact Joseph Martini at email@example.com.
Take a moment to check out the websites of these startups and engage with them; they might very well be the next big Calgary success story!
Lloyed Lobo is a partner at Boast Capital, a firm that helps tech companies access the Canadian government's annual $7 billion funding pool to advance innovation under programs such as Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED).