Archives for posts with tag: entrepreneurial community

SFU’s Radius had a sold-out crowd at the Portside Pub in Gastown for their first ever Social Entrepreneur Failure Wake last night. When I first heard about it, I thought that the idea of sharing stories about failed social ventures would be a good source of leads for the blog. I had no idea how educational and inspiring it would be. It was also a lot of fun.

The idea was simple. They would take over a pub, sell tickets, get brand name sponsorship from Vancity, and find some entrepreneurs to tell their stories about how their social ventures had reached their untimely ends.

At the heart of the event was the idea to embrace failure and with it, the rich learning and practical experience that will bring later success. I felt that this mindset aligns well with the practices of Design Thinking and Lean Startup that I have been chronicling in this blog.

Everyone loves a good story and perhaps more than success, a story about failure makes a compelling tale. Tragedy, it seems, captures our attention, but also serves a larger point. The stories contained salient, often emotional, messages about wrong turns and missed opportunities.

First up was a story about Ecotrust Canada’s efforts to build the local economy on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Satnam Manhas told the story of how there was no shellfish processing facilities in the Clayoquot Sound area when Ecotrust began their project to get local processing of shellfish for area residents and resorts. New federal food safety rules resulted in additional expenses for the recently up and running facility, yet the original equity owners were not able to pitch in to cover the unforeseen costs. Other problems mounted and the plant had to close soon thereafter.

Chantelle Buffie and Sonam Swarup

Young entrepreneurs Chantelle Buffie and Sonam Swarup of Fusion Kitchen traded the microphone back and forth as they told their touching story of a classroom project turned social venture. Their idea was to create community and connections for recent immigrants through cooking classes. The cooking classes were a platform for immigrant women to gain work experience, develop their transferable skillsets, and build their self-confidence to increase their employment opportunities in Canada. They had a great series of lessons learned that I only wish I had a pen to note down.

Finally, Grace Sai, founder of Hub Singapore gave a talk about an early mistake she made in her choice of who to partner with. She also spoke movingly of the challenge of balancing vulnerability with showing strength in leadership. I had to laugh when she confessed to the audience that her therapist had asked her, ‘don’t you think that Obama cries sometimes?’

At the conclusion of each presentation, Mike Rowlands of Junxion Strategy threw an Irish accent and delivered elegant toasts as the speakers were offered Jameson Irish Whiskey. It was a playful, yet thoughtful, way to show appreciation to the entrepreneurs for their courage, passion, and reflection.

As I rode my bike home, surprisingly I felt full of inspiration—not despair. Here was a community that would support you, in both your successes and in your failures. What more could you ask for as a social entrepreneur?

I have seen a number of articles and blogs lately where the authors attempt to persuade readers that Vancouver is the place to be when it comes to the next great startup capital after the Valley. Of course, my choice of reading material is selective and my contacts and connections lead me disproportionately to the material about Vancouver. I read and like many of the articles without thinking too much about them. I might have left it there, but something bothered me about these articles.

6 Reasons Vancouver is Hot for Start-up” is a typical example. Among other things, the author talks about the travel time to Silicon Valley and the fact that Vancouver is ranked as a great place to live. While these are certainly true, there is a part of me that remains skeptical and bothered by the gist of these articles. They all appear to be written by folks who are based in Vancouver already. As such, they appear biased and lack credibility. (Full disclosure: The subtext of my own blog’s theme too could be subject to such a critique. I am certainly based in Vancouver and don’t want to have to move to take my career in technology to the next level.)

The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of cities that claim to be in line to become the next Silicon Valley, and Vancouver is pretty far down the list. Vancouver remains pretty much in the middle of the pack for startup cities even though external forces are driving changes.

Some charge that it is simply a reflection of Canadian modesty that Vancouver remains pretty average. However, I don’t think that it is the Canadian habit of not tooting your own horn enough. Instead, I think that it is simply just not high on the list for venture capital and entrepreneurial investments because it has yet to reach the scale and diversity of companies needed to create the talent pool based here with enough experience, credibility, and cojones. Each time those of us in the Vancouver entrepreneurial community believe that this is changing, we lose another ambitious young person to California (or you name the place where they might go).

It reminds me of a lesson in population science. If birth and death rates are equal, then nothing changes.  If the growth of another new Vancouver venture represents the potential ‘birth’ of a new set of soon-to-be-experienced founders and the move of another experienced entrepreneur out of the area represents a ‘death,’ then Vancouver might at best be just treading water. If the birth rate equals the death rate, then we are not gaining momentum. This conclusion is, of course, not a conclusion at all, but only an intuitive guess based on my conversations with individuals within the community.

What needs to change? As they say in time management classes, we need to ‘work smarter, not harder.’ I believe that Vancouver can overcome this stagnation by analyzing and celebrating the successes that we have had in the area of intelligent startup management practices. By this, I mean Lean Startup and Design Thinking practices that Eric Ries and others have argued are central to making startups work better. We need to learn faster, and over the coming weeks and months, I intend to document how the Vancouver startup community is learning these practices.