There are a number of technology events that have a pretty decent following in Kelowna. The Okanagan Tech Sector Community Events Meetup group has 133 members. Digital Okanagan and OKDG each have almost 900 followers on Twitter. Startup Weekend Okanagan was by all accounts a great success.
Last week, after our discussion of Startup Communities I had a talk with a community activist from Omaha, Nebraska: former Startup Weekend COO Shane Reiser. He had some event tips for newly forming startup communities. I would like to loosely organize these ideas around the different audiences, of which I spoke last time.
Startups & the Tech community
To engage the entrepreneurial stack directly, Shane suggests three common events: Startup Weekend, Barcamp, and Startup Drinks. I attended Startup Drinks Vancouver and it was an easy, no commitment way to meet other people involved in the startup community. #geekbeers is a more general version of Startup Drinks.
Hack nights etc. are a great way to engage developers and hackers. Developers like to build things and solve problems but, like Shane says, “Developers just want to meet other developers.” More generalist events don’t appeal to them because those types of events attract the co-founder dating types, “just-an-idea” guys, and self-promoting service providers. Events that are structured around experiential learning, or learning through taking action are important for devs. #phpKL is about all we have in this space right now. We need more.
Shane also suggested doing a Startup Day. This is basically a show and tell where people can give short presentations on what they are doing. Although the presenters are all startups, hopefully the event draws out all types from the entrepreneurial stack, including potential investors and mentors. Driving mentorship in the community is important according to Shane. If you refer to my post on the startup network you will see that these mentors play a central role in the evolution of the community. Shane suggests having mentor meetings alongside the Startup Day presentations. Each mentor would sit at a table and take a series of 20 minute meetings. Kind of like “Office Hours” but shorter and focused on a single person or team.
Academia & Community
Staunching the brain drain that happens in Canada should be a priority. Many students at universities focus on Vancouver or the Silicon Valley and are unaware of local alternatives. Shane Reiser suggested to me the Student Startup Crawl. Load a bunch of students from the local colleges and universities into a bus and bring them to startup offices all day. Each startup gives a short tour of what they do. This helps to expose the students to startup life, and if you time it for the spring, gives them the opportunity to find potential internships.
In terms of engaging the Kelowna public, we need to figure out we can use our skills to contribute to the community as a whole. For example, in my review of The Information Diet I mentioned Kelowna’s Open Data Catalogue. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make something out of this data that is useful for the average Kelownaite? A gift to the city from their friendly neighbourhood Startup Community. It is a kind of “coding for community.” Coder Dojo for youth could be another example.
Much of the startup experience revolves around pitching. Imagine if we had a reverse pitch contest. Various community groups (SPCA, charities, etc.) make pitches to the startup community, and we choose a project to do in a certain amount of time. Structure it like a Startup Weekend, so all of the tech participants know the score. In fact, if Startup Weekend is held in March, we could do the reverse pitch day at the opposite end of the calendar in September. They could be annually paired events. This could be a highly visible way to engage the city and remind them that we are here, and we can contribute in more ways than simply being an economic engine of growth.
All of the events we currently have active in the community should stay just as they are. These are just some potential alternatives to try and reach those in other audiences that we are currently not reaching. Here is a TLDR list of all the ideas above for easy reference:
- Startup Weekend
- Startup Drinks
- Student Startup Crawl
- Coding for Community
- Coder Dojo
- Reverse Pitch
If you are interested in doing one the ideas above, go nuts! No need to ask permission. You might want to reach out to Digital Okanagan to get some guidance on organization.