Startup Genome

Are you on this map?

A strong startup network will have a high density of links between a variety of different nodes. Through our startup events we can reach out to all our audiences and try to connect up all the nodes we can. But, not every node will be attracted to the events we have on offer now. I have said it over and over, but we need lots of different ways for people to interact with the network. We need alternative ways for startups in our community to raise their hand, to plant their flag. One of the key steps we can do to learn more about the depth of our community is ensure the visibility of all the startups in our region. Thus, I have started curating Kelowna on

Startup Genome logo

Startup Genome’s mission “is to build the most complete and accurate database of the world’s startup communities.” (cf. this blog post). They have been only going for a few months and have already mapped over 80,000 startups.

When I looked up Kelowna a few weeks ago, there was only one established startup, one acquired startup, a home theatre installation business, and a couple of webdesign agencies. Working with the people at Accelerate Okanagan and adding a few by hand, we now have 30 entries. And we’re just getting started.

I encourage all local startups to take a couple of minutes and plant your flag on the map. Whether you are a one-person shop in the basement, or have already completed a Series A, if you have a product, you should be on this list. Other community members are welcome too. You will notice the map filters account for investors, accelerators, incubators, coworking spaces, universities, events, and a whole bunch more.

I hope to see your startup on the map soon.


Just a note about numbers: there is a lot of talent in the Okanagan valley but this map represents only the narrow subgroup of startups. It does not include the wider tech community’s subgroups like creatives, animators or service providers like lawyers, accountants and marketers. In fact, at a recent OKDG someone suggested mapping out all the creative talent in the valley. That would be an excellent venture. If we can get a few maps, or a map with some different layers, they should all be linked up.


2012-10-30 07:53 AM

Looks like Startup Genome has added a new category: Service Providers.

Startup Kelowna: Events

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
  • Barcamp
  • 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.

Startup Kelowna: Audiences

Having an inclusive startup community not only means being accepting of new members or changes in the the network, it means pro-actively creating a variety of opportunities to allow new members to connect to the network in a manner most comfortable to them.

When planning events we should obviously consider the entire entrepreneurial stack (first time entrepreneurs, experienced entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, wantrepreneurs etc), but to be part of a larger ecosystem should be reaching further. I think the startup community must learn to speak to 5 audiences.


From top to bottom:

1. Startups: This is our internal community, as described in my last post Startup Community: Network. It encompasses the entire entrepreneural stack. Aruguably, #LeanCoffeeKL, MetaBridge, Startup Weekend and an assortment of Accelerate Okanagan’s events speak to this community.

2. Current Tech Community: Digital Okanagan, OKDG, OKTechEvents and other general tech forae are included here. These are the people we are already reaching.

3. Wider Tech Community: This is the silent majority. These are the hackers in the basement, developers in big companies or the potentially hundreds of startups in the Okanagan Valley that for some reason do not come out to participate in the established events. We must ask ourselves: how can we accommodate these people better?

4. Kelowna: Does the citizenry of Kelowna know that we have a startup community in town? Do they know to take friends from out of town to St. Paul St? What can we do to engage the wider community and let them know we are here, and earn their pride?

5. The World: Making the world know about Kelowna’s startup community is not only good for the public relations of the city as a whole, but helps the narrower startup community attract investors and talent from outside of the local community.

When conducting our current events and creating new events we need to think about how to engage each of these audiences. I am not talking about making sure our events are general enough to attract people from across the spectrum. That is how you get bland events that attract only self-marketing service providers. Rather, we must focus our event planning to target each level. In my next post I will lay out some ideas for events to engage each of these audiences, and hopefully answer some of the questions posed above.

Startup Kelowna: Network

When building the startup community here in Kelowna, I think it is important to remember that we are trying to build a network rather than a hierarchy. Networks are loose and informal, can be very inclusive, and most important are resilient. If a node or a few nodes on the network disappear, the network as a whole will remain.

Keeping in mind Brad Feld’s first rule of the Boulder thesis (that the startup community has to be entrepreneur led) I have spent some time thinking about what our network should look like (in an abstract way), and how it might evolve. Hopefully this gives us direction as to how we can start creating our own startup network.

Growing the Network

Diagram: Networking leaders

1) The core of the network is going to be the leaders. These are experienced entrepreneurs that are willing to put their name out and be visible leaders in the community. It is important to find a small number of these leaders and get them talking so they can set the tone for community as a whole. Over time these leaders may change, that is the nature of a network. But to get things rolling we need to find a core group willing to help out.

2) There are other experienced entrepreneurs that might want to get involved. In fact, I believe that there are many in our valley. However, they might not want to have their names out in the open. They value their privacy and are tired of being pitched all the time. They want to be involved, but need someone to run interference for them and only introduce those startups that are truly relevant to them. As their peers, the Leaders need to take this role. To get these experienced entrepreneurs engaged, they need to be able to connect to the network in a way that is comfortable for them. And who knows? Maybe in the future they will become Leaders. But for now, they need to be one step removed.

Diagram: Adding everyone else

3) Next is the meat of the network: startups. They will be connected to everyone else in the network, but mostly, they should be connected to one another. They should know each other from working in the same spaces and from events. They should be connected to the Leaders quickly, and over time, to other experienced entrepreneurs.

4) Finally, the service providers. These are the accountants, lawyers, design agencies, government organizations, universities, brand consultants, etc. that help the startup ecosystem. They will have an assortment of possible connections.

This is how I envision the development of our startup network. Obviously, in real life things are more organic. Many sub-networks involving all of the above actors already exist, so our task will be to link these existing networks.

We need to connect everyone up into one massive network to gain the benefits of a startup community. One should be able to traverse from one side of the community to the other through the network connections. Remember “six degrees of separation”? Everyone should be connected to everyone else through the network, and I hope it would take less than six jumps.

It is also important to note that this is not a network map of the entire tech community in Kelowna. It is only the niche of startups, which will be connected obliquely to the wider tech community and all it’s other sub-communities such as the creative, animation and games communities.

Connecting Comfortably

The network as a whole will span many different communities. For example, if you divide the network into a few simple parts, you might find that some of the leaders, startups and service providers belong to government, academia, private industry, or other communities.

Diagram: Sections

Currently in Kelowna we have built up a lot of inertia around a single community: government (in the form of Accelerate Okanagan). We need to expand the network to cover more communities. Not only for the sake of resilience of the network (eg. what happens if Accelerate Okanagan is no more?), but also to increase the number of ways new members to the network can connect comfortably.

In my next post I will talk about how we must increase the number of ways we engage with the community, in order to make it easier for people to engage in a manner of their choosing.

LeanCoffeeKL 60: Startup Communities

This morning’s #LeanCoffeeKL discussion about Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities (my review here) had a great turnout. We had 20 people representing the local startup and tech communities come out at 8am to discuss this book. Pretty amazing considering only two of us had read it. It was particularly encouraging to have the CEO of Accelerate Okanagan Jeff Keen there, encouraging us to throw our own non-governmental startup events.

Although we did discuss the Boulder Thesis and compared Boulder and Kelowna, much of the discussion surrounded mentorship and how to engage the more experienced levels of the “entrepreneurial stack.” How do we find and connect that core network of experienced entrepreneurs that are willing to be mentor and leaders in our community? It seems this is the immediate challenge for our community. Some suggestions included throwing events to attract currently disengaged “senior” entrepreneurs, or working the already established networks to find potential leaders on a more personal level.

Either way, the one hour of discussion was not enough. I was still engaged in discussions for an hour after the event, and saw others do likewise.

This session was meant as a seed, planted to start a wider discussion and eventual movement to make our startup community a resilient network, bigger than any single organization or personality. Hopefully some of the participants will now read Brad’s book, and come back with more energy and ideas. We have a lot of potential energy in the lower part of the entrepreneurial stack (first timers, second timers, wantrepreneurs, etc.), we just need to figure out how to get more experience into the network to help us direct all that energy to the right place.

To keep the momentum going, we are going to follow up the discussion at a different venue in the near future, so keep an eye out. And as always: keep engaged.