Local startups! Protect our shared resource!

The internet is like the sea, a vast and shared resource that we all depend on. Unfortunately we do not have anything like UNCLOS to help protect that resource from the countries and companies that threaten it. So much of the innovation and content on the internet is the result of individual users like us. Well, so is the responsibility to protect it.

Luckily we have some grassroots organizations to help coordinate individual efforts. Here in Canada we have OpenMedia, which I have mentioned before and you have probably seen me tweet about. I’ve been a member for a couple of years.

This month they are reaching out to fellow tech companies, whose businesses are all enabled by a free and open internet, to step up and contribute to the protection of that precious resource. The amazing thing they have done is got together a bunch of tech organizations to match all donations. This is the best time to get the most bang for your buck.

The campaign is called #StepUp4Net.

StepUpForNet_donate_banner

This is a grassroots campaign, led by local tech leaders. My pal Boris Mann has been working hard with cool people like Michael Tippet and Tim Bray to activate the YVR community, and I hear from OpenMedia that donations are coming in from Toronto. I would love to see some of our community members in the Okanagan and Thompson regions also contribute to this campaign.

For each one of you in your respective geographic areas, please reach out to find companies around you that are able to help. We are trying to get a couple hundred businesses to step up. Connect them directly to Open Media or even to me if they have questions. The campaign link is:

https://openmedia.org/stepup

2015 is going to be a big year with all kinds of legislation on the table regarding net neutrality, the TPP, surveillance, and lots of other issues. We need orgs like OpenMedia to augment our voice in Ottawa and elsewhere both as businesses and citizens. There is no better time to step up!

And don’t forget, you can still donate individually. Check out OpenMedia’s Donate page.

Okanagan Bitcoin

#LeanCoffeeKL 96 - Cryptocurrencies
Photo by @scdaustin

Yesterday at #LeanCoffeeKL 96 we gathered to discuss cryptocurrencies. The meetup was really successful with a lot of new people coming out early in the morning to discuss and learn about bitcoin and other related topics. The spread of experience was pretty vast with long-time miners and evangelists to people who had only heard of bitcoin “5 days ago”. We also had some (non-tech) finance people around which lended an excellent balance. There were far too many topics to discuss in just an hour, and the discussion spilled out into the lounge area for about another hour. There will be a follow-up, and there is definitely enough interest to spin this off into its own group.

I look forward to seeing a monthly Okanagan bitcoin group. There are so many angles to learn and discuss centered on this topic, for example:

  • how to open a wallet (would make for a great hacknight)
  • securing your wallet
  • paper wallets and ASIC wallets
  • is BTC an asset, currency, money, or all of the above?
  • investment and arbitrage
  • altcoins and their applications
  • the politics of bitcoin
  • the technical aspect of the bitcoin protocol

I hope to see the group tackle each of these topics and more. If you are interested, please come out to #LeanCoffeeKL 97 – Cryptocurrencies Part 2 to register your interest and help shape the group that will grow out of this meeting.

Growth

So far this has been an explosive year for the Kelowna startup community. For the past few years the community has been germinating inside the Kelowna Innovation Center, which served as the single hub for all startup activity. Now we are seeing more and more happening beyond those walls — a positive development and a signal of maturation.

Local startup legends Vericorder and Vineyard Networks (now part of Procera) scaled out of the KIC years ago. Many of the early stage startups in Accelerate Okanagan have been hoping to do the same. Last month Syndicate Theory left with Cityseed to join another stealth startup at the new Rocketlaunch space. This past week FreshGrade moved into a new space called Wheelhouse and Just be Friends set up their new office space. Soon Hyper Hippo will be moving into a brand spanking new building, and I suspect taking with them one or two other small outfits from KIC. Furthermore there are rumours of two more startup-centric spaces on the horizon. This might just be #startupkelowna’s Big Bang moment.

All of a sudden we have transitioned from a single to multi-hub community network. Such a distributed system is great for innovation, but we must remember that it is an ecosystem. As a community we must double our efforts to keep the communication lines between the hubs open to prevent isolation. We at Rocketlaunch intend on hosting events for developers in our space, and you will always be able to see the Syndicate Theory boys at the various tech meetups in Kelowna. I implore the other hubs to do the same or better. There will be growing pains, but we have the lessons of many other communities that have followed this path before us.

What are you going to do?

Startup Weekend Okanagan AAR

It has been a week, and I think I have finally recovered from Startup Weekend Okanagan. I had a total of 7 hours sleep over the three days of taking a product from concept to pitch. The team was a powerhouse with 5 devs, a designer, 2 biz/cust devs, and me (a product dev). Throughout the weekend, we never thought we had a chance of winning, and were in it for the love of the product, the love of the tech, and fun. In the end, our enthusiasm prevailed and we were able to take home top prize, even though I think half of the audience still had no idea what it was we made.

1st place: Arkitektor
Champions, with AO CEO Jeff Keen on the left, and city councillor Colin Basran on the right

The Arkitektor concept was formed out of a #devKL session where we discussed visual modelling. Our fearless team leader @neh decided that we should use Startup Weekend as a chance to try and build the product development app of our dreams. At the pitch he said “graph database” and boom! He had a team. Originally, I wanted to join a team with people I didn’t know. However all the other pitches did not excite me as much as Arkitektor, which I threw myself into.

It was a tiring/amazing experience. I truly believe that the amount of talent on the team made it a once in a lifetime experience. I didn’t get much of a chance to learn Node.js or Neo4j as I spent so much time on the planning, presenting, biz and cust dev side(s) of the project. I was pretty ragged by the end.

I was very happy that SW integrated market validation into the judging this year. At the #devKL beforehand we were planning on pushing such an agenda and basically told all the dev’s not to make anything until it was proven. The Arkitektor team used both the Lean Startup Machine’s Validation Board and the Business Model Generation tool.

I had a crash course in delegation. Our dev team was experienced and could quickly get up and running, but our designer and biz people were not used to working in a startup environment. I introduced a kanban style task list to the biz people, which worked pretty well. I hope they got a taste of what startup life is like: you cannot afford to be a specialist, you cannot wait to be told what to do, you must use your initiative.

My other big lesson learned was the importance of honing your message. I practiced explaining our concept to as many people as I could, and even though I felt I got better, we still were not able to to explain it to a non-dev in two or three sentences.

Prize

The only thing that I would suggest to the organizers, other than providing lighter meals, is to have a physical object to award the winners, even if just a piece of paper. We had no idea what we won, and had nothing to show for it, which was a bit anticlimactic.

If we are to have this thing every year in Kelowna, I think it would be great if we could make an 8-bit trophy, maybe 3D printed, to give to the winning team to keep in their office until the next year.

Taking Startup Weekend into another dimension

Speaking of 3D, I think it would be brilliant if we had a special edition of Startup Weekend that focused on physical products, with 3D-printed prototypes. It is hard to imagine what amazing products would come out of such an event. I am sure physical product-focused events like Startup Weekend happen all the time in other contexts. However, Startup Weekend has typically been the purview of digital products, and we find ourselves in an era of bit-pushers being able to push atoms, bringing all their web and graphic design skills to the physical world. We could even get Objet or some other company to sponsor the printers, and have to include the lengthy printing time in the development strategy.

Furthermore, think of the new types of people that would be introduced to Startup Weekend. Kelowna has healthy gaming and animation communities, filled full of modellers that would be worth their weight in gold on a 3DSW team. It sounds like lots of fun…

Well, what do you know, it has already happened!

Wrap-up

Highly recommended. We are still considering whether to make Arkitektor in real life. Regardless, I will be there next year, hopefully as a well-rested volunteer organizer.

Startup Genome

https://startupgenome.co/kelowna-britishcolumbia-can/?embed=1&hide_filters=true&hide_right_side=true&global_search=false

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 startupgenome.com.

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.

Postscript

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.

Addendum

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.

Recap

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.

startup_kelowna_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.