Establishing a Startup Ecosystem in Squamish

Business Startups are the economic engines that drive innovation and progress in today’s hyper-connected global economy and it’s Startup Communities that are at the center of this revolution.

Startup communities are entrepreneur ecosystems. They’re being created around the world in small and large cities like Boulder Colorado, Vancouver, Iceland and Russia to name just a few. These communities are driving innovation, creating jobs and invigorating small business energy. Simply stated; start-up communities attract and breed entrepreneurs who go on to build companies like AirBnB, Dropbox, Sendgrid and many, many more.

Squamish is a small town with big ideas currently going through a transformation. It was once a forestry town that’s now transforming into an outdoor recreation tourism destination. It’s challenged in finding ways to create local jobs and to evolve into a sustainable, self sufficient community. The population is growing quickly but the local job market is not keeping pace.

English: Squamish main street taken by Jess La...
Squamish, BC

Squamish is my community, I love this place and I want to see it succeed and prosper. It’s beautiful and has the ability to provide what I consider the best work-life balance opportunity in Canada.  That may sound biased but for me and many others, it’s the truth. There’s an abundance of great activities at our doorstep and this is what mainly brought me to Squamish in the first place. However, the challenge to completing the work-life balance equation is local jobs. Like me, there are many people that commute to Vancouver or Whistler for work and therein lies the challenge.

How do we create jobs and transform Squamish into a great place to live, work and play?

The solution to me is simple in theory. Jobs come from businesses and businesses come from entrepreneurs so it seems logical to me to find, attract, nurture and support entrepreneurs. One proven way to do this is by establishing and growing an inclusive startup ecosystem.

Startup communities are not something new. Author, entrepreneur & investor, Brad Feld is the co-founder of TechStars; a mentor-driven business accelerator in Boulder Colorado that has succeeded at building one of the most successful models for startup communities. Boulder has an incredible Startup Community. Brad’s authored several books including Startup Communities, Do More faster, and Venture Deals.  All great books I have read and that have inspired me and given me great knowledge and guidance on this subject.

“The effect on the local startup community in Boulder has been even more amazing than we anticipated. Boulder has developed a culture of sustained mentorship, where new founders place great value on seeking out mentors, and experienced entrepreneurs generously offer their time and expertise. This mindset makes the community better as a whole and it helps everyone in the community be more successful.”

To get a better understanding of exactly what I’m talking about, this great video gives a quick explanation of what a startup community is and what it needs to be successful. These lessons can be applied in Squamish or anywhere, to establish a local vibrant startup ecosystem.

The Key Points of making this a reality in any community

  • It takes long term commitment. (20 years) Creating a entrepreneurial ecosystem is a marathon not a sprint.
  • The entire entrepreneurial stack needs to be engaged.
  • Startup communities need leaders & feeders
    • Leaders must be entrepreneurs
    • Feeders are government, lawyers, accountants, angel investors, venture capitalists & educational institutions & marketers
  • Continually attracting and recruiting fresh people into the system

“In order for Techstars to be effective, there have to be the best mentors in the community who are ready and willing to participate and who understand the “give first” culture that is so important to successful startup communities. When you have a whole community behind you, rooting for you to win, and making connections for you—it’s a huge, unfair advantage.”

What’s being done for startups with Techstars in the past 7 years is fascinating and exciting in that the mentorship-driven accelerator model is and has been duplicated in over 1000 local communities around the world with great success.  Techstars has helped fund over 100 companies a year, and they have more than $70 million under management.

If Squamish wants to create a sustainable economy well into the future, it needs to look at new solutions for creating jobs and I feel that creating an active, vibrant startup community is a long term solution to our present day challenge.

Police officers should wear video cameras

glassUPDATE: I originally published this post on Nov 2nd 2012 and I thought I would update it with a cool new technology soon to be on the market from Google called Google Glass.

This is a tool that will completely change our world yet again and I’m hoping that it will change law enforcement as well. The glasses as seen here on the right can be worn like eye wear to shoot video, get directions, take photos and more. I expect we will see police, fire and paramedics with these devices in the not too distant future.

Continue reading post from Nov 2nd 2012

Thousands of complaints and police inquires are done every year about the poor conduct of police officers in the line of duty. Just last week I was hearing comments on the radio of yet another complaint about a police officer assaulting a disabled woman.

Luckily in this case, someone was filming the incident which made it very easy to determine the facts of the situation.

Sandy Davidsen, 29, was walking past three officers on the city’s Downtown Eastside in June, 2010, when Constable Taylor Robinson pushed her to the concrete. Video of the incident drew tens of thousands of views and immediate condemnation, and challenged the force’s already-strained relationship with residents of the poorest neighbourhood in the country. Source: Vancouver officer who pushed disabled woman could face harsher punishment

In today’s high tech world where the cost of video cameras are so low, I think that all police officers that are interfacing with the public should be required to wear video cameras. It’s in the best interest of the public but also the officers wearing them. as well.

With camera’s rolling, the actions, behaviors and attitude of the public as well as the officers would be different. People act differently when being filmed and I think this practice would go a long way in helping reshape our criminal system and society as a whole. With video evidence of every incident, it would take less time to sort out the facts and  would increase overall accountability.

This isn’t a new idea, there are some places that are already doing this. Here are some related articles.

The Startup Ecosystem Report

“Countries are shifting from service-based economies to become increasingly driven by a new generation of fast-moving software and technology organisations.” 

The Startup Ecosystem Report published by Telefónica Digital was released recently ranking communities around the world that have the right ecosystem to promote tech startups as compared to the current well known Silicon Valley.

Vancouver was ranked in the top 10 which is great for BC in general and could help support a niche hub region in Squamish. The study provides tangible evidence and insight for investors, entrepreneurs and policy makers on where entrepreneurship takes hold in a community.

What is interesting to me is that this study also provides insight in to areas that a community like Squamish can focus on to attract tech startups to help build a more diverse economy.  Squamish, being a outdoor recreation mecca can provide a work life balance unlike many locations in the world which is already significant lure to entrepreneurs. We already have companies like Tiipz,  a tech company that’s developed a location based mobile marketing platform that enables brands to capture real time consumer insight. We also have hundreds of knowledge based consultants and professionals that are part of Inside Edge.

In the report, each ecosystem was ranked using the index below. It’s based on data from more than 50,000 startups around the world. It ranks them based on 8 weighted component indexes that are defined in more detail in the report.

startup index

Each ecosystem was profiled in the report and an investor, entrepreneur and policy maker perspective was described. Here are some of the highlights I found interesting and relevant for any community interested in establishing a  startup ecosystem.

Entrepreneur Perspective 

“Silicon Valley has given birth to more billion dollar companies than any other ecosystem because of its plentiful risk capital, world class talent, inclusion of the headquarters of many giant public companies, a vibrant support ecosystem, and an openminded, trust, “pay it forward”, change the world culture”

“People in Silicon Valley really believe in “pay it forward”. It’s not all transactional and tit-for-tat. Folks help each other and those not as far along as them. It’s also very accepting of failure; if you have some real catastrophes on your resume, that’s considered a badge of honor – there are not a lot of places on the planet that’s true. It’s also the easiest place in the world to start a company. Everyone is here to help you kick ass.”

“Over the past 15 years I have co-founded startups in the Bay Area, Boston and NYC, which has given me a first-hand look at their ecosystems. Boston’s key strength as an ecosystem is its diversity. There is no other place on Earth that comes close. Boston is #1 in biotech, #2 in high tech and top 3 in medical devices, energy technology, materials & environmental science, robotics, etc. This is fueled by the large number of top universities and by the diversified New England economy. Whatever your dreams may be—no matter how crazy they may seem—there are people here who can help you build a product and a business.”

“It’s all about people and their mindset. Startups need inspiring people to follow, mentors to teach, and money to support ideas. You can build an ecosystem with just a few committed people to help inspire others. A necessary requirement is an entrepreneurial mind set and there is no policy to easily foster that entrepreneurial mind set.”

Policy maker perspective 

  1. Decreased payroll tax to support high-head count low revenue tech companies(Silicon Valley)
  2. Supporting the development of new “collaborative consumption” startups, such as AirBnB, by deregulating lodging ordinances that protect hotels and bed and breakfasts, and Lyft, by deregulating traditional transportation services like taxi cabs to support ride sharing services(Silicon Valley)
  3. Policy makers can help closing the funding gap by attracting late-stage venture funds through tax breaks and incentives, and investor-friendly policies.(Toronto)
  4. Policy makers can encourage more investors set up late-stage funds with appealing tax breaks and tax incentives. (Paris)
  5. More accommodating immigration policies, tax breaks and incentives for startups and investors could help. (Australia)
  6. Policy makers are only supporters. They should not lead development. (Russia)

3 ways the District of Squamish should be using technology

Information is the Currency of Democracy. Technology helps us make good use of it. 

Here are three ways that I think the District of Squamish should be leveraging information technology.

#1 – Reporting and solving community issues

Every community has issues. From pot holes to homelessness and everything in between. Reporting, prioritizing and fixing issues has always been a challenge for governments. There are many great tools that have come on to the market in the past few years. See Click Fix is one of of them. It’s a platform that allows anyone to report and track non-emergency issues in a community. This simple tool could empower the citizens of Squamish and the district  to take care of and improve our neighborhoods.

What to report?

    • Garbage dumping
    • Street repair issues
    • Graffiti that needs cleaning
    • Broken signage
    • Sidewalk repairs
    • Dirty public spaces
    • Overflowing garbage cans
    • Burnt out lights
    • and more…

A tool like this brings huge efficiency as the community helps the district with identifying what needs to be focused on and gathers valuable actionable information. The District can’t be in all places at all times and a tool like this makes it easy for everyone to help improve our community.

It’s so easy that I already started a page for Squamish. If you have an issue, report it here and be part of the solution.

#2 – Cutting through the Red Tape

You hear about this all the time. There is so much Red Tape!

Everything takes too long and is too complex to process. The DOS deals with thousands of requests for licenses, permits and many other service requests from regular citizens to developers and other government entities. The challenge is in fulfilling all of these request in a timely manner with limited resources. It’s a common challenge that every business and government is faced with today.

The current known solution for fixing this for most leaders today is to simply add more people to the process and maybe start using some “off the shelf” COTS technology tools to speed up tasks. This rarely solves the greater problem and the fact of the matter is that most small governments are still manually run siloed organizations.

They need to look at new solutions and they need to look at Business Process Management (BPM). Business Process Management is not new but it has evolved and become a powerful tool for accelerating continuous process improvement. Companies like Appian.com have created tools with capabilities that can that can automate and streamline processes for all sorts of tasks and help organizations reach new levels of performance, while reducing costs. BPM creates the flexibility, agility and visibility our government needs to adapt more quickly to internal and external changes.

#3 Community Engagement through Social Media

Although the District of Squamish has started using Facebook, there is so much more it can and should be doing. Tools like Twitter and even Tiipz, a local tech company that offers a tool to capture real time consumer insight need to be explored and put to use. But Social media is not just about Twitter, Youtube and Facebook. It’s about engaging people where they are. The social media landscape looks a bit like this today.

A little overwhelming isn’t it? It’s hard to know where to invest the time and resources but it must be explored as it’s a gold mine of knowledge and opportunity. The beauty in this graphic is that it provides a chance to see the larger social media landscape and examine where the district of Squamish fits in.

Squamish is already being talked about on Twitter as you can see from this graph below and it’s growing every month. The DOS and other locals needs to join the conversation and even start more conversations with it’s citizens and the world at large.

That spike to 1000 was during Live at Squamish where thousands of people from Vancouver and the US were tweeting about Squamish to all of the followers on their Twitter accounts. The average twitter user has 126 followers and using some basic math we can make the assumption that over 100,000 people would have been exposed to our little town’s name and the event going on here. The reach and exposure on that one weekend was huge and was an opportunity for more local engagement. This is just one example of the opportunities out there on social media.

Highway 99 is another. Almost everyone of those cars that flies down the highway have a smartphone with a Twitter and Facebook account and learning how to capture and engage that audience should be a priority for the district and our tourism entities.

There are so many uses for social media in government and here are just a few.

    • It can be used to promote government information and services
    • RFP and tender opportunity marketing
    • It can expand the outreach capabilities and improve the ability to interact with and serve the public
    • It can help with community planning and decision making
    • It can be used for service requesting
    • It can be used to increase transparency and trust
    • It can be used to educate the world at large about Squamish, it’s history and it’s future
    • It can help with economic development by engaging business around the world
    • It can help with tourism
    • It can help with healthcare

The point is, a place like Squamish needs to embrace and become a leader in this area. It will help attract people to live here, business to work here and tourists to visit here. The need is not to just have social media accounts but use them to their full capabilities in concert with each other for a greater goal.