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.

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The world needs more Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur-growthEntrepreneurs power the economy by creating businesses that drive innovation, create jobs and lead people to do amazing things. Business Schools over the past 15 years have increased their focus on entrepreneurship offering all kinds of programs to help people learn how to start businesses and this is great but I feel we need to start this education process at a younger age.

Our antiquated public education system doesn’t do enough to create and develop entrepreneurs. All those kids we see starting lemonade stands and lawn mowing businesses in their early teens need to be exposed to entrepreneurship, mentors and the tools to test their ideas.

This post was originally inspired by a tweet I read about Camp Inc, a specialty overnight camp focused on entrepreneurship and business in Boulder Colorado. The idea is relatively simple. Campers live on the University of Colorado campus and have daily interactions with worldly mentors as they learn to build a company in an industry of their choice. How cool is that?

When I was younger I took part in an organization called Junior Achievement and it was a great experience. A bunch of us pre-teens created a company called Beadable that manufactured and sold Xmas ornaments. We learned about the legal structure of a business, created a board, established roles in the company, created a vision and plans and then we executed.  It was very similar to the incubator concept we see in the tech startup industry.

Maybe the solution is to create schools with similar models used by tech incubators like TechStars.

The TechStars model provides entrepreneurs with all the tools and assistance they need to build a new business including seed financing. They invest $118K in each company through $18K in seed funding and an optional $100K convertible debt note. They also provide three months of intensive top-notch mentorship, incredible perks that can include; PR, Legal, HR advise, web hosting and eCommerce services and the chance to pitch to angel investors and venture capitalists at the end of the program.

This model has been proven to create billion dollar companies and thousands of good paying jobs. In a world where economic uncertainty is the norm, entrepreneurship has emerged as a genuine solution to boost and sustain economic recovery.