2014 is the year of startup communities

Entrepreneurship workshop taking place at the Startup Edmonton campus. Courtesy

It seems like it’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur in Canada.

The country’s startup communities are rapidly expanding and our entrepreneurs – techies, business leaders, artists and idea-makers – have never had as many resources and support available to start and scale their ideas.

Dragon’s Den, technology and education 

Startups and entrepreneurship have become increasingly popular with growing media attention and shows like the Dragon’s Den. Internet access and advances in technology – from 3D printers to e-commerce ready-made websites – has made it easier than ever before to jump into the world of entrepreneurship. Even universities are waking up to the importance of entrepreneurship education in response to growing demand from students and labour market shifts.

With more entrepreneur co-working hubs, accelerators, startup events and entrepreneur networks of all sorts emerging everyday, ‘startup communities’ are quickly taking shape in even the smallest of towns across Canada.

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Brad Feld – an investor, entrepreneur and the ‘godfather’ of the startup community in Boulder, Colorado,  who is also the co-founder of TechStars, one of the leading accelerators in the US and the world –  has established the blueprints for building grassroots startup communities, publishing a book on the topic:  ‘Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City

What exactly is a startup community?

Quite simply a startup community is an entrepreneur-led network bringing together entrepreneurs within the community through a vast number of events that cultivate a robust entrepreneurial culture. They are also the main meeting place where entrepreneurs can gather and share ideas with each other.

Beyond Silicon Valley

Sure, Silicon Valley is the iconic startup community, and in Canada, Waterloo, Ontario is championed as the Silicon Valley of the North. It is almost impossible to see any implication at all of the decline of Blackberry on Waterloo, with such a vibrant and bustling entrepreneur community growing every day.

However, the proliferation of startup communities goes beyond Waterloo and Canada’s major cities to near every corner of Canada, is due, in part, to Startup Canada, an entrepreneur network dedicated to supporting the growth of local startup communities.

Last year, the organization helped to launch startup communities across Canada and bridge them together to share best practices and to help entrepreneurs to easily connect from coast to coast.

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“This grassroots model for entrepreneurial development is truly transformative and will position Canada as a beacon for entrepreneurs worldwide”, said Feld, who is a key advisor to Startup Canada’s network of communities. “Startup Canada’s national network of communities will ensure that entrepreneurs of today and the generations to follow will have the necessary tools, communities and culture to succeed.”

Startup Canada’s Communities are being formed at the grassroots level in some of the most unsuspecting places and some of the smallest cities and towns  – from Nanaimo and Smithers to Niagara and Sault Ste. Marie.

Startup St. John’s runs regular meetups to bring together entrepreneurs on the rock and supported the launch of the local  co-working space called Common Ground for entrepreneurs to meet, connect and grow together.

Ottawa-based entrepreneur, investor and Startup Ottawa leader Jason Daley believes that startup communities can make all the difference to those looking to start a business.

“Every entrepreneur’s journey is filled with challenges, a true difference maker in overcoming them is how an entrepreneur led Startup Community can provide validation to an entrepreneurs inspiration and acceleration to the entrepreneurs’ perspiration”.

Startup Winnipeg (Ramp Up Manitoba) runs entrepreneur network programming across Manitoba – bringing together service providers, entrepreneurs, investors and students and they cohabit with the rapid prototyping makerspace AssentWorks so that entrepreneurs can create in both the virtual and physical worlds.

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According to Christopher Johnson, the Winnipeg-based founder RampUp Manitoba,  “The physical presence of the Startup Space  adds  value and visability to our startup community serving as a ‘point of gravity’ to attract other entities, investors and share the story of community and its importance to startup success.  ‘Micro-mentorship’ happens organically every day at the space.”

Eyewear Evolution, a local startup in Winnipeg, had an investor lined up to pitch from Vancouver – but in a display of community spirit, opted instead to pitch to the investor that he should come to Winnipeg to check out the startups in the city. The result: Winnipeg-based startups are now exposed to a larger pool of investors from outside of the city and investors are now exposed to the talent and innovation happening outside of their community. An example of community building.

Edmonton’s Startup Community

Edmonton, Alberta is home to one of Canada’s strongest grassroots startup communities. They probably have one of the most effective co-working spaces in the country with nearly 14,000 square feet of rentable area for entrepreneurs to work either alone or with others. Startup Edmonton also has many programs to teach entrepreneurs how to code, use WordPress and so on.

“Before, people thought they had to go and leave to another place where they can get connected. Now we live in a time where if we’re willing to travel, you have access to Internet and you can jump on a phone, you can really be based out of anywhere, build a company anywhere and use those tools to be able to connect to the right people,” said Ken Bautista, co-founder and CEO of Startup Edmonton.

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Putting Canada on the Map for Entrepreneurs 

The end goal for Startup Canada’s Communities is to fast-track growth of startups, putting the country on the map as an entrepreneurial nation. Canada is the first country in the world to have a national network of local startup communities and the world is noticing.

“The world should be watching this project closely because Startup Canada is on to something that could revolutionize the way entrepreneurship is ignited and advanced in communities around the world,” said Jonathan Ortmans, President of Washington-based Global Entrepreneurship Week.

 With more than 20 communities part of the network so far, the ground is fertile for entrepreneurs in Canada. 

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