Igniting Passion through Connections: Grow 2011

Step aside Silicon Valley, Canada is the new hub for young entrepreneurs

By: Alexandra Connerty, Staff Writer

An audience gathers at a conference

Via Meet the Media Guru, flickr

So you want to succeed as an entrepreneur in Canada, but don’t know what to do? Your role models are Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg? You believe wholeheartedly that in order to create the next Big Thing you have to move to Silicon Valley? Look out new venturers, the game is about to change again.

Silicon Valley is heading north to look for new and innovative ideas, and people. Conferences like the Grow Conference, happening August 17th -19th in Vancouver, and the number of Canadian Accelerators and Incubators popping up in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto are fostering the expansion of Canadian entrepreneurship to a level never before achieved. And it is people like Debbie Landa, coordinator of the Grow Conference and founder of Dealmaker Media, who are “bringing the right people who need to do business together.” 

[pullquote]By keeping the talks small and intimate, entrepreneurs can really benefit from having the chance to make meaningful connections.[/pullquote]

A longing for being a part of the internet revolution had this fashion industry individual moving from designing and selling private labels, to stores, to finding the next ‘hot’ companies. After working for an internet company for some time, this Saskatoon native realized there was a demand for investors and entrepreneurs to be brought together in one location. Under the Radar, the first conference, was founded and instantly became a huge success.

Reminiscent of reality TV competition series, Under the Radar is an event for start-ups to showcase their technologies towards industry executives interested in buying them. This business development event has had previous attendees such as Larry Page of Google, and previous presenters include founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman.

After receiving feedback about the demand for a large conference in Canada, the Grow Conference was founded last year. With over 450 attendees, the conference was a huge success, and as more people said yes, more people came to the conferences. Speakers and attendees from last year included 5 of the top companies in the Valley, who have all filed for IPO within the past year. Landa has the trust of many entrepreneurs and investors on the West Coast because of the quality of the content and people at her conferences.

The Grow Conference this year will take place over three days. The first day will involve closed door, intimate roundtable discussions between the top investors from Silicon Valley and a hand-picked group of start-ups from across Canada. With the total number of people attending capped at 150, entrepreneurs will get the chance to network with these super connectors, as well as with other Canadian entrepreneurs. By keeping the talks small and intimate, entrepreneurs can really benefit from having the chance to make meaningful connections.

Launch@Grow will take place on the evening of August 17th, and will showcase 15 Canadian start-ups and their current work. These start-ups will be competing for a chance to present on stage at the Grow Conference on the 18th. This is the first time Lauch@Grow is taking place.

The conference on August 18th will focus on helping entrepreneurs by sharing experiences that everyone goes through. Talks and panel discussions will highlight some of the challenges, ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, and what inspired the speakers to continue going on. Some speakers will discuss how they built their businesses, like Garret Camp. Others will help attendees understand the industry standards, and still others will discuss how “…thinking outside the box is hard, but super damn exciting.”

[pullquote]On the last day… local Vancouverites will take attendees out into the city doing different activities such as bike riding, walking tours and kayaking…attendees can connect in a totally different way.[/pullquote]

On the last day, August 19th, local Vancouverites will take attendees out into the city doing different activities such as bike riding, walking tours and kayaking. With such an unimposing atmosphere, attendees can connect in a totally different way. 

All in all, Debbie Landa wants attendees leaving inspired to be great leaders. She says “This is not a technology conference; it is a conference for any entrepreneur.” True leadership is the passion and commitment to an idea. This is fundamental to all entrepreneurs if you want to succeed, she believes. Passion is the driver. “Know your audience and how to keep them,” she says. “Why make it complicated when there is no need to?”

Entering into its second year, the conference has 600+ attendees over the course of its three day span. This hugely successful conference will bring young entrepreneurs in Canada together, as well as investors from the Valley North. It will create the relationships these entrepreneurs need in order to succeed, and build the foundation for an ecosystem full of expertise and understanding in Canadian entrepreneurship.

 “What other conferences can you think of that do this?” she challenges. None in Canada come to mind, adding to the uniqueness of the Grow Conference. This conference will give Canadian technology start-ups the competitive edge they are lacking in the market.

Ms. Landa understands that in order to win the entrepreneurship game, you must go to market faster than the competition. She believes the ‘new University’ for entrepreneurs are Accelerator and Incubator programs, such as Y Combinator, Tech Stars and GrowLab. These intensive three-month programs include investor money in exchange for a small percentage of each company, as well as entrepreneurial mentors, and an intimate environment where teams can openly share ideas with each other.

At the end of the three-month period, companies will present their ideas to investors once more. The Vancouver based GrowLab, of which Debbie is a partner, facilitates two cohorts a year with five companies per cohort. GrowLab is only one Canadian Accelerator. These Canadian based companies are fundamental to keeping Canadian talent within the borders.

With the expanding ecosystem in Canada, entrepreneurs can now live in the country if they want to, she explains. “It is about building relationships – this is part of being an entrepreneur…maintaining relationships by flying to New York or Silicon Valley one week of every month to be around the players.” Many entrepreneurs believe in order to succeed you must live in Silicon Valley. Debbie believes “Silicon Valley is not big, it is just compact. I don’t see everyone all the time, maybe once a week and that is fine.”

This is the first article in a short series highlighting some of the Canadian start-up businesses involved with the Grow Conference. Some will be attending, others speaking, and still others competing for a chance to pitch their ideas to prominent Valley Angel Investors. For more information about the conference and other events, those interested can check out http://www.dealmakermedia.com/.

ARB Team
Arbitrage Magazine
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