Atlantic Canada is wonderful place to launch a startup. It has a supportive and collaborative startup community, great accelerators and strong universities. But it doesn’t have a lot of customers, partners, or investors when compared to other more mature ecosystems.
You can start a successful business here, but you will never reach scale within the region. That’s just a simple fact. The reality is that you must get on a plane and travel to larger places if you want to build your business.
Our little region has a population of less than 2.5 million people. Individually each province is about the size of Toronto suburb. There simply isn’t the scale of economic activity needed to build a successful startup with customers only from Atlantic Canada.
From that perspective, however, we see that Atlantic Canada is beginning to “punch above its weight” in entrepreneurial efforts. The stereotypes of an economy reliant only on fishing and forestry are starting to fade. People in Canada and the United States are realizing that something special is happening here on the East Coast.
Still, these are early days for our startup community. While we’ve already seen some very strong exits – like Radian6, Q1 Labs and GoInstant – we are still far from reaching a critical mass of technology companies. We have a growing number of startups with wonderful potential, but that potential will never be realized if those startups don’t expand their horizons far beyond Atlantic Canada. We have to be export focused.
So go to Boston, New York or Silicon Valley early in your process. Go to Montreal, Toronto or Waterloo. Go to tradeshows or conferences. Find out where your sector’s influencers live or gather and go there.
Don’t be intimidated. Yes, it is probably true that the people you will meet with don’t know anything about our region. That doesn’t matter. They don’t care where you are from, only where you are going. If you have an innovative product or service and a credible team, you will earn their interest.
So talk face-to-face with those prospective customers, partners, employees or investors. Remember that there is a lot of human interaction when you build a startup. It’s still a people business. When you manage that interaction only on the phone or through Skype or email, something important gets lost in the process.
One great thing about the East Coast startup community is the willingness of people to help. So look to other entrepreneurs, advisors or investors for a “warm introduction” to someone who matters to you. Take advantage of the regional network. Just make sure you get on that plane and find your opportunity.