The State of #StartupEast: A Wave is Forming

By: 21st October 2015 Strategy


The September event calendar for our Atlantic Canadian Tech community was jammed packed as usual.

A few weeks ago the new team at Propel ICT held their Demo Day in Moncton featuring 12 companies on stage from the 33 companies that went through the Launch and Build programs. A few days later Volta held their second Startup Empire conference in Halifax.

Both events were electric.

Demo Day showed that Gerry Pond’s vision of a truly Atlantic Canada-wide startup community is becoming a reality, with strong representation from throughout the region. Propel ICT delivers its program through Planet Hatch in Fredericton, Volta in Halifax and Common Grounds in St. John’s, underscoring the regional nature of its efforts. Startup Empire reminded us of the importance of connecting that community globally. Beyond the content, we are only two million people spread over large area so it’s always great to put so many familiar faces in a room together.

With these events fresh in mind let’s take stock of how the East Coast startup community is doing.

There are all kinds of efforts being made to create regional tech clusters in every province, state, and municipality around the world. Most of these efforts are well meaning but likely doomed to fail because they are top down.

An attempt to import carbon copies of programs that have worked elsewhere isn’t a smart approach. Dane Stangler, from the Kauffman Foundation, calls this a “startup monoculture.”

But we have a real head start in Atlantic Canada because our community, particularly since 2010, has been evolving from the bottom up. Successes have created entrepreneurial leaders. It looks like government support is filling in behind leaders like Gerry Pond, Jevon MacDonald, Marcel Lebrun and Dave Alston, to name a few.  We are fortunate to have government bodies supporting the startup ecosystem here. It’s a level of support that many visitors find shocking.

When we launched Build Ventures’ Fund 1 almost three years ago, this all felt a bit chaotic. There were a lot of groups experimenting and launching organizations and programs, but our traditional parochialism was creeping into the dialogue. My biggest takeaway from the past couple of weeks is that we seem to moving past this.

It’s sinking in that perhaps unlike some the resource extraction industries our region has relied on in the past, we are not playing a zero sum game in technology. Think about the impact of companies like Q1 Labs, Radian6, GoInstant and Verafin. These success stories benefit everyone. We all need to work together to make more of them happen to sustain the momentum we’ve developed.

It was a busy September in #StartupEast, filled with energy and ideas. People are collaborating and putting ambitious plans into action. It brings to mind something Steven Johnson, in his book Future Perfect, wrote:

“Most new movements start this way: hundreds or thousands of individuals and groups, working in different fields and different locations, start thinking about change using a common language, without necessarily recognizing those shared values. You just start following your own vector, propelled along by the people in your immediate vicinity. And then one day, you look up and realize that all those individual trajectories have turned into a wave.”

There is a startup wave forming in Atlantic Canada. The momentum is real and the best results are ahead of us. Let’s keep at it.