Starting up a startup nation

Courtney
Courtney Symons
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A national tour promoting and supporting entrepreneurship, attracting some of the biggest names in Ottawa’s tech sector, is set to touch down in the nation’s capital on May 2.

Ottawa serial entrepreneur Adam Chowaniec.

The cross-country initiative will consist of 30 town hall meetings and 130 events scheduled from coast to coast between March and September to discuss how to solve challenges faced by Canadian entrepreneurs, with the goal of increasing national competitiveness and prosperity.

Local entrepreneur Adam Chowaniec is the chair of the Startup Canada board, and he says it’s about time Canada had such an initiative.

“Entrepreneurship and people taking responsibility of their own employment is going to be the way of the future,” he says. “There will be fewer and fewer jobs in governments and corporations. It’s very essential that we address entrepreneurship as the next big economic wave in Canada and do whatever we can to nurture and support the people who are going to be those entrepreneurs.”

The idea came after the success of Startup America – launched by U.S. president Barack Obama – and similar initiatives in the United Kingdom and Chile.

Victoria Lennox, executive director of the Canadian initiative, spearheaded the national tour and media campaign to foster an entrepreneurial culture in Canada and overcome industry, geographical and generational barriers.

“It’s not really so much about the challenges; I think that’s been talked to death,” she says. “What it’s really about is talking about solutions, and without passing the buck. I think there’s so much we can be doing ourselves without pushing the role to government.”

CHANGES AT ALL LEVELS

Each community is challenged to contribute three suggestions on a local level, three on a provincial level, and three federal suggestions for positive change.

In Sydney, N.S. community members talked about the need for a co-located office space where entrepreneurs could work and collaborate together. A local entrepreneur offered up the vacant first floor of his building to create a co-working space. Already, there is a website that has branded the office, Ms. Lennox says.

In Truro, N.S., a meeting at Nova Scotia Agricultural College raised the issue of students leaving right after graduation because of a lack of local jobs. Attendees immediately established a student club for entrepreneurs with mentorship opportunities located in a high-traffic area of campus.

“These are the types of tangible, low-hanging fruit that can be implemented immediately,” Ms. Lennox says.

Suggestions and ideas from across the country will eventually be compiled into a white paper to be presented to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a “Startup Canada living manifesto,” as worded on the initiative’s website, outlining a collective vision for Canada’s entrepreneurial future.

So far, suggestions have included the importance of implementing skills and education during elementary and secondary school, increasing mentorship and looking beyond our borders to other markets, but not in the way you’d think.

“Sometimes it’s easier to look to the States or other markets because of how different provinces are,” Ms. Lennox says. But by building better networks and more cross-country visibility, Ms. Lennox says she believes at lot more business can be done here at home.

STARTUP CANADA LAUNCH

The official launch event will be hosted at the University of Ottawa on May 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. and feature a speech from serial entrepreneur Terry Matthews and a panel of young entrepreneurs from across the country. It will be chaired by Ms. Lennox and also include Ottawa’s Scott Annan, founder of Mercury Grove and StartupPlays.

The tour will return to Ottawa on Sept. 6-7 for events as yet unscheduled, but Ms. Lennox notes it will be a spotlight event for the startup network to engage all sectors and community members.

“It’s not just for the old-school startup community,” Ms. Lennox said. “It’s about entrepreneurship as a mindset. That’s the way to start breaking down barriers between sectors.”

Events such as street barbecues and flash mobs will bring together the community to share insights and implement changes for the future.

Mr. Chowaniec says he hopes those changes include a culture less averse to risk.

“I’ve been involved with companies that have been acquired,” he says. “I would rather see those companies grow and continue to contribute to the economy rather than lose them. It comes back to our risk culture, our lack of risk capital, and how we can do these things differently in the future so we can grow companies, but do it sustainably so they’re there for the longer term.”

AFTER THE TOUR

While the cross-country tour will only be a one-time occurrence, Ms. Lennox says that she hopes Startup Canada will become an organization that will unite Canadian entrepreneurs.

But for now, Ms. Lennox is travelling alongside the tour, making pit stops at small towns across the country, blowing up balloons and shining a spotlight on innovation large and small, and won’t stop until the tour ends in Vancouver on Sept. 21.

Organizations: Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Startup Canada, Startup America University of Ottawa

Geographic location: Canada, U.S., United Kingdom Chile Sydney Churo Ottawa Vancouver

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