On Thursday night, I was happy to be included in a gathering of the most influential movers and shakers in high-tech in Alberta. Called the A100 after it's namesake, the C100 (a group of Canadian ex-patriots who are living and successful in Silicon Valley, and are helping homegrown companies get connected), the A100 has come together to kick the simmering Alberta high-tech scene into high gear. The Calgary meeting had 25 people attending, all of whom could be considered "Baby Bills" with "full-cycle tech entreprenuer experience."
This group was brought together by Rod Charko and Carey Houston as part of Alberta Enterprise initiatives. Alberta Enterprise Corp was created to invest $100M of Alberta gov't money in Venture Capital firms ... "Fund of Funds Investing in Technology Venture Capital." In essence, in exchange for co-funding a VC round, the VC needs to commit to establishing a permanent presence in Alberta, with at least one partner living and working here. It's a GREAT concept ... success follows money and beefing up the local tech VC scene is long overdue. $29M has already been allocated to Yaletown and Chrysalix.
If it was all about the money, the story would end here. However, there is renewed passion about getting some focus on the entire end-to-end technology ecosystem, which is described as a four part framework:
- Resurrecting VCAA, the association of Venture Capital firms in Alberta to create a strong venture investor network
- Establishment of the A100, "Grassroots Entrepreneur Network" comprised of top tech entrepreneurs from across the province
- Establishment of an independent voice of the Alberta technology industry, similar to British Columbia's BCTIA, which provides "Regional Coordination and Advocacy"
- Support of effective local programs and associations such as DemoCamp, Startup Edmonton, STIRR, Bootcamp and CEO Roundtable
(btw, one the best things the BCTIA accomplished was convincing the B.C. government to create a 30% tax credit for private investors investing in tech startups. Can you imagine the effect this would have in Alberta?)
But, WAIT, you say! Aren't there lots of associations in Alberta already? Well, that's part of the problem. There's TOO many associations. Here's a Techvibes blog post "Alberta Association Primer" that lists 16 of them. Rene Smid tells me that 26 different associations came out to the "Association BBQ" in Calgary last Tuesday ... so I suspect the total number of associations across Alberta could really be approaching 50. Lots of overlap. Underfunded on an individual basis. Lots of government associations. Not a lot of co-ordination. Lots of stretched Executive Directors and Board members. Fragmented.
Not to mention we're swimming in a sea of oil and gas! All this primordial ooze murkiness makes it particularly ineffective for a tech startup to find the REAL help they need. Having been the CEO of a technology startup in Calgary since Oct 2008 (Mob4Hire.com), I'm well aware of all the wasted hours chasing non-opportunities.
The real problem with the local tech industry, as I see it, is the regional approach. To be successful as a tech entrepreneur, you need to behave and act like a world-class company, and leap over the boundaries of provincial navel-gazing; all the surrounding infrastructure should help this. While not the official mission statement, I offer the following summary of what was discussed around the A100 table (thanks to Shawn Abbott from iNovia capital for most of these words):
"The A100 can give context and cohesiveness for Alberta high-tech startups to be hyper-successful on a global basis."
Interestingly, the provincial government is aware of all this and has already created "Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures" in April, which folds together the old Alberta Research Council and Alberta Ingenuity, as well as expanding their tech innovation mandate. Gary Albach, President and CEO of Alberta Innovates, was at the A100 meeting, and is a strong advocate of industry and government getting their act together.
Much like the most important piece of the puzzle for a startup ("The Team"), the people in A100 have credibility, international connections, intelligence, wisdom and a collective penchant for getting big things done. They're also all super-busy, and don't like to waste time, so we'll see if it can persevere with the vision and help bring some order to the chaos. The time has certainly come to step things up.
So ... shapes are forming. The ooze got a bit clearer. We might wiggle our way out. Change is blowing in the wind. I'm pumped and hopeful! Watch this space.