Vancouver Startup Week designed to boost tech sector enterprise

Nearly 100 panels, events, speakers descending on the city to help local entrepreneurs 

Joe Facciolo’s Guusto is a restaurant food and drink gift app | Photo: Rob Kruyt

Entrepreneur Joe Facciolo admits he was green to the tech world when he was bouncing from event to event during last year’s Vancouver Startup Week.

“When we came from the travel and tourism world into tech, we didn’t really know anyone. Fast-forward a year … we have a great, strong network now in the community,” said the co-owner of Whistler Tasting Tours and co-founder of Guusto, an app that allows users to gift restaurant food and drinks to others.

Vancouver Startup Week, which expanded last year from the long-running Startup Weekend, facilitated 80 events aimed at connecting and accelerating early-stage companies in Vancouver’s tech sector.

For the second year, running September 21 to 27, seasoned veterans and new entrepreneurs will be sharing their expertise and showcasing their own businesses to upwards of 3,000 attendees.

“For me, learning from people who are experts in the industry or have been through it already is just huge help in terms of avoiding making the same mistakes,” Facciolo said.

Local speakers include angel investor Boris Wertz, Recon Instruments co-founder Fraser Hall and The Next Big Thing co-founder Meredith Powell.

Meanwhile, organizers are stretching beyond B.C.’s borders this year and bringing in Seattle-based angel investor Josh Maher, Intercom chief strategy officer Des Traynor from Ireland and marketing manager Minh Le from Silicon Valley Bank, among others.

Sidebuy CEO Mona Akhavi, whose startup created a platform to connect brands and retailers through relevant web content, said the week is going to be advantageous for companies like hers looking for investments from beyond Vancouver.

For Sean Elbe, the Vancouver Economic Commission’s (VEC) tech sector development manager, Startup Week means focusing on the city’s two most pressing issues in the industry: capital and talent.

The VEC is branding its own events as Startup City and opening the floor of the Downtown Eastside’s Imperial to an investor showcase featuring 20 startups looking to raise money.

Meanwhile, the VEC is pushing for more sophisticated conversations with human resources practitioners regarding issues around retention, attraction and “what it takes to build a culture to communicate to talent, ‘This is a place you want to stay,’” Elbe said. “Parents really need to understand it’s not scary if your kids want to work for a startup.”

Bo, a startup that developed a logistics software platform to make it cheaper and easier for shippers to find truckers, moved to Vancouver in mid-September to take advantage of the city’s strong shipping industry.

“Coming from Toronto to Vancouver, we’re hoping to integrate quickly back into the Vancouver startup community and we really think Startup Week is a great place for that,” said co-founder Michael Ip, who will be attending the week’s Canadian Technology Showcase on September 24.

And the impacts from last year’s success stories are still lingering, according to Elbe.

Optigo Networks co-founder Byron Thom said placing in the top three during the week’s closing Cascadia Summit – a startup pitch contest aimed at investors – was an “inflection point” for the company.

“We had refined our vision on what Optigo was doing as a company – making smart buildings smarter – and this was the first time we pushed that forward,” he said, adding the win led to meetings with local angel investors who eventually came on board to put money into the company.

Optigo Networks, which develops software that detects cybersecurity threats in the computer systems of buildings and office towers, was named the BC Technology Industry Association’s most promising startup last June. And this fall the founders are hunkering down to network with potential investors in the Silicon Valley after being accepted into the Canadian Technology Accelerators program.

Thom said Startup Week was really the beginning of the amazing year the company just experienced.

But the most lasting take-away from his interactions with other startups last year was realizing no one was there to steal his idea.

“They’re only going to tell you how to make it better,” Thom said.