Why I Invested a Million Dollars in Vancouver Startups in 2016…and Will Continue

April 12, 2017

I’m often struck by the beauty of Vancouver, and the privilege I enjoy in calling it home. Lucrative opportunities have come up that have tempted me to relocate, but this is where I want to live and raise my family. Vancouver has the greatest quality of life of any city in North America. It has beautiful ocean and mountain views, it’s safe, and has perfect weather. Did I mention mountains.

That, coupled with the strong and supportive tech and startup community emerging here make it a perfect place to invest.

Vancouver has been crowned as Canada’s top startup hub, according to the 2017 Startup Genome Global Report, which ranks startup ecosystems around the world every couple of years.

Startup successes like Hootsuite, Slack, and BroadbandTV have helped the city punch above its weight, and the world has apparently taken notice. The report states that Vancouver’s 800 to 1,100 startups are worth about $9 billion and the average Vancouver startup is pulling in $334,000 in early-stage funding; a healthy step above the global average of $252,000.

The city hosts a thriving tech ecosystem that has grown exponentially in the last 5 years. Vancouver’s attracting a higher caliber of talent and the kind of funding that will help us grow tech startups. That’s exciting stuff!


Vancouver Knows How to Support Startups

One of the biggest reasons Vancouver’s startups are so viable is they have access to a wealth of resources, mentors, and funders. Just look at Vancouver’s commitment to back startup incubators and accelerators with groups like the B.C. Tech Association, The Next Big Thing, Spring and Wavefront, along with provincial government initiatives like B.C. Innovation Council.

I’m personally involved with The Next Big Thing (TNBT) as an investor in residence, a non-profit co-founded by Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes. It trains, guides and annually supports 17 to 25 year old entrepreneurs who have a bright startup idea but lack business chops.  And we’re doing something right – out of thousands who apply for TNBT, about 35 fellows have passed through and raised nearly $5 million for their enterprises.

What gets me most excited about being part of TNBT is that it also builds a culture of innovation among young people who want to excel in business, and in a very Vancouver way, also aims to do it in a way that positively impacts the world.

Canada provides great funding incentives to stay here by providing research and development grants from the federal government. There are generous grants from the National Research Council that reimburse up to 80% of the salaries of software engineers dedicated to innovative research and development projects. Thank you, Canada!

Startups throughout Canada can receive funding from Ottawa’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentive program. SR&ED refunds 35% on qualified expenditures, while the B.C. government offers an additional 10% incentive. Another bonus for investing in Vancouver.


Vancouver Does Team Experience Right

Industry analysts have revealed access to talent as a weakness for most Canadian startup hubs, but Vancouver is very much the exception. In fact, this is an area that secures Vancouver’s place among the startup elite: Team Experience. Vancouver scored first in the world for this metric – even topping Silicon Valley.

Vancouver knows how to recruit the Google way by putting big perks on the table to win talent. Most of Vancouver’s growing companies offer flexible hours, generous vacations, remote working and teleconferencing, fully stocked kitchens, yoga and wellness classes, ping pong and arcade games, and “fireside chats” hosted by astronauts and CEOs.

I also link Vancouver’s startup success to a remarkably diverse talent pool, with over half its residents having a first tongue other than English; and being able to tap graduates drawn from sixteen academic institutions in its corridor. The city is just starting to see a population of young, experienced tech talent that understands the growing startup ecosystem and is financially able to invest in and support new companies.


Vancouver is Ripe with Investment Diversity

People still think of Vancouver as predominantly a resource-based economy, but that’s no longer the case. Its local economy is now sustained by software development and biotech. It’s important to introduce the idea that Vancouver is a thriving tech ecosystem to other parts of the world, so we can continue to attract a higher caliber of talent and the kind of funding that will help us grow these tech startups.

It’s been exciting to witness Vancouver making headway in overcoming somewhat of an image crisis it shares with the rest of Canada. It’s not like it doesn’t produce great tech companies, it’s just that people in the rest of the world aren’t necessarily aware that they were started here. Companies like Slack, for example – people outside of Canada don’t know it was founded on Canada’s West Coast.


Vancouver Embraces Globalization

Vancouver plays a critical role in lifting Canada’s profile as a recognized tech startup ecosystem and getting Canadian early-stage startups more recognition on a global scale.

One of my favourite stats is that we have more Americans in Vancouver than any other place outside of the States. In fact, 30 per cent of Vancouver’s entrepreneurs are immigrants, compared to the global average of 19 per cent.

We’re seeing a lot of demand for insight into what makes the world’s most successful innovation ecosystems tick, and how this knowledge can be replicated and scaled in different regions around the world. I get excited about investing in Vancouver companies that are filling voids in global marketplaces.

The Genome Report also found Vancouver shining on global access, with about 57 per cent of startups doing international business – double the global average. That’s due in part to close access to the U.S. and a gateway to Asia, combined with a diverse and multi-lingual workforce able to access international markets.


Vancouver is Where I Can Help Fund the Future 

While Vancouver is mostly thought of as Hollywood North or a yoga capital, it’s those ‘fluffy’ characteristics that have fostered an ecosystem that encourages interconnectivity and collaboration. The city is wired to think about sustainable business and innovation that will impact the world.

I think that’s why organizations like TNBT thrive in Vancouver. They are able to tap into that in order to harness and nurture the bright ideas of young professionals and students who are building the next wave of change projects.

Investing in social impact is a two-sided return – in terms of sustainability and impact globally, as well as a return on capital for the investor. Social impact businesses have baked into them both the goals of impacting global good and sustaining a profit.

It’s exciting to invest in Vancouver when there are so many promising Canadian startups. Feeding Change, MyBestHelper and ShareShed could all have a potentially huge global impact because they seek to solve social and environmental problems that many parts of the world are facing today.

Vancouver is very much immersed and invested in the startup game. There’s a new-wave of tech-based disruptive apps and services and Vancouver’s got it all from traditional software companies, on-demand app services, medical technologies, fintechs and more.

Vancouver is booming and this is where I chose to help fund the future. The chance to improve the world is what gets me up in the morning with a checkbook ready in hand to invest, my entrepreneurial passion to inspire, and my drive to mentor some of the brightest young minds in the world – right here in Vancouver.

And then I look out at this beautiful city and go – wow – and I get to raise my family here.