Canada Leads with Startup Communities

Twenty-four-hour access to a 3D printer. Made-to-measure women’s boots. A festival celebrating entrepreneurism in Atlantic Canada. What do they all have in common?

They’re some of the success stories sprouting from communities across the country as Startup Canada continues to link entrepreneurs, mentors, and resources under one virtual roof.

A grassroots, entrepreneur-driven movement, Startup Canada is the first organization of its kind in the world. Its rapidly growing membership includes entrepreneurs from every conceivable industry and demographic—from fashion designers and filmmakers to chefs and computer programmers.

Because entrepreneurship can be an isolating, solitary endeavour, Startup Canada partners with local community organizations and institutions to provide networks, mentorship, and meeting spaces to exchange ideas and build relationships. Regular events include in person and online networking opportunities, seminars and weekend conferences, where people keep connected within and beyond the boundaries of their geographic regions.

For the network to drive innovation and economic growth in a city, entrepreneurs and communities must learn from, and feed off, each other. Last May, Startup Canada launched 15 pilot Startup Communities in cities ranging from Langford, B.C. to Charlottetown, PEI. Another five were added last November, including Calgary, Niagara, and Waterloo. These communities have led to connections between 250 businesses, 500 entrepreneurs and 70 enterprise partners.

Startup Communities will continue to be an important theme for Startup Canada in 2014 and beyond. In just a short time, the effects of like-minded individuals working together have been exceptional: Startup Smithers is creating a venture capital fund with BC Forest Council to invest in rural entrepreneurship. Startup Winnipeg has created a downtown space that provides round the clock access to equipment like a high tech 3-D printer and scanner to enable companies to finish prototypes.

The idea of supporting entrepreneurs within the community and from the ground up first became popularized through a 2012 book written by Brad Feld, a Boulder, Colorado-based entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist. The book, Startup Communities, outlines the four essential characteristics of a startup community, which Startup Canada is embracing.

Firstly, only entrepreneurs may lead the community. While they will rely on the support of partners such as government, the media, and investors, those partners play only supporting roles.

Second, leaders must be willing to commit for 10 to 20 years, put the interests of the community ahead of their own and be prepared to donate ideas, time, effort and money without knowing whether they will receive anything in return.

Thirdly, to remain sustainable over time, startup communities must be all inclusive, allowing people and ideas to move freely.

Finally, the startup community must hold activities and events that will engage and bring people together all the time – from coffee meetings and showcases to competitions and conferences that attract thousands in attendance.

As new communities are being recruited on an ongoing basis, the vision of Startup Canada is for every city in Canada to have a Startup Community. Startup Canada is leading the way both nationally and globally as a bridge-builder between entrepreneurs.

“Just as we need roads for transportation and broadband to connect to the Internet, networks are vital for entrepreneurs,” says CEO and co-founder of Startup Canada, Victoria Lennox. “Soon Startup Communities will be as much a cultural staple as a post office, library or community centre.”