Canadian Startups Don’t Need Silicon Valley to Succeed, but Connections Do Help

“Canadians are the greatest people on Earth. But, for the love of God, don’t shoot for eighth place.”

Jonathan Ehrlich, a partner at Foundation Capital, three-time entrepreneur and former head of marketing at Facebook, is speaking to founders of 21 Canadian companies gathered at SAP’s campus in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley. He’s delivering a message he has clearly given many times before.

“If you’re not aiming for a market that’s worth $25 billion or more, stop and think again,” he says.

Ehrlich is at the opening reception of the C100’s 48 Hours in the Valley, a program to help Canadian entrepreneurs develop networks in Silicon Valley. And although he believes there are three keys to entrepreneurial success – thinking big, tenacity and focus – it’s most often this first trait that seems to be lacking in Canadian entrepreneurs.

But this is something he believes can be overcome. In his mind, Canadians are well positioned for success, and actually have a good chance of achieving it from Canada.

“You don’t need to be in the Valley. If you get the alchemy right, it can be better not to be here. Because it’s very difficult to hire, and people are mercenary,” says Ehrlich. “Although, if you choose to build a company outside of the Valley, you need to have connections here – investors, networks and an understanding of what you’re up against.”

Which is where the C100, of which Ehrlich is a charter member, comes in.

Mallorie Brodie, co-founder of construction-management software company Bridgit, had heard about 48 Hours in the Valley two years ago, but she felt it was important to have a product in market and some funding secured before applying.

Now, with Bridgit’s product, Closeout, having gained significant traction in the Toronto and Waterloo Region condo markets, along with a successful angel round, she was ready and eager to gain “exposure to what other companies are doing, and what investors expect is important.”

“Founders should have something really interesting and compelling to tell people in the Valley,” says Joanne Fedeyko, Executive Director of the C100. “Something interesting and compelling usually equates to having a good product with strong signs of customer validation, traction worth paying attention to, and being in a market with a huge opportunity. Founders also need to know what they want to receive from people they will meet.”

Auvik Networks, the other Waterloo Region company attending 48 Hours, clearly had the traction, product and experience – its co-founders are serial entrepreneurs with deep roots in the Waterloo tech ecosystem. Less clear was what an experienced company like Auvik had to gain from a program like 48 Hours in the Valley.