A hush falls over the crowd. Two opposing team members step on the stage. Bulbs flash. House music thumps. All their training has led to this moment — this is it, and they know it.
He tosses the ball, and it sails up, an elegant orb seemingly suspended in time, before — ping! — catapulting across the table. The opposition, agile, fires it back — pong.
So began the first-annual TechPong — what might have been the most intense ping pong tournament in Vancouver’s history. Part fundraiser, part party, the evening saw Axiom Zen and nineteen other teams from some of the city’s top startups descend on The Imperial — situated in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — to duke it out.
And duke it out, we did. ZenHub, joined 19 other Vancouver-based tech companies to raise money for a great cause. Busy though we all are, the teams proved no slouch at the flagship game of every startup: ping pong.
“This was the first time people have ever chanted my name,” said Caleb Lai, who played the game obsessively as a child in Hong Kong (in decidedly less rambunctious matches). Lai represented Axiom Zen as a singles player — and took the stage in front of hundreds of cheering spectators.
As if to coax players toward possible victory, a monolithic trophy standing over four feet tall — probably the most comically large prize ever to be awarded in a ping pong tournament — was put on display at the front of the stage.
Ping pong was just the means to an end: raising money for charities in the Downtown Eastside, a community many Vancouver startups — Axiom Zen included — have called home. The area is known for its extensive addiction and homelessness issues. TechPong gave those startups a chance to give back to the community many of them call home.
The real win was the $73,000 raised for local charities by a crowd who clearly had a blast doing it. The $2,500 raised by Axiom Zen will go directly to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre — which offers daily support to over 300 women and children.
TechPong organizer Steven Davis from Chimp is no stranger to a good fundraiser, but even he was stunned by the staggering response to TechPong — as the sold-out event of over 350 attendees attested.
Organizers had to turn people down because of venue size. They are considering a venue like the convention centre for the next TechPong.
Unsurprisingly for a sector bound by innovation, fundraising strategies were hardly conventional. Axiom Zen hosted an augmented reality-focused fundraiser complete with local craft beer, a bake-sale, Google Glass, Oculus Rift, and a power outage (but that’s another story.)
The spirit and energy fueling TechPong embodies the driven camaraderie that draws investors, incubators and international companies to root themselves in Vancouver, increasingly establishing the city as an exciting tech hub on the world stage.
Amy Ngai, UX Designer at Axiom Zen, agreed. “It was super exciting to be in the crowd, holding our Axiom Zen signs and surrounded by other fans,” she said. “The spirit of competition at TechPong brought out the best in the Vancouver tech community.”
Vancouver startups are known to profess the city’s “work hard, play hard” philosophy. If TechPong’s first year of explosive success is any indicator, we think they’re exactly right.