VEF Kicks Off

This year’s Vancouver Enterprise Forum kicked off its new season last night, the first in a series on its “Technology Legends”-theme. A theme designed to encourage local entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs to come listen, learn, and be inspired by experience and wisdom of local stalwart entrepreneurs. As always, the event kicked off with a set of Lightning Talks from five local organizations:

  • VEF Momentum: Na’im Merchant formally introduced VEF Momentum, a program to connect and educate a new generation of young entrepreneurs in Vancouver, with the goal of offering relevant content and networking opportunities to mentor and inspire young and first time entrepreneurs. The first VEF Momentum event will be held September 30th.
  • SFU Time Ventures Incubator: The SFU Time Ventures Incubator highlighted its “Milestones to Success: SME Seminar Series”, which will hold two seminars (“Investor Ready I”, and “Investor Ready II”) covering the characteristics required to make your venture attractive to investors, and the mechanics of raising your first $2M. These seminars are a steal at $99 each, with a 20% discount for students.
  • Cyber Search Services: In a flip on the traditional machine-centric search, Cyber Search provides on-demand search that uses expert humans to solve the problem of extracting useful information from the Internet. Cyber Search charges users a fee to tap human capital worldwide to compile information gathered from search engines in an organized way that provides useful knowledge.
  • Collabrient Networks: Igor Kraychik introduced his organization’s solution for building vertical/industry-specific communication solutions on top of existing carriers. In honesty, I really didn’t grok this one enough to be able to explain it.
  • Angel Forum: Bob Chaworth-Musters reminded the audience of the registration deadline for the upcoming Angel Forum on November 17th, and upcoming Investor Ready workshops (“Equity Term Sheets and Company Valuation” and “Being a Director in the 21st Century”).

Personally, I was rather surprised that so few companies chose to take advantage of an opportunity for free publicity. Ambitious yet frugal are entrepreneurs are reminded they can participate in Lightning Talks at future VEF events by email lightning@vef.org.

For the main fireside chat, Dick Hardt was joined by local “Technology Legend” Haig Farris of Fractal Capital. Haig gave a detailed overview of his experience with entrepreneurship, from his upbringing in an entrepreneurial family, his education as an economist and lawyer working with young entrepreneurs, to his latest efforts to cultivate entrepreneurship through his course at UBC. This ongoing education formed the basis of Haig’s recommendations to aspiring entrepreneurs:

  1. Get involved in volunteer work: Haig’s work on the boards of various boards, such as the board of the Vancouver Opera, not only gave him a lot of exposure to powerful people in the community, but also how these people approached problems, and resolved difficult issues. It also gave him experience with people, raising money, building a team, and the spectrum of human traits. These experiences taught Haig that leadership is everything.
  2. Build a network outside your area of expertise: Volunteer work gave Haig access to a great network of people outside his business, which is especially important if you want to gain insight into new areas of opportunity, or have people you can rely upon to help better evaluate opportunities.
  3. Learn to make deals: Most high-tech entrepreneurs are great technologists, but horrible dealmakers. As a result, many entrepreneurs sell cheap short to make revenue, but undermine their own success. Haig highlighted his own experience with the movie “Never Cry Wolf” as a great lesson in how to get screwed: he and his partners made a deal for 20% of the revenue after the studio recovered its costs, plus interest; they have never seen a penny because the studio delayed the release so long, resulting in interest charges that would never be paid off.
  4. Teach/look for people who can teach: Teaching a subject to someone in plain and simple terms is a real skill. It’s not only important because it requires the teacher to understand the subject matter, but also be capable of adjusting the delivery of the material to the audience.
  5. Never stop listening or reading: A major challenge for technologists is they lack exposure to people outside their areas of expertise. Volunteering helps solve part of the problem, but the remainder requires an entrepreneur to never stop reading, and learning to listen to people for their motivations.

While Haig was a font of far more information than I could capture, these five points alone should serve aspiring entrepreneurs well.

On a more administrative note: last night’s event saw the passing of the torch from outgoing Executive Director Nick Tattersall to newly appointed Executive Director Catherine Crucil. While Nick is sunning (?) himself on the Sunshine Coast, Catherine will be bringing her experience with the BC Social Venture Partners to build on the success he helped created at the VEF over the past ten years.

The next VEF will be a fireside chat with Morgan Sturdy on “How to Build, Run and Exit a Technology Company“, and will occur on October 28th. See you there!