Startup Canada launches a national approach to entrepreneurship

A new organization launching this week wants to become a national clearing house of services and support for Canada’s quickly expanding startup ecosystem.

Set to debut on March 1, Startup Canada is a charitable foundation aiming to pull together all of the players, services and resources already available in this country to help entrepreneurs get off the ground and then grow their businesses.

“There’s a lot of talk in this (startup) space but it’s a highlyfragmented ecosystem,” said Victoria Lennox, who founded Startup Canadaand officially becomes its executive director as of March 1.

StartupCanada is being launched in two phases. In the initial stage, the groupwill hold town hall events in 30 Canadian cities (starting with Halifaxon March 19) to ask entrepreneurs what resources they want and need.The next phase will focus on creating a white paper of recommendationsbased on that feedback and then working to make sure the resultingprograms and resources are available and accessible.

Startup Canada is “not aduplication exercise,” Lennox says.

InNovember, Startup Canada chairman Adam Chowaniec (former president ofTundra Semiconductor Corp. and ex-chair of Zarlink Semiconductor, bothin Ottawa) hopes to present the group’s white paper toPrime Minister Stephen Harper, Lennox said.

“We’re celebrating(entrepreneurship) but it’s also about bringing together theentrepreneur community from coast to coast and developing a veryconcrete action plan come November,” Lennox said. “It isn’t just abouttalking – that’s such a waste of time.”

Building a cohesive,national startup organization is a tall order in a big, diverse countrylike Canada, Lennox said, so that’s why town halls are being planned toget input from several locations.

“We’re so siloed in terms ofgeography, demographically in terms of older and younger generations,even linguistically,” she said. “So much attention always goes toMontreal and Toronto and Vancouver. How great would it be if we couldalso put the spotlight on Halifax and Antigonish?”

Despite all those variations, one common message Lennox is already hearing from Canadian entrepreneurs is that “they want a centralizing organization driving entrepreneurship,” she said.

Canada’s startupcommunity is a busy one these days, with dozens of blogs covering thescene and nearly 35 startup acquisitions in 2011. The number of eventshas also grown in recent years, including Vancouver’s Grow conferenceand Startup Weekend activities in seven Canadian cities. Besidesincubator and accelerator programs like the MaRS Discovery District inToronto, Vancouver’s GrowLab and Montreal’s Notman House, the DigitalMedia Zone at Toronto’s Ryerson University just opened a4,000-square-foot addition to accommodate more startups.

Lennox (back to camera) won theQueen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion last year.

So farplans for Startup Canada have been welcomed warmly by existing membersof the scene, Lennox said, partly because she’s seeking their input,and also because she’s not out to do what they do already.

“They’realready doing this on the ground but because of the lack ofcoordination there’s a lot of duplication,” she said, adding “this isnot a duplication exercise.”

Big name patrons

Lennox said she’s lined up about 200members of the startup sector to be part of Startup Canada, includingmembers of the education and investment communities. Some big nameshave signed on to promote and advise Startup Canada as patrons,including Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss, Indigo Books and Music Inc. CEOHeather Reismann, and Brett Wilson, a former Dragon’s Den panelist nowhosting the Slice TV show Risky Business.

Lennox herself is nostranger to brushes with the powerful. Last summer Lennox met QueenElizabeth at Buckingham Palace when she became one of the youngest everwinners of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion. She snagged theprize in honour of a student entrepreneurship network she founded whilestudying at Oxford University. Lennox, who hails from Cambridge, Ont.,left London, England in 2010 to move to Ottawa where she worked for ayear at Industry’s Canada’s small business policy group.

Afterworking for a year among the corridors of government policy, Lennox hassome ideas about areas of Canada’s startup landscape that might need aboost, such as more programs for Aboriginal entrepreneurs and helpgetting immigrant entrepreneurs into Canada.

In trueentrepreneurial fashion, she emphasizes that Startup Canada hasreceived no government funding; so far it’s been financed throughsponsorships and philanthropic donations: “We’re leading by example,”she said.

Christine WongChristineWong is a Staff Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow her on Twitter,and join in the conversation on the IT BusinessFacebook Page.

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