As soon as summer is finished you will notice more yellow buses on the road, marking the official end of summer. At the same time, a large group of entrepreneurs will be making a trek of their own. However, instead of flocking into offices downtown they will be heading north of the city to a unique educational and networking event known as much for water skiing as it is for the presence of investors and technology leaders.
Being held the weekend of September 9 at Camp Walden, Fireside Conference aims to bring together investors, educators and entrepreneurs in a setting conducive to building long term relationships.
I had a chance to interview Steven Pulver and Daniel Levine, the founders of this unique conference. Pulver is a lawyer with a background in M&A and technology and Levine is also a lawyer with a background in entrepreneurship and marketing.
Both of you have educational and practical experience in business and entrepreneurship. What was the driving force behind starting the Fireside Conference?
We love attending tech and startup conferences and meet-ups but we felt something was missing when it came to forming really strong personal relationships. We also both grew up attending summer camp each year, and we both have life-long relationships that were started as kids in these environments. So we thought, why not bring these amazing communities together for the weekend with the goal of strengthening the ties in our professional networks while making authentic, deeper connections.
Canada has so many conferences for investors and entrepreneurs. Why do we need another conference?
Fireside Conference is a conference by name only. We’re really more of a retreat and summit for the tech, start-up and entrepreneurial communities. There’s simply nothing like this anywhere in Canada.
There are no name tags and no business cards. There’s no hotels or concrete buildings. There’s no VIP or exclusive events. There’s no rushing the stage to meet a speaker.
At Fireside you spend the weekend with amazing speakers at a 750-acre outdoor venue on a private lake. You bond with the community while water-skiing, over meals in the dining hall, and during evening programs. Our speaker sessions are interactive and discussion oriented.
There’s no stage, no PowerPoint and no microphones. Just campfires, s’mores and discussions about leadership, growth, entrepreneurship and ideas that can change the world.
I noticed that Steven has been volunteering at Camp Walden. What is it about this retreat location that you think appeals to entrepreneurs attending the conference?
One of our core themes is “disconnect to connect.” There’s limited technology up at camp and we encourage our guests to take advantage of the “analog” for a weekend to unwind and reset. The retreat is hosted on 750 acres of breathtaking green-space, ideally set to allow busy CEOs, investors and thought-leaders find some head space and clarity over the weekend; we like to say that the phantom vibrations of your phone disappear within 24 hours.
Without the constant distraction that our guests are used to, they can really focus on learning and engaging while up at camp.
How have the issues surrounding achieving success in business changed over the years?
Canada has been evolving from a manufacturing and resources-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. Many of the core business issues surrounding achieving business success in the past transcend the shift in the Canadian business climate, but the tools used to overcome these issues have changed. Today’s entrepreneurs have a digital toolbox to overcome boundaries and at Fireside we gather the very best thought leaders across a myriad of areas of expertise to discuss these new tools.
What issues do entrepreneurs still face today that others have had to face 5-10 years ago?
Many of the traditional issues faced by entrepreneurs a decade ago still exist today. Raising capital, finding and retaining top talent, receiving strong mentorship and cultivating corporate culture are as relevant today as they have ever been. Technology and the digital age can mitigate against those concerns but may also exacerbate them as well. For example, technology has opened up a global talent pool but has also reduced barriers and switched costs for top employees. Today, it’s critical to have a strong corporate culture to encourage talent retention and grow a sustainable talent base.
Our vision for Fireside is to bring together the very best stakeholders from our broader community to share best practices on how we overcome these hurdles, provide and find mentorship, introduce investors to entrepreneurs and provide an environment conducive to fostering creativity.
Canada recently elected a Liberal government after a decade of Conservative rule. How will this impact entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow?
It’s still a bit early to tell. We’ve had a federal government in the past that was very supportive of entrepreneurship and created programs that have allowed entrepreneurs to succeed. We’re optimistic about the government continuing to support entrepreneurs and small businesses.
What’s most exciting is the clear and united vision in support of entrepreneurship that we are seeing from all levels of government, right down to our local municipalities. The City of Toronto has made tech and digital a primary mandate with new initiatives like Startup HERE Toronto. Mayor Tory has been a fantastic ambassador for the city and we expect even more public-private partnerships to help our community grow.
Likewise, we’ve seen incredible initiatives and digital growth out of the entire city of Markham with programs like VentureLABs and TechConnex. The City of Waterloo continues to be a leader through Communitech with new programs supporting female entrepreneurship like the Fierce Founders Accelerator.
What will attendees learn during this retreat that will help them take the next level in their journey?
Broadly speaking, Fireside Conference brings together the technology, entrepreneur and investor communities in Canada. First and foremost attendees disconnect for a weekend and truly connect with all the key stakeholders in our multi-faceted community.
There’s a million conferences to go to, but Fireside is the only one where startup founders get to sit around a campfire and learn from people like Jeff Pulver, the founder of Vonage, Brenda Halloran, the former Mayor of Waterloo, Mike Katchen, the CEO of Wealthsimple or Sanjay Singhal, the head of 500 Startups Canada. It’s the only conference where angel investors and venture capitalists can meet the top founders from the very best accelerators and incubators before everyone else; it’s truly a competitive advantage for those looking for strong deal flow.
We’ll be doing sessions on topics like leadership, creating company culture, growth, raising capital, diversity, marketing, pitching to the media and more.
For the more tactical entrepreneurs, Fireside will have workshops by Influitive on advocate marketing, by #paid on influencer marketing, by Herscu & Goldsilver on public relations and much, much more.