by Christine Wong
Startup Canada officially got off the ground today when a beta version of its Web site went live.
The new charitable foundation is hoping to build a national strategy to support Canadian entrepreneurs.
But do we really need another source of information on the startup scene in this country?
There are dozens of great blogs out there (including those penned by Mark Evans, Mark McLeod and Dan Martell) already catering to the growing thirst for startup news and practical tips for launching and growing a tech-based business. We at ITBusiness.ca also closely cover tech-based startups.
Budding business people can already turn to a raft of government agencies and programs to help finance and set up their new companies. Then there are incubator and accelerator facilities like Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto or Vancouver’s Grow Lab acting providing work space, mentorship and other resources for tech startups.
On top of that, in most major cities there are boards of trade and chambers of commerce providing help for entrepreneurs.
If you take a peek at Startup Canada’s beta site, however, it looks like this organization might just be offering up something different.
The site features a Speakers Corner, an ideasWiki and an Idea Loop section – all ways for members of the startup community to contribute ideas and input. What it doesn’t feature so far is a barrage of tips and information telling us about what Canadian startups should be doing and what they need.
And maybe that’s exactly what Startup Canada should be at this stage.
Founder and executive director Victoria Lennox told me just days before Startup Canada’s launch that in order to build a cohesive, coast-to-coast support organization for startups, the foundation feels it’s crucial to ask those startups what they want and need first.
To do that, Startup Canada is holding a series of town hall events in 30 cities (starting with Halifax on March 19) to get input from entrepreneurs, financiers, investors, government agencies – basically anyone who’s involved with the startup community.
After six months of town hall meetings, Startup Canada plans to draw up a white paper of recommendations about what this nation’s entrepreneurs need to get their businesses off the ground and then grow them. The foundation’s chairman, Dr. Adam Chowaniec, hopes to present that white paper to Prime Minister Stephen Harper so the feds can actually take action on some of the suggestions that fall under their auspices.
Is this approach really something new or just more of the same old, same old?
I put that question to Chowaniec over the phone earlier today. He’s obviously biased because he’s bought into the Startup Canada approach by signing on as the foundation’s chairman. But as one of the true veterans of Canada’s technology scene – past CEO of Tundra Semiconductor, ex-chairman of Zarlink Networks and chairman of recent Ericsson acquisition BelAir Networks – he’s seen decades of programs and movements launched to foster Canadian startup success.
“I think this is new and unique,” Chowaniec told me. “Nobody’s got their hand out saying ‘Please give me some money so I can solve this problem.’ It’s saying let’s figure out how to solve our own problems from the ground up and out of that, hopefully, will come not just a better (startup) culture but ideas about how to strengthen it. It’s a completely different approach involving volunteers.”
We’ve already got the accelerators, incubators and government programs in place for a startup support system, he added. The next level has to focus on building up Canada’s startup culture: teaching our entrepreneurs how to take risks and celebrating failure as well as success, Chowaniec said.
“We need to find a way to make that culture much stronger. (Startup Canada) is trying to do exactly that. It’s saying entrepreneurs have to do some of that themselves,” he said, adding that Startup Canada gives that movement “a common voice.”
So check out the Startup Canada beta site. But don’t be shocked by the lack of sections telling you what you should do. Visit the parts asking for your feedback, opinions and insight and then tell ‘em what you think.
Many elements of Startup Canada may not be something totally new that you’ve never seen before. But it’s a good starting point for building a national startup strategy.