Di­verse ventures in­spire startup guru Van­cou­ver Eco­nom­ics Com­mis­sion clean-tech-sec­tor de­vel­op­ment man­ager talks busi­ness

IN­DUS­TRY EX­PERTS BEST OF VAN­COU­VER

The Georgia Straight - - Best Of Vancouver - By

JOHN MCPHER­SON

With more than 39 per­cent of B.C. res­i­dents own­ing their own com­pany or run­ning a side hus­tle, Bri­tish Columbia is the most en­tre­pre­neur­ial prov­ince in Canada—and Van­cou­ver is its hub. Named the top startup ecosys­tem in Canada and the 15th-best place to start a busi­ness in the world, the city is one of the most wel­com­ing places to quit your day job and work on your own terms.

That ex­plo­sion of in­no­va­tion makes John Mcpher­son’s role in­cred­i­bly var­ied.

As the clean-tech-sec­tor de­vel­op­ment man­ager at the Van­cou­ver Eco­nom­ics Com­mis­sion, Mcpher­son is tasked with man­ag­ing events, pro­grams, and ac­tiv­i­ties for busi­nesses as they grow from smart idea to bil­lion­dol­lar unicorn. Pri­mar­ily fo­cused on green tech­nol­ogy and how com­pa­nies can help cre­ate smart cities—think self-driv­ing cars, Ai-en­hanced garbage cans, and so­lar-pow­ered street light­ing—he helps star­tups con­nect with in­vestors, nav­i­gate city-hall reg­u­la­tions, and guide founders to use­ful re­sources. Pretty help­ful when you’re faced with build­ing a busi­ness from scratch.

The most ex­cit­ing part of his job, he says, is help­ing pas­sion­ate en­trepreneurs find the right path to suc­cess, but it’s the di­ver­sity of Van­cou­ver com­pa­nies that in­spires him to come into the of­fice every day. With the city boast­ing some of the wildest star­tups in Canada—busi­nesses that are repli­cat­ing the re­ac­tions that hap­pen in the sun, for ex­am­ple, or that man­u­fac­ture the high-def­i­ni­tion cam­eras on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion—mcpher­son and the Van­cou­ver Eco­nom­ics Com­mis­sion are tasked with stay­ing on the cut­ting edge of in­no­va­tion.

Mak­ing it his per­sonal goal to help com­pa­nies be­come an­chor busi­nesses like Van­cou­ver sta­ples Hoot­suite and Avig­ilon, Mcpher­son tries to make sure en­trepreneurs and their or­ga­ni­za­tions can stay in the city amid ris­ing costs of liv­ing.

BEST VAN­COU­VER STARTUP PEO­PLE HAVEN’T HEARD OF There’s a lot to choose from. One is A&K Ro­bot­ics. They’re de­vel­op­ing an in­tel­li­gent nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, which is the brains of how to make a ma­chine self-driv­ing. They’re start­ing with in­dus­trial clean­ing ma­chines and mak­ing them au­ton­o­mous—so I guess you could think of it as an in­dus­trial Roomba for places like air­ports.

An­other is called Virtro En­ter­tain­ment. It had to make our list be­cause it’s so in­ter­est­ing. It’s a vir­tual- and aug­mented-re­al­ity com­pany that is mak­ing ev­ery­thing from a lan­guage-learn­ing tool in VR to a noughts-and-cross­es­type game with sol­diers in AR.

BEST IN­DUS­TRY TO CRE­ATE A STARTUP

VR and AR is a hot in­dus­try right now. Ev­ery­one’s talk­ing about it, in­clud­ing in­vestors, and we’re run­ning some events around that on cap­i­tal sup­port for those kinds of busi­nesses. It grew re­ally quickly from prob­a­bly seven-ish com­pa­nies a few years ago to over 200 to­day.

In the clean-tech space we have close to 250 com­pa­nies in Van­cou­ver. We’ve seen sig­nif­i­cant growth in the in­dus­try, and a lot of those com­pa­nies are start­ing to scale up and hire con­sid­er­ably. We re­ally punch above our weight there.

Then there are cannabis-tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions, blockchain star­tups, AI, and all these smart-city tech­nolo­gies—these are all cur­rent trends in Van­cou­ver. A lot of en­trepreneurs are in­ter­ested in these sec­tors when they think about start­ing a busi­ness.

BEST LO­CAL RE­SOURCE FOR EN­TREPRENEURS

If we’re look­ing at startup in­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors, there’s or­ga­ni­za­tions like Spring, which pro­vides men­tor­ship, train­ing, guid­ance, and advice on fundrais­ing. Launch Academy is an­other ac­cel­er­a­tor and creative de­struc­tion lab in Van­cou­ver. The Gen­er­a­tor out of Dis­cov­ery Parks, SFU Ven­ture Labs, and then BC Tech all have some in­no­va­tion pro­gram­ming as well. Then there’s New Ventures BC, which is a com­pe­ti­tion that helps com­pa­nies go through the steps of de­vel­op­ing their busi­ness plans, and there’s a prize at the end with a big event.

BEST NEIGH­BOUR­HOOD TO RUN A BUSI­NESS

It de­pends on the in­dus­try you’re in, but I’d say there’s a high de­gree of loy­alty to the down­town space. I heard a story about a com­pany that was bought here four or five years ago. The or­ga­ni­za­tion be­came ab­sorbed by its par­ent and had to move to an­other mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the re­gion. In­stead of em­ploy­ees mov­ing to that area, they quit and founded an­other sim­i­lar com­pany in the same in­dus­try, be­cause it was down­town. They were al­most more loyal to the lo­ca­tion than the busi­ness.

BEST NEW TREND IN THE VAN­COU­VER STARTUP ECOSYS­TEM

There’s a lot more sup­port now for cowork­ing build­ings. Wework and Spa­ces are cre­at­ing com­mu­ni­ties and en­abling a more col­le­gial climate and at­mos­phere be­tween star­tups. The Hive is an­other ex­am­ple in Gas­town. These are great for re­ally bring­ing busi­nesses to­gether and work­ing to­gether col­lab­o­ra­tively. That’s a trend we’re see­ing right now, around cowork­ing and telecom­mut­ing.

BEST THING ABOUT

BE­ING A STARTUP

IN THE CITY

From the com­pa­nies that I’ve talked to, I think we’re re­ally friendly to early-stage in­no­va­tion. You get a lot of tax breaks from all lev­els of gov­ern­ment, and there’s a lot of in­cu­ba­tion sup­port. And then there’s the ease of con­nect­ing with each other, and the so­cial and net­work­ing en­vi­ron­ments—in­clud­ing Van­cou­ver meetup groups. A lot of events and ac­tiv­i­ties bring en­trepreneurs to­gether, and we find that it’s a pretty co­he­sive, tight-knit in­dus­try.

BEST WAY TO EN­COUR­AGE PEO­PLE TO BE­COME EN­TREPRENEURS

I would say that you shouldn’t have to feel you should be­come an en­tre­pre­neur, as it’s def­i­nitely not for ev­ery­one. You should feel it and be pas­sion­ate about some­thing, see an op­por­tu­nity, and then go for it. You should be self-mo­ti­vated and self-di­rected. Some­times I find the best so­lu­tions come out of solv­ing very spe­cific needs and fo­cus­ing on that niche and then ex­pand­ing from there. My advice would be to talk to other en­trepreneurs—peo­ple that have done it be­fore, who know what you’re get­ting into.

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