Not much to say on RIM vs Kik as yet

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By now it isn’t news to folks locally that the maker of the Blackberry and local corporate superstar, RIM, has decided to bring a lawsuit against a young startup in Waterloo (based across the road from RIM) that got its start in VeloCity, Kik. I had thought that I would have some pretty strong opinions on the matter given that I know Ted (CEO/founder of Kik) and I personally have very little affinity towards RIM (although they have been amazing community leaders, no one should let the odd hiccup spoil how great they have been for this community). My opinion at this point is pretty simple: I am confused and worried what this means for the startup community locally given that a lot of ‘founders’ have worked at RIM on co-op at one point.

I do sorta understand and respect RIM’s perspective on this but their reaction seems a tad dramatic. This could really harm the chances of people wanting to develop for their platform and discourage funders willing to fund anyone that has Blackberry development on their road map. Especially if the founders have any previous work history at RIM.

I hope it all gets sorted out quickly. Is it really that hard for RIM to go across the road to talk to them? That is what we do here in Waterloo… we tend to talk and sort out things, figure out ways to work together. Of course on the flip side, I keep being told that you aren’t successful until you get sued… so congrats Kik, you have reached a key milestone on the path to success!

The VeloCity workspace

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Yesterday on the VeloCity blog I announced the VeloCity workspace at the Communitech Hub. It is, to me, a piece that has missing at VeloCity as we have tried to do an awful lot in what is a residential building but what you can’t do is work as part of the startup community locally. The University of Waterloo campus is just too isolated with the way parking is and its size to try and have a space that is open to the community for various events and collaboration. When you add the cost of living in residence and housing rules that require you to be a current full time student (all understandable and reasonable) there was a clear need to have a ‘next step’ space for students that have other living arrangements and recent grads of the University.

Currently there is no better place to be than in the new Communitech Hub in Kitchener. With bigger companies like Desire2Learn (founded by a uwaterloo grad) and Google as well as smaller companies like DossierView in Tannery space along with the partner organizations within the Hub itself, it is a good opportunity to be in the middle of the best that the Waterloo Region has to offer. Plus I get to work with the Accelerator Centre and Communitech, something I love doing as they are both organizations that have climbed a big learning curve and are now really influencing the services offered to companies across Canada.

This is a fluid experiment and I am assuming certain details of how we run the space will change but it is really exciting to try. What I do know is that a similar space at Ryerson (the Digital Media Zone) is a success with a load of startups working away in a gorgeous space in downtown Toronto. VeloCity and the DMZ are working closely together to develop this new model for an incubator type service inside higher education which is also something I am excited about. My hope is that we can get more Universities and Colleges working with us but time will tell.

What I see as our big challenges going into this are:

  • Cost of the space and covering the costs of the services — current guestimates place this kind of service for very early stage startups at around $1000 a month per startup. Our costs aren’t that but I will need to keep an eye on it. Certainly we do not have anywhere close to the same staffing level as Ryerson and I am not sure we need to but we do need more help to keep things moving. That will increase our cost.
  • What does success look like? With the residence I am still not sure what success is. I know it isn’t having a startup launch out of the residence into the real world and it is more important to build a strong bond between future co-founders but I will need to work on that. With the workspace it could very well be measured by the number of startups that find some revenue.
  • What are we missing? I try not to let this drive me nuts but I am constantly trying to find the gaps in what we are doing and ensure we stay focused on what are core mission is. That means saying no sometimes but a lot of the time the ‘no’ is because we just don’t have the staff to work with certain groups. Need to tackle point one above.

In a few months I will find new challenges and see if what I think are important problems really are. This is pretty exciting! Any questions, just ask. I aim to be as open as I possibly can about this whole thing ;)

Mentor a student entrepreneur while helping your startup

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Being a student at the University of Waterloo has one huge advantage over most other schools, Co-op. Startups have one huge advantage available to them available here in Waterloo, Waterloo students in co-op and the Small Business Internship Program along with a ton of other funding programs. From my perspective at VeloCity there is no better mentorship opportunity for students wanting to break into the startup world than by working for a startup.

However, it is not that easy for startups to stand out and be found by students — there is a lot of competition and with companies like Yahoo!, RIM, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and more posting jobs startups need to market themselves. On top of that, it is really hard to startups to get the timing right and navigate the co-op hiring process at the University. It’s not the fault of the process but more the nature of a fledgling business balancing a lot of demands meeting the deadlines that are at the start of each term.

Through VeloCity I want to help startups find good students to work with and I want the students to have the opportunity to gain some great experience working with a startup in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Boston, San Francisco, etc. What I ask is that startups take a moment and fill out some basic information first (at the end of the post or use this link). From there go over to the Employer Manual on the CECS site and read up on hiring a student. You will need to follow their process to get a job posted.

Next VeloCity will follow-up with you. Once you have a job posted with CECS we will need to share that job posting number with students so they can find it faster.

What we plan to do is create a list for students at VeloCity to see right at the start of each term so that the company names are front and center. We will also send out the list of students (and some recent grads) that have been in VeloCity. We will share the details as we get them and keep them informed. The last thing is that we will develop a poster for campus that can feature startups and working for them.

What is asked in return…

We have the following topics that need speakers on the specific dates at 4pm:

  • A Start-up Life, Sept 20
  • Starting a Business, Sept 27
  • Building a Team, Oct 4
  • The Pitch, Oct 18
  • Selling your Product, Nov 1
  • Financial Management, Nov 8
  • Raising Money, Nov 15
  • As well as networking lunches at the Bomber every other Wednesday starting on September 22nd that it would good if you (by you I mean the founder(s), CEO, etc) could try and attend at least one. There is also are start of term BBQ on September 20th and would encourage you to come out that night.

    A talk on business productivity

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    Yesterday I had the oppertunity to participate (a little) on a panel hosted at the Accelerator Centre that was to talk about the opportunities for Canadian Businesses to boost their productivity. Other panel members were:

    • Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, BMO Capital Markets
    • Tom Jenkins, Executive Chair and Chief Strategy Officer, Open Text
    • Paul Summers, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Clemmer SteelCraft Technologies Incorporated
    • Mike Klopchic, District Vice President, BMO Bank of Montreal
    • Moderator: Iain Klugman, Chief Executive Officer, Communitech

    The discussion was opened by a report from Dr. Sherry Cooper that covers the very high view of productivity and opportunity in Canada. Essentially we have closed the gap or are leading in most categories over the US but productivity is low (or measured in a way that makes it seem low). From the discussion an important bit of information was brought up that essentially said the numbers are deceiving because the way it is measured is likely skewed by combination of things like the rising Canadian dollar.

    Fascinating stuff. Encouraging stuff. Dr. Cooper sees Canada in an extremely strong position economically for a number of reasons ranging from having the strongest banking system to having had only a mild recession compared to everyone else. A position it arguably has never seen itself in before.

    We have some weaknesses however: attracting, retaining, and building talent.

    Tom Jenkins brought the discussion to investing in people, the number of positions open locally, and the importance of that. Paul Summers (a very interesting and understated local business leader) made the point that he has ~350 staff, most of their business is in the US, and just in time manufacturing is difficult when all your product has to cross the Peace Bridge. He believes the talent is here, equipment is a minor expense, and overall he weathered the recession quite well.

    My contribution: Waterloo has the talent at the University but everyone else knows it. Getting those students engaged locally is key and that is where VeloCity fits. A point I didn’t bring up is that the same talent Tom Jenkins is trying to bring to Open Text is attracted to a lot of the same things the students are: local culture, more urbanized environments, social life, etc. The other thing students and professionals are interested in is something Dr. Cooper mentioned as a strength the US has — specialized economic zones that are full of opportunity in a general professional area. The opportunity in those areas is that people can switch jobs, build expertise, and spread knowledge throughout the area without having to uproot everything.

    What I think? Investment in productivity is less about the organization and more about the community. Invest in the infrastructure, build strong economic cores, and highlight diverse cultural development on the local level.

    I didn’t contribute a lot to the talk. Four opinionated people with two extremely high level people amongst them with only an hour is hardly a place to get into a deep conversation where I might get more than my 0.02 into. However I think it was great of Dr. Sherry Cooper to take the time to explain her vision of the state of Canada and Tom Jenkins for defending the Canadian work ethic and way of life.