What is next for VeloCity?

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After the most awesome two months and a bit I have experienced in my professional career I have yet to sit down and take stock. There simply isn’t time to take a breath but I am going to take a moment and explain what is going on with my part of the universe. By now everyone knows we (at VeloCity) got some funding from, to many, was a very unlikely source. That funding was the missing piece — now we have the funds to give people a chance to try that may not have been able to as we can now clear the financial limitation.

The VeloCity program is going to be a full service incubator for students like none other.

What I mean by full service is that;

  • we will (and do) recruit best talent in the world,
  • inspire students that can do awesome stuff and have the passion but might have financial reasons blocking them to take a risk that can do awesome stuff,
  • provide an environment (build community) where ideas and entrepreneurs find their legs,
  • follow that up with a location to start to build a startup in an environment with just a bit more and way more experienced entrepreneurs and support one another,
  • then encourage (read: kick them out when they are ready) into the wild startup world (ideal) or into a job working for another startup (not bad for the community) or recommend one of the countless tech jobs in town (not everyone handles risk well).

At the end of it all, the student or alumni has the opportunity to try in an environment that gives them a big long term advantage over those not involved with VeloCity.

The plan for the next 4 months is to lay low and focus on: what we have learned so far, what we can do that is better (or figure out what not to do anymore), try out a couple things, hopefully staff up a little, and recharge. This means, I think, no conferences, very little travel, and fewer meetings. At least until some big outstanding tasks get tackled. I want to blog more as well. Writing helps focus thoughts and share the journey. Twitter is just too short.

It is going to be an exciting Spring term in Waterloo ;)

Got my hands on a Blackberry Playbook

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One of the perks of being located in Waterloo is that sometimes you get to see some cool stuff from RIM before other people do. Usually that is because a co-op student or employee drops a “test” unit in a parking lot or fails to hide it well at the pub but this time folks from RIM brought in two Blackberry Playbook to the VeloCity residence!

The Blackberry Playbook

They went through the development options and the deal with getting apps into appworld, etc. All stuff that is blogged about everywhere. What everyone wanted to do was get their hands on it. My first impression? Fast, light, easy to hold with one hand, but the multitasking is probably the most impressive thing that I noticed right away and the one thing I like way more than my iPad. The best part of the presentation though, the icon on the bottom left of the pic above shows an app called Book Keeper, well here is the guy that created that in Flash.

VeloCity student already had an app on there

He just happens to live in VeloCity this term.

So what didn’t I like?

  • The UI is a bit odd. I know Apple is rumoured to be dropping the home button but I went looking for it. To get a menu you have to swipe the bottom third up or pull the top third down. Once I got use to it I still didn’t find it a good way to do it as it didn’t work on first go and if I want out of app I want out now. The other thing I wonder if it will interfere with reading and other things that might like to use that action in the app.
  • Screen is too small. I love my iPad, I love my iPhone, there is a clear difference in screen size and utility. This size of tablet is just bigger than a phone but way smaller than a laptop. I think the same thing that kills the small netbooks is the same thing that will hurt this size of screen. It will be really good for a lot of uses though… but I think it won’t be as fun as an iPad for games and reading.
  • It just looks like hardware, nothing remarkable. Perfect for the business market but not for those that see the tablet as an accessary as well as a tool. That likely won’t hurt the Playbook adoption I don’t think.
  • Trying to get it to work with legacy Blackberry OS apps (we were told just OS 6)… forget your old OS RIM, you will cripple the Playbook with too much software options.
  • The guys demo’ing don’t have an iPad — nothing bugs me more about folks from RIM than their total lack of knowledge of the really hot products out there.

What I really liked?

  • It’s fast, really fast, and the battery is good. This newer build of the Playbook has no battery problem I can see. We had a ton of apps going, pulling a lot of data, a lot of video, and lots of just hard usage for close to 2 hrs and the batteries went down but used maybe a 1/3. It got hot too which says to me the battery should be dead… but it was fine.
  • The screen is nice. Really clear, really bright.
  • Overall user experience is good. I might not like the swipe but overall it is a good experience. Hopefully as they work on it (rotation doesn’t work yet), it will get a bit smoother with the swipe. How easily it just plugged into the 60inch TV in the residence was pretty cool though… can’t do that with an iPad.
  • It is the right size for a tool in that I can one hand it and not be worried it might drop. With the iPad I am always worried about swinging it around and knocking it.
  • The dev environment — Adobe AIR is a smart move.

Overall I think it is good device and if it is priced right I am sure it will do ok. Will it be the market leader? No way. The iPad 2 will certainly keep the hot and sexy category and people will pay a premium for that. However, if you were looking for an affordable (hopefully) tool that is more than you can use to replace a lot of portable devices out there from pay point stuff to inventory apps to restaurant order taking software.

Really excited to see if students at VeloCity try their hand at making some apps for it, maybe some day we will see Kik on it ;)

Kik on a Playbook?

…and yes, all pics taken on an iPhone 4.

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 ;)

G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit #g20yes

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From June 20-22 in Toronto was the first G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit with delegates from close to all the G20 nations. The idea for the summit came from Italy but was hosted and run in Canada by the  CYBF. The goal of the summit was to bring together people that support entrepreneurship in the G20 countries and identify the core issues we all face, perhaps identify solutions that may exist in other countries, and establish what could be done next to support youth entrepreneurship globally.

The key belief underlying this summit is that entrepreneurship is the fundamental economic driver that makes recessions less painful and it is entrepreneurs that will lead economic growth. There is a shift in thinking in G20 governments from prioritizing the large employeer creating jobs and ignoring the small business entrepreneur that would create only a few jobs. The shift in thinking from the government perspective was emphasized when John Manley (former Industry Minister) took the stage and raised the point that he has seen Canada go from a nation that wants to be employees to that which what to be employers. Tony Clement‘s (current Industry Minister) statements made just before John Manley took the stage were more impressive considering where Canada was just 20 years ago.

Canada still can do a lot more, entrepreneurs (especially in the tech world) don’t feel it is all that easy to start a business and legislation is stacked against them in favour of the large companies. However, it is through more official channels like the G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit where I think all entrepreneurs can be more effective influencing government.

The end result of the summit is that the B20 summit will have youth entrepreneurship on their agenda along with the recommendations to discuss from the delegations that attended this summit. A secondary result is an agreement to pursue this movement into the next year with a meeting in South Korea in November followed by a summit at the G20 in France next year.

Along with the delegate discussions there were a number of panels and presentations which just flooded twitter with some great tidbits of information. Here are some tweets from me and others that I really like that are quoting tidbits of the wisdom shared:

You have to be born an entrepreneur – it’s a character trait. I can’t paint, but I am an entrepreneur. – Eric Boyko

Partnership with spouse is key. Need to share responsibilities on a domestic level to avoid burnout. – Tara (mother of 7)

“They tend to work less and they tend to talk more” Speaking of the younger people in the work place – Rahul Chawla

the more people i meet the more i learn – Rahul Chawla

Ur sitting on an ice cream cone in the middle of July. You must be making decisions quickly. But have humility to reverse decisions.

No pure failure in entrepreneurship; Entrepreneurs are optimists that fail. You pick yourself up and try again – Tom Jenkins

#g20yes Minister Peter Van Loan Canada features strongest workforce, knowledgeable&skilled workers http://twitpic.com/1z3yyf

Prosperity is created by successful businesses, big and small. And it’s people like you that help build this success- Peter Van Loan #g20yes

Have a look at the #g20yes hashtag on twitter, there is a lot of info there but certainly worth digging through. Also Tom Jenkins Fireside Chat was posted on the National Post.

On the last evening event one of the VeloCity teams that are part of the Entrepreneur Bootcamp had an opportunity to show off their work and meet delegates from all over the G20. I didn’t get a picture (there are official ones somewhere) of when Minister Peter Van Loan (Industry Minister for Canada) dropped by but I grabbed one of when they had folks from Russia, Canada, and the EU at the table.

Bloq Software showing off their stuff

Overall I am really impressed with what CYBF put together and the delegates that have attended. Really looking forward to what an effort like can do to help influence government policy, open up different markets to Canadian entrepreneurs, and help build a more extensive mentorship and support network.