In midst of collapse, VCs in Canada get a lesson in community

Startups and their communities are the seeds of renewal of a collapsed and corrupt venture capital market in Canada, says StartupNorth. “Local communities are important because they are far easier for local Angels and Entrepreneurs to connect to, and they also act as a great filter to help find people who need national and international exposure.”

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experience!tech @ MaRS: glocal format innovation?

Postcard - Feb. 12-2008.pdf (page 1 of 2)

MaRS is offering an interesting new model in a tech conference: keynote sessions simulcast from the IDC Directions Conference Boston onto the state-of-art A/V setup at MaRS in the morning, followed by “Master Classes” that take the form of interactive moderated panel discussions featuring local talent and lots of audience participation in the afternoon. The day finishes with Tom Kelley from IDEO closing with another great keynote from Boston. I’m intrigued by the format, and I’m going to check it out.

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I think they’re onto something here – linking the global to the local. Very cool. This an interesting format innovation, and I’m looking forward to seeing it in action.

I also appreciate how Peter Evans, who’s organizing this event, really understands that what people need in an era of accelerating technology change is not just some star keynotes. People also need depth that comes from the rabble rousers we have in spades in this community – people who have sector or tech focus and can accelerate insight into understanding, and understanding into action together with attendees.

Any ideas about other good global conferences the local community would like to see uplinked to MaRS and combined with local face-to-face interaction in this way?

LIFTers underground at CERN

Lifters underground at CERN, originally uploaded by Kooze.

I had a fascinating tour of the Large Hedron Collider at CERN on Saturday. This was one of the last opportunities for members of the public to get inside this amazing, mind-boggling project probing the frontiers of physics and our understanding of the universe before it gets switched on this summer. Something to tell the grandkids.

Our guide Bilge Demirköz is a research fellow at CERN who is searching for evidence of dark matter. She gave a tour through not only the facility, but also across the history of particle physics through 30 Nobel prizes. Her passion for the subject was infectious, as you could sense the excitement of scientific exploration at the frontiers.

StartupCamp Toronto sells out faster than the Stones

Startupcamplogo SmallWhile I was in Vancouver, Jevon, Jonas and co-conspirators over at StartupNorth announced and quickly sold out StartupCamp Toronto1.
For those curious about how this “community thing” works, notice how the model is the defunct Canadian Venture Forum turned on its head. Tickets are allocated based on your community of practice: Entrepreneurs, Students and Gurus are free. Service Provider tickets are still available at $199 and you get recognized as a sponsor for supporting the community! $199 for that kind of whuffie is a fantastic deal.

Now if the Board of Trade could get hip to the model, we might see a few more tech innovators at those Tech Innovators Breakfasts! In my experience, these breakfasts are an old-skool sausagefest of service providers trying to catch a deal, and if it weren’t for the odd enlightened friend of the community like RBC, Idée, Microsoft/David Crow – you would never see a garage startup show its face in such an environment. (I’d link to the next one of their events, but the Board of Trade’s website is too painful to navigate and doesn’t use permalinks! Hello??)

I’m looking forward to putting my community co-creation ideas in front of more people in the startup ecosystem as the BarCamp community continues to gain traction in the eyes of policy, corporate and capital players. I see my role in this is to help these people perceive community and give them tools to engage with it in a way that creates new value for the whole system.

Mobile/Wireless Shakeup Set for 2008

The mobile and wireless services space is evolving rapidly. Just a few months ago, hundreds of bloggers and their commenters raged against the wireless data pricing situation in Canada. In July RIM joined the chorus publicly. Suddenly, there are signs of movement in the Canadian market, with Bell Mobility offering 1GB wireless data for $60/month or unlimited data for $75/month. Will Telus and Rogers/Fido follow suit?

Ipodtouchbrowser-1In the United States, Apple’s iPhone has become the latest in a long string of must-have devices from the company that reinvented how we buy and listen to music. The total impact of the iPhone remains to be seen, but there is no question that it’s shaking up the wireless device industry with typically obsessive attention to user experience and hardware/software/services integration.

There is still no word on when Rogers/Fido will bring our iPhones to Canada. Gadget afficionados outside the U.S. are getting iPhones through grey market and not-so-grey-market channels and are now able to easily unlock the iPhone for use on the GSM network of their choice. Apple’s new iPod Touch, which is basically an iPhone without the phone, features WiFi, the best mobile browser yet seen and a WiFi iTunes music store, may indicate the trojan horse strategy underneath the hood of iPhone.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. the FCC is setting the rules for the 700 MHz spectrum auction to take place in January, 2008. This spectrum is being retired from the UHF broadcast television spectrum to be retired by 2009 as broadcast makes the final transition to digital and is ideal for wireless broadband services.

The emerging rules point towards some kind of open access provisions on a portion of that spectrum to allow any device or software on any network. Google caused a wave with a $4.6 billion commitment based on getting open access provisions into the auction rules. Now there are reports that Apple might join Google’s effort to pry open the U.S. wireless market, and we can also expect eBay (which owns Skype) to get into the action. The iPod Touch WiFi provides some hints about why Apple would want to enter this market despite the massive capital investment and the low-margin nature of the business.
In Canada, 2008 marks the Advanced Wireless Services (“AWS”) spectrum auction, with similar discussion about creating a more open and more competitive field for wireless service in Canada. This is not the same kind of spectrum as the 700 MHz auction in the U.S., which is still a couple of years off as Canada’s planned transition to digital television is mandated for August, 2011.

The 2008 Canadian AWS auction is for spectrum in the 2 GHz range for 3G cellular mobile networks and “other advanced technologies”. The two sides of the debate are represented by the incumbent members of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (“CWTA”) and the hopeful new market entrants of the Coalition for Wireless Competition (“3GCC”), led by Quebecor Media (Videotron) and MTS Allstream.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the 3GCC coalition is pushing for rules that give some kind of preference or encouragement to new market entrants including mechanisms for tower-sharing, while the CWTA is arguing that the “free market” should determine the outcome with an open auction and no such provisions. The rules haven’t yet been announced, but watch this space for updates.

I’m looking forward to covering the mobile/wireless space a lot more in 2008. As the network becomes increasingly ubiquitous and devices continue to shrink and improve in terms of user experience, amazing new possibilities for innovation will be presenting themselves. No doubt the battle for supremacy in the Telcos vs. New Entrants debates in the United States and Canada will be fascinating to watch. The implications are also huge for the development of a new and expanded ecosystem of technologies and content companies, which all makes for a very interesting historical moment for consumers, geeks and wonks everywhere.

Startup Resources: Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham

Iscmlogo-1
I was invited by Catarina von Maydell, formerly of the Toronto Angel Group, to attend a gathering of investors (mostly angel) at ISCM, the Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham north of Toronto. Investors learned about the services that this hub of so-called “4th pillar” organizations offers to small-medium sized growth companies. The invited investors had an opportunity to learn about and meet with some of the companies that ISCM helps prepare for investment.

READ MORE at Startupnorth.ca

StartupNorth.ca: Canadian Startup News by Canadian Startup People

StartupNorth.ca: The Life, and Death, of Canadian Startups has launched. Stories from the leading edge of startup life in Canada.

It’s a place to share the real stories of Canadian innovators that are creating a buzz; lessons from the trenches; resources, criticism and commentary from the edge. I will be making contributions there about some of the bigger policy questions, where entrepreneurs can go to find support and maybe even sharing some of my own experiences.

Let me know if there’s something cool or helpful that you think should be covered there.

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