Made up of successful Canadian investors, entrepreneurs, and executives living in Silicon Valley, C100 is a non-profit, member-driven organization backed by corporate partners including KPMG, Manulife Financial and RBC Royal Bank. To help early- and growth-stage companies get a leg up, C100 organizes events like “48 Hours in the Valley,” where founders of Canadian startups are invited to spend an intensive two days being mentored by successful entrepreneurs and introduced to top American venture capital (VC) firms and investors. They also organize networking events and conferences for growth-stage Canadian companies and corporate CEOs. It’s a meeting of minds and sharing of resources aimed at helping Canadian companies get to the next level.
We caught up with C100 co-chairs Terry Doyle, a veteran executive in the tech sector, and Angela Strange, partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, to find out how C100 is supporting Canada’s most talented entrepreneurs:
Q: C100 was formed shortly after the Vancouver Olympics, correct?
Terry Doyle: The organization has been around for about five years. The ‘Own the Podium’ concept for the Olympics was something that resonated with Canadians both inside the country and outside the country and I think that we felt as though we really wanted to make sure that we started celebrating some of the success that we were having in technology and really wanted to focus our energy on creating more success.
Q: From that beginning, how did C100 take shape?
Angela Strange: From the very beginning, we realized that there is just an extreme passion and enthusiasm for giving back to Canada. Lots of organizations try and get going – they end up having to hire paid staff, it takes them a while to fundraise. We have this very willing, capable army of volunteers, of VCs, entrepreneurs and tech people who were really willing to put in a lot of sweat equity to get it going.
When we started, it was very much around the ‘Own the Podium’ idea. We said, ‘Canada has a lot of the core assets. How come we don’t have as many large tech companies in Canada as we could?’ We have great education, we have lots of startups. Let’s find 20 of the highest potential ‘Series A’ type companies with the thesis that if you are going to build a $1-billion company, you need to win in Canada and other large markets. Silicon Valley is one of those large markets and we as Canadians in Silicon Valley had the assets and the time and the connections to really help turbocharge these companies.
TD: There are 350,000 Canadians in the Bay Area and we decided to really focus on the quality of those Canadians to have the biggest impact. This volunteer army is roughly divided equally between partners at venture firms, VPs or above in [larger companies] and successful entrepreneurs like Ryan Holmes at Hootsuite.
Q: You met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this summer, what was his reaction to your organization?
TD: We told him, this is a huge resource; there are three million Canadians outside the country. He agreed. We have had a number of conversations. [He asked,] ‘Would you guys be open to doing C100 New York or Singapore or London?,’ which we would be happy to do. The model has evolved, we have figured out what makes it work, what makes it effective because there are groups of passionate Canadians all over the world.
Q: Is there something missing in how we support entrepreneurs and startups in Canada?
AS: There are lots of early-stage companies and incubators, now the focus is on scaling, and how do we support entrepreneurs through that growth phase? It’s talent. They are looking for their VP Sales, their VP Marketing and if you are down in Silicon Valley, you can pick from a large pool of people who have already been the marketing head of a company that scaled from $10-million to $100-million. In Canada, there is not as strong a pool of people who have done that.
Q: What do you see that Canadian entrepreneurs do wrong or need to improve?
TD: Call it the playoffs problem in Canada – people don’t necessarily try to win, they just want to make it to the playoffs. Even if you talk to a two-person in a startup in Silicon Valley, they really want to win, to be the best. Sometimes as Canadians, we lack that desire to win. One of the reasons we bring people here [is that] the reaction often is, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize how intense the game is down here.’ This is the most competitive technology market in the world, so if you can succeed here, you can succeed anywhere.
This article originally appeared in the Globe & Mail in October 2016.
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