Pizza, wine and beer were on offer, as developers, engineers, startup founders, investors and other tech enthusiasts gathered for the January edition of #TechTO.
By a show of hands, there were many repeat attendees — and for good reason. As a local Meetup that has increasingly gained a loyal following and welcomed passionate newcomers, TechToronto is delivering on its mission to foster and grow the booming local tech community. By hosting monthly events that encourage active learning and networking, TechTO is filling a previous void. Said Goldlist, “We felt there was a gap — no place to share knowledge and grow the ecosystem.” Now TechTO is a place where those in the tech industry can learn something new and meet someone new.
Chock full of interesting presenters, open mic time, community spotlights and a mandatory meet your neighbour segment for the “shy techies”, TechTO doesn’t disappoint, regardless of who you are or why you’re there.
Example: For those looking for a job, General Motors let the crowd know they are hiring 1,000 engineers. Cadre, opening up its first office outside New York, is looking for upwards of 2,000. Other companies — from Walmart to Full Stack to bizZone — put in their plug for new hires during open mic time. For those with great ideas seeking a platform, Toronto’s Smart City Challenge team spotlighted it has $50 million in funding available for innovative solutions to improve the city. So yes, there are opportunities galore in Toronto’s technology scene, and TechTO is certainly the place to find out about what’s going on and how to connect with people in the industry.
Following the informal segment of the evening, the buttoned up presentations got underway. Dubbed the 5 x 5s, five leaders/innovators/business owners get approximately five minutes to talk about their business, share some learning, and invite questions from the audience.
At this meetup, the crowd was delighted first by a talk from Rich Emrich — biomedical engineer and CEO of Altus Assessments (which assesses med school applicants for people skills). Rich talked about his unconventional career path, and the value of word of mouth — not just when it comes to the product you’re building or app you’re launching — but when it comes to your own personal brand. He emphasized the importance of delivering on your promises, sticking to the facts (especially when talking to investors), and valuing the currency of your reputation. “The tech community is small,” he said, “you want to be in it for 20 years.”
Stephanie Lapierre, who is walking proof that you can build a tech company and have a family, used her tealbook.com startup story to highlight the importance of reading Terms & Conditions. At one point challenged by Facebook on the name of her company (by the way, there are 440 active lawsuits between Facebook and companies with the word “face” or “book” in their name), Stephanie won the battle with the tech giant and got to keep the name and domain tealbook.com because she combed through Facebook’s T&Cs. When even the most “impressive” lawyers thought she should give in, she proved that research and resourcefulness can rue the day.
Highly energetic and transparently passionate Balaji Gopalan from MedStack followed. Balaji runs a tech company that helps health apps get launched faster. As a behind-the-scenes company that enables other people and businesses to thrive, this entrepreneur likened his business to plumbing — it helps things happen, but doesn’t do much that you can actually see. As a result, Balaji tells his story by telling other people’s stories — from a startup that books doctors to come to your home, to companies that have improved the communication process between doctors and patients — that could do what they do through the plumbing of MedStack. So if your business deals in intangibles and it’s tricky to nail your elevator pitch, try telling other people’s stories… and how you made them happen.
Jen Evans, three-time tech founder and current CEO of SqueezeCMM followed, with a heartwarming tale about the power of community. Having been on twitter on the evening of December 30th (when it was -27 degrees outside), she saw that a Toronto intake centre was going to have to start turning people away. Armed with just her smartphone and a purpose, Jen tweeted out to say she would pay for a hotel room for someone in need. Following dozens of pledges for hotel rooms, meals and transportation, Jen made it clear that this wasn’t about throwing money at a problem, but about community. She also articulated that one person with a phone could coordinate thousands of dollars in hotel rooms, meals and transportation.
Jen is now focused on launching techresetcanada.org, a “coalition of business people, residents, public servants, and technologists advocating for a reset of the technology and innovation agenda in Canada to recenter its use for public good,” aiming to shape the intersection of public x policy x technology.
“You can’t write the script for this!”
Following Jen’s impassioned talk, Ryan Williams of Cadre spoke about how his company is looking to completely transform real estate and other alternative investments through technology. Aiming to be the world’s first digital marketplace for alternative investments, Cadre’s mission is to help people invest in real estate – the most important asset class in the world to building multi-generational wealth.
Ryan highlighted the need to have three core values to achieve success: Focus on what you love. Focus on what you can be great at. Focus on what can be a sustainable, profitable business.
Noting the dichotomy of the last two topics, Jason Goldlist exclaimed “You can’t write the script for this!” Only at TechTO can you have a topic such as Jen’s followed by a pitch such as Ryan’s.
While each presenter is coming from different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences, one thing is clear. These are passionate, enthusiastic entrepreneurs who love what they do and are driven to make a corner of the world better — whatever corner that might be.
Goldlist promised an after party conversation of epic proportions, and encouraged everyone there to follow the team to to continue an intriguing dialogue (and not to be fooled by all the unofficial after parties out there).
For anyone in tech, looking to get into tech, or seeking great tech minds, the monthly TechToronto Meetup is the place to be. Focused on the growing the ecosystem, improving Toronto and facilitating opportunities for technologists of all walks of life, TechTO is delivering on its mission. Keep it up, and see you in February!
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.