By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: March 21, 2014
When Matthew Lucas planned on opening a tea shop in Squamish, he searched the web, shadowed other tea shop owners in Vancouver and wrote up a business plan.
In another life, Matthew Lucas, the owner of Lucas Teas in downtown Squamish, spent 105 hours a week editing movies and TV shows.
But when he decided to open a tea shop in downtown Squamish, Lucas realized he was all by himself.
“We want to create an environment which is really funky and that enables creativity.” Mario Gomes
Applying for a business licence, health department inspections, even getting scales certified all seemed like huge challenges.
And then, there was the Squamish specific challenge—finding information on foot traffic being one of them.
“I spent seven hours sitting on Cleveland Ave,” Lucas recalls with a chuckle.
“If someone had that number, that information would have been really useful.”
In a year from now, entrepreneurs like Lucas will be able to find that information in a building at the intersection of Cleveland and Pemberton.
It’s where Dave Crewson and Mario Gomes have founded Startup Squamish, a place where entrepreneurs can share ideas and information, and find the support they need to transmute passion into action.
The aim is simple: Help local entrepreneurs.
“This is a community economic development initiative.” Dave Crewson.
And it begins by creating an exciting physical space with a vibe cool enough to wrench entrepreneurs from virtual ones.
By bringing that talent into a common space, Startup Squamish hopes to enable thoughts and ideas to coalesce into something new and commercially viable.
“This is a community economic development initiative,” Crewson says.
Entrepreneurs can pay for an unlimited use of an open space with hot desks, chairs with casters, a lounge area, shock wall and a coffee corner.
“We want to create an environment which is really funky and that enables creativity,” says Mario Gomes.
But Startup Squamish is more than just a space-sharing program.
In a few months, Gomes and Crewson also plan to kick start an accelerator program, where entrepreneurs can apply to have their ideas mentored.
Start-ups, Gomes says, have a 90 per cent failing rate, partly because entrepreneurs work in isolation, don’t have enough customer feedback, or may have misread the market to begin with.
The accelerator program gives shape and direction to the business idea before it goes to market. Mentors from the community will study the business plan of entrepreneurs who apply to the program.
“We sit down with them, we ask if they have a valid proposition, we go over their business model,” Gomes says.
In the three month program, the entrepreneur might find his plans changed or they may discover an entirely underserved market.
By the end of the three-month program, the entrepreneur makes a pitch to investors. The goal, Gomes says, is to chisel a theoretical concept into a concrete business idea.
“The idea is to help local companies increase their chances of success before they spend any money,” Gomes says.
The Startup Paradigm: Give before you get
What Gomes and Crewson are planning to do in Squamish isn’t new.
In fact they are working on a well-tested paradigm created by Brad Feld, an investor, entrepreneur and an early star of the Startup community in Boulder.
Feld is also the founder of TechStars, a mentor driven program that provides seed funding for startups.
He is also a board member at Startup Canada, a non-profit organization that started in 2012.
With 20 startup communities and 60,000 entrepreneurs in its network, its founder says the goal is to connect entrepreneurs all over Canada.
CEO of Startup Canada, Victoria Lennox, said Startup events all across the country are helping entrepreneurs connect and share information.
“What app is good, what payroll system you use, how do I find new customer… Entrepreneurs are always looking for answers,” Lennox said.
But more than just providing answers, Startups Communities are also creating new businesses.
One such example is reelyActiv, a company that recently won the Startup World competition in Silicon Valley. reallyActive got its start when it applied to FounderFuel, an accelerator which is part of Startup Montreal.
reallyActive, which collects analytics on how people behave inside physical space, is now pitching its products to European markets.
Startup Winnipeg has partnered with the local forest councils to create an incubator program.
EthicalUX is a local company that is eager to be part of Startup Squamish. David Olsson, one of the five founders, said Startup Squamish will enable them share a physical space rather than a virtual one.
For Dave Crewson and Mario Gomes, Startup Squamish is also a way to give back and influence their community.
“We are trying to create an environment where entrepreneurs can thrive,” said Crewson.
“We are very excited.”