By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: April 27, 2015
STARTUP Squamish began as a community economic development initiative for entrepreneurs. Every day was a reminder to Dave Crewson on why our town needed it. An average of one entrepreneur walked into Startup Squamish every day to brainstorm on how they could start, sustain or grow their business in Squamish.
People walked in everyday with questions about market and capital and on attitudes and operations. Dave Crewson and Mario Gomes tried to answer every question to the best of their abilities.
But after a year in operation, the most visible sign of entrepreneurial ecosystem on Cleveland is closing down for lack of community partnership they hoped to find in the chamber or the district.
Startup Squamish founder Dave Crewson says they invested their time and money in showing values to the community, but didn’t have much success in forging partnerships that are crucial to creating entrepreneurial ecosystems.“It’s not the responsibility of two individuals to bear the weight of eco development without partnerships,” he says.
Besides working with entrepreneurs on a one-on-one basis, Startup Squamish launched a plethora of programs to stimulate creativity and a culture of economic development in town.
In October last year, StartUp Weekend showcased Squamish to forty entrepreneurs from the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the Sea-to-Sky Corridor as they gathered to work an intense weekend of developing business plans. They also launched business accelerator workshop, a free two-week workshop project available to the residents of Squamish where locals learned how to test and develop a concept into a viable business model. Then there was the Social Venture Launch, a business pitch competition and celebration of social entrepreneurship. Vancity, SFU and Community Futures partnered with StartUp Squamish to launch eight businesses that use a commercial model to improve the social and cultural condition within Squamish. In Founders Friday, they hosted lunch for founders, investors, business enablers and those aspiring to explore the world of Start Ups and market-disrupting businesses. And yet a crucial link to create a sustainable economic development model was missing and that link was the District of Squamish.
Crewson says he wanted to develop private and public partnership work with the district along the lines of Kelowna and Edmonton where the city’s economic development department has acquired Startup Edmonton. Crewson wanted to work with the district on creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem popularized by Daniel Isenberg, professor of entrepreneurship practice at Babson College, who believes entre-
preneurs were most successful when they have human, financial and professional resources they need, and operate in an environment in which government policies encourage and safeguard them.
“This model would have seen a new approach to entrepreneurship that isn’t limited to retention, expansion and attraction. It would have focussed on working one-on-one with local entrepreneurs who would then provide a support network to other entrepreneurs while working with the district on specific challenges they faced in town,” says Crewson.
But the idea, Crewson says, didn’t evoke much interest in the district because Startup Squamish was a private company and not a non-profit. “When it was suggested that Startup could turn into a non-profit or the district could buy one share in it, there was no response from the district,” he says. “We wanted to mobilise the talent in the community, inspire them, work with them and grow entrepreneurship in the community. But to create that ecosystem requires a public-private partnership and the courage to take the risk which the district couldn’t.”
Crewson says he has seen the impact entrepreneurial community could have. It was those strong-willed entrepreneurs that motivated him and Gomes to work on Startup Squamish. Crewson is disappointed in the district but says he would keep working on encouraging entrepreneurship even if it won’t happen in Startup Squamish on Cleveland Ave.