Geek Speak: Rochelle Grayson, interim executive director for New Media B.C.

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      Rochelle Grayson is the interim executive director for New Media B.C., but she may not hold the post for much longer. On Tuesday (October 20), members of her industry association will vote on a proposed merger with the Wireless Innovation Network of B.C. at a joint annual general meeting in Vancouver. The merger could see the two groups become one organization called the Digital Media + Wireless Association of B.C., or DigiBC.

      Grayson also sits on the board of New Media B.C., whose membership is composed of 300 companies, educational institutes, and government agencies that work in such fields as video games, animation, social media, and e-learning. The association will put on its third annual Fusion Venture Forum for Digital Media on November 12 and 13 at Robson Square.

      Previously, Grayson, who was born in New York City and is now 40 years old, served as the president of Work at Play, a digital agency. She is the cofounder of Twemes, a Web site that aggregates hashtagged Twitter conversations, and, a site-building tool for visual artists.

      The Georgia Straight reached Grayson by phone at her home office in Vancouver.

      Why are New Media B.C. and the Wireless Innovation Network of B.C. heading toward a merger?

      We’re heading toward a merger because what we’ve identified over the past couple of years is that we’ve been working very closely together. We’re finding that on the mobile and wireless side there’s a lot of infrastructure that’s being put in place, and to sort of fill the needs of consumers they’re looking for content that is going to make use of that. A lot of that new content is coming out of the digital-media space. So, many of our members have been working with wireless and mobile companies to distribute their products, their content.

      What we realize is that, for all of these ventures to be successful, we need to make sure that not only are our members talking to each other but that we’re also making sure that, from an industry association, that we’re representing all sides—everything from creation to distribution. So, looking at that whole ecosystem and not just the content-creation portion of it, but really how also can our members efficiently meet and reach their audiences—and wireless and mobile is a very big, significant part of that trend going forward.

      How will companies in digital media and wireless technologies benefit from having one organization?

      Well, there are quite a few ways. By having one organization, we can do a lot more from a promotional perspective. So, a large organization can promote. We are able to leverage every dollar a lot better, in terms of being a larger organization. What we have been finding is that, with two organizations or associations, we’ve been tapping into sort of similar funds, and also from a sponsorship perspective we’re calling the same people. So, what this really allows us to do is have bigger events, do more promotion for member companies, as well as do better advocacy at a government level as well around these sectors and just represent key issues for a larger segment of the, you know, knowledge base and creative industry that exists here in Vancouver, in B.C.

      What does the Fusion Venture Forum for Digital Media do for local new-media companies?

      The Fusion Forum, which was created three years ago, was really created to provide a venture investment forum specifically focused on digital media. What we noticed is that a lot of the venture forums have historically come out of the technology sector. The biggest difference is that in technology sector you usually have technology as your core intellectual property—your core IP. Most of our companies were creating content franchises, games, Web 2.0, social media sort of things. There wasn’t as much intellectual property in hard-core software they were creating as much as it was really their connection to their consumers or the actual franchise or the brand that they were building. So, when we looked around, we didn’t see anything on the venture investment forum that really met the needs of those companies. So, Fusion Forum was created for that reason—to really have a forum where we had investors who really understood what digital media was, the potential for it, how those business models work.

      For the local communities, what we’re really doing is—New Media B.C., our vision is to make B.C. the most recognized and admired centre of digital-media excellence in the world. That is really our great vision. There’s a lot of digital media that’s thriving here, and we really know that our companies deserve the attention of the world. So, we want to bring that attention—world-class people—to Vancouver to see what is happening here and to talk to our up-and-coming startups as well as companies that are ongoing and are thinking about growing faster to get them to be bigger faster. We recognized there were a couple of gaps. There was a gap in terms of funding for that sector for entrepreneurs, and there was also a gap in terms of growth. You know, companies that kind of had made in through and were probably small to medium size, but how do we also grow bigger companies, because bigger companies also spin off more small companies. So, for us, Fusion Forum, the purpose of it is to provide some financial opportunities.

      This year, we’ve changed it a little bit. We’ve always done a boot camp, so there’s a training component to train our local entrepreneurs in terms of what they need to know to build their businesses, how to pitch, and everything else. That really is just getting entrepreneurs up to speed so that we also present world-class presentations. Then we’re going to have, this year, a pitching forum, and it’s not going to just be investors but also industry experts. So, we’re bringing in industry experts as well. Then the more important component that I think we’re trying to address also is the local investment community. Really, because we’re bringing up some key investors from Silicon Valley and also from the U.K., we want a bit of knowledge transfer and to make some connections with our local angels and investment community around why people in Silicon Valley are investing in digital media and how they do that and what are the benefits and what are the challenges and everything else. So, we’ll have an investment roundtable, where local angels and local investors in the community can actually talk to these experts and ask them some very honest questions about their investment strategy.

      Does Vancouver’s digital-media sector need help from the provincial government?

      I think that, yes, we definitely would like a lot more support. We’re competing with other provincial governments that are giving their digital-media sectors a lot more support than the B.C. government is. We’re trying to find ways that can really promote and attract and retain talent and increase jobs here in B.C.

      We have a very strong game sector here. That said, we’re finding now that the growth of our game sector, which is what most people point to as being successful, is slower than the growth we’re seeing in the rest of the world. So, while we had a lead, if we’re not careful, there’s the potential we could actually lose the lead that we had.

      What could the province do to make B.C. a more competitive environment for digital media?

      I think really what we’re advocating to the government is looking much more at a media tax-incentive program. When I say “media”, we have some great film and television and some animation tax credits that are in place. None of those apply to new media. So, what we’re really talking about perhaps as a first step is to change those definitions to make sure new media is encompassed in all of these entertainment incentives. That way, we can really start talking about more cross-platform entertainment ideas and things like that.

      What is Twemes?

      Twemes is a Web site that came out of Twitter. It’s sort of almost, I think, maybe made obsolete, because the idea is now much more part of Twitter search. But, in January 2008, when I was on Twitter I was really frustrated that I couldn’t quite keep track of conversations and identify other people in what I called sort of flash conversations—flash on-line communities.

      So, we created Twemes, which was a way to take the Twitter firehose and get all the conversations that had hashtags and put them all in one place. So, you could see everyone who was commenting on a particular topic at a given time. That pretty much is what Twemes was. Now there is Twitter search, but at the time it did not exist. So, it was just sort of throwing it out there so that people could talk about the Oscars or talk about another event.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at