Geek Speak: Sonia Ryan, Bootup Entrepreneurial Society

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      When Sonia Ryan started working for the Vancouver-based Bootup Entrepreneurial Society in May 2009, she got to pick her own job title. That’s why her position at the nonprofit organization is the coordinator of “things”.

      Housed in the same offices as Bootup Labs and Strutta, the society organizes events like Launch Party Vancouver and DemoCamp Vancouver with the overriding goal of making the city the next big hub for technology companies. On January 28, the society and Bootup Labs hosted their first Bootup Demo Days event at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver. The event saw several digital-media start-ups—half of them incubated by Bootup Labs—deliver presentations to an audience of angel investors and venture capitalists. In the second part of the Demo Days event, the same start-ups will present before Silicon Valley investors in Sunnyvale, California, on Wednesday (February 3).

      Born in Surrey and now living in Burnaby, Ryan joined the Bootup Entrepreneurial Society following a two-and-a-half-month internship at Strutta. The 27-year-old British Columbia Institute of Technology graduate was on the organizing committee for BarCamp Vancouver 2009.

      The Georgia Straight reached Ryan on her iPhone at Bootup’s offices in Gastown.

      What is the role of the Bootup Entrepreneurial Society in the local startup scene?

      The entrepreneurial society itself was created to expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem in B.C. and across Canada. It’s a nonprofit, and it was founded by a group of veteran entrepreneurs. Originally, it was going to be the Bootup Labs Entrepreneurial Society. But we ended up taking out the Labs and kept it just as Bootup Entrepreneurial Society—as a separate entity.

      It’s focused on early-stage innovation in the digital-media sector. Our programs and events are catered to helping accelerate the growth of early-stage companies. We ask the community who they want to see. So, we have on our blog right now, and we kind of put up different mentors and different speakers that the community may want to see. Then we go and reach out to them and let them know that there’s a need in the Vancouver community for them to come here and speak with them as well as find out what these companies are up to.

      So, pretty much, we’re designed to accelerate the growth of early-stage Internet companies and help build a solid infrastructure to support the entrepreneurs as they start companies. The final goal is to have more companies starting out in Vancouver.

      What events does Bootup hold?

      Right now, with the Olympics coming up, we don’t really have many events scheduled during the month of February. But, just in the past couple months, we did a huge event with Paul Kedrosky, who’s an investor and speaker and is a fellow on the Kauffman Foundation, and it was more of an inspirational mentor speaking event. It was during Global Entrepreneurship Week.

      Then, following Paul Kedrosky, a couple of weeks later we had Jonathan Ehrlich, who is the director of consumer marketing at Facebook, come in. We did a smaller-sized event for approximately 75 people on a Friday afternoon, and it was more conversational. So, it attracted a lot of service providers in the community as well—not just the entrepreneurs who are starting up a company but also service providers who are interested to know how they could implement Facebook in their strategy and different things that are coming up on Facebook. Jonathan went into depth as well as provided a much more conversational atmosphere. He didn’t really want it to be him speaking and that was it. It was really back and forth, and a lot of interaction.

      What’s one of your favourite events to attend in the local tech scene?

      Well, I would say Launch Party, but the past few that we’ve done I’ve been running around with my head chopped off, because I’ve been working them. I’m the one helping organize them with Maura now. But Launch Party’s fun, because it attracts such a large crowd now. So, from when I started, the Launch Party was at almost 400 to 500 people. The last one was 500 people. So, it just brings in so much of the community under one roof, and everyone’s there to celebrate the successes of all these different companies that are starting up.

      It’s reached out to other communities as well now. So, last Launch Party, we had two companies from Seattle. The previous Launch Party, we had a company from Calgary and Seattle and Kelowna. So, it’s starting to create buzz outside of Vancouver, which is fun, because you get to meet so many like-minded individuals under one roof and they’re all there to have a good time.

      What kind of technology do you end up using most?

      I would say my iPhone. I call it my iBaby. It’s attached to my hip. My iPhone, I take it everywhere I go. And also my Kindle now too. I love my Kindle.

      How do you see Bootup changing over the next few years?

      Well, it’s really exciting right now, because we just had, for the Lab itself, there was seven brand-new companies that are coming in. Just with us continuing to do all these events and building a name in the community for presenting and delivering some of the mentors that the community wants to see and be a part of, I just feel that, over the next couple of years, it’s going to really blow up. And everything that Bootup and the society’s working for, they’re going to be closer and closer and closer to reaching their goal, which is to be one of the top-five tech hubs in North America. I know it’s not going to happen in the next two years. But it’s going to be a little bit closer.

      I think people are going to start to see Vancouver and recognize Vancouver on the map for technology, for more innovative ideas other than Flickr or anything else, which are great. But more and more companies from Vancouver are going to be seen on the map, because when you have someone like Brad Feld or Guy Kawasaki coming in and seeing what these companies are doing, they’re going to go back and talk about it. So, they’re creating a PR story that will be in the Valley, and they’re going to go and talk about it to their peers there, which is going to put Vancouver on the map, because a lot of them really don’t know what’s going on in Vancouver. We have to go there and tell them what we’re doing. So, I think the more we do it, the more credibility we’re going to get, the more exposure we’re going to bring for these companies here in Vancouver, and the closer we’re going to get to achieving that final goal.

      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