Young Innovators Crawl spotlights Vancouver’s startup accelerators and incubators

Highline, Launch Academy, and Radius boost early-stage companies

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      Vancouver’s technology startups are making waves in the worlds of 3-D printing, e-books, ride sharing, social media, and more.

      Bianca Bartz told the Georgia Straight it’s exciting to see that the founders of many new early-stage companies are in their 20s.

      “I think Vancouver has been very good at embracing these younger entrepreneurs, and the older people are coming in as mentors naturally, and they’re very supportive,” the 28-year-old marketing and events director for Highline (300–128 West Hastings Street) said during an interview in the company’s Downtown Eastside office. “I think it’s amazing to see people fresh out of school building companies that are growing to rapid success. It’s really awesome.”

      Highline is one of several startup accelerators and incubators in Vancouver that will open its doors to the public as part of the Young Innovators Crawl. On Sunday (October 19) from noon to 5 p.m., the free event will kick off the 2014 SFU Public Square Community Summit, which runs until October 24.

      A self-guided tour featuring workspaces in False Creek Flats, Gastown, Mount Pleasant, Railtown, Strathcona, Yaletown, and other neighbourhoods, the crawl aims to showcase future leaders aged 30 and under in such fields as the arts, design, sustainability, and tech. There will be more than 25 stops and over 60 organizations, with informal talks, live demonstrations, and pop-up exhibitions.

      Jennifer McRae, who is helping plan the crawl, told the Straight that it offers the perfect opportunity for friends and families to spend an afternoon together and find out how young people are “shaking things up”. McRae is the 29-year-old manager of education initiatives at Radius (90–425 Carrall Street), a social-innovation lab established in 2013 at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business.

      “There’s quite a narrative around the millennial generation and the kinds of businesses that they want to be involved in starting, and the way they want to live their lives and the overall culture of the generation,” McRae said in Radius’s Chinatown office. “I think that’s really what will be on display. So it will be a really cool chance to get to know what this cohort of people is up to and have some fun.”

      Jennifer McRae of Radius says the Young Innovators Crawl will showcase the work of the millennial generation.
      Stephen Hui

      SFU also runs the Venture Connection incubator and—in partnership with the University of Victoria, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and Emily Carr University of Art and Design—the VentureLabs accelerator, which both assist early-stage companies. McRae noted that what sets Radius apart is its Slingshot accelerator and Trampoline incubator programs’ focus on supporting “businesses that exist to solve social problems”. (One startup to come out of Slingshot is Go2gether, creator of a ride-sharing app.)

      “It gets called all kinds of things: the new economy, the social economy, the impact economy, the purpose economy,” McRae said. “It’s really where social mission is at the heart of the business or initiative, and profit being second.”

      While Radius charges fees based on revenue growth, Highline offers startups up to $50,000 in exchange for a five to nine percent equity stake. The venture-capital-backed tech accelerator launched in August following the merger of Vancouver’s GrowLab Ventures and Toronto’s Extreme Startups.

      Lynn Shinto, the 23-year-old community and operations manager for Highline, told the Straight that 40 companies emerged from GrowLab and Extreme, and 90 percent of them landed investments afterward. Spark CRM, which develops real-estate sales-management software, is a GrowLab grad that will be participating in the crawl. Shinto noted Highline and Spark are both based in a coworking space run by Launch Academy (300–128 West Hastings Street), a nonprofit tech incubator founded in 2012.

      “It basically allows startup founders to work in an environment where you’re always hustling,” Shinto said, seated next to Bartz. “You’re meeting people constantly that can help accelerate your business. Definitely, I would say, it’s part of the survival process—finding the people that can help you. If you’re on your own, it’s definitely very difficult to survive in this market, especially in the tech space.”

      Highline, which will welcome its first Vancouver cohort in February 2015, offers mentorship and funding opportunities to startups that have already launched a product. Launch Academy charges startups monthly membership fees for office space, networking opportunities, and access to mentors.

      Jackie Murchison works at Launch Academy, which has assisted over 200 startups.
      Stephen Hui

      According to Jackie Murchison, the 23-year-old communications manager for Launch Academy, more than 200 startups have passed through the incubator. She told the Straight they’ve collectively raised over $25 million in funding, and 10 percent of them have gone on to accelerator programs.

      “For people that aren’t quite ready to move on to the next step, whether it be an accelerator like Highline or anything like that, we provide whatever resources we possibly can to help them be successful or fail a lot faster than they would if they were out on their own pretty much in mom’s basement,” Murchison said at Launch Academy’s coworking space.

      For the crawl, Launch Academy is planning a “science fair–style showcase” of its startups. Its current members include Hipster CEO, developer of a tech-startup simulation game for the iPhone, and Latergramme, maker of an app that lets users schedule Instagram posts.

      “We’ve been really lucky,” Murchison said. “We’ve had a very diverse group of people of all different generations, ages, and stages in their lives. But we’ve been really fortunate lately to have a lot of young people who have chosen—instead of going to a big corporate job—to start their own business, which is really inspiring.”

      The Young Innovators Crawl takes place in Vancouver on Sunday (October 19) as part of the 2014 SFU Public Square Community Summit.