If you’re looking for signs that Canada’s startup landscape is healthier than ever, a prime piece of evidence might be the International Startup Festival taking place this week in Montreal.
Putting aside the ambitious name (I would have selected something like the Canadian Startup Festival), the fact it was organized and looks to be well attended suggests there might just be some real traction within the startup community.
For too long, the landscape has been dominated a supply and demand problem – lots of enthusiastic entrepreneurs chasing too little capital. It meant there was a lot of talk but not a lot of walk because without financing, it is difficult to develop an idea and drive growth.
A few key things have changed in the past year or so.
First, I sense entrepreneurs are more sophisticated, experienced and creative about how they start, operate and finance a new business. We’re talking about people who have been in the startup trenches, and now starting to see the benefits of having toiled away, even if their efforts have not been successful.
Second, there has been a surge in the amount of seed and startup capital available. It’s far from a financing tsunami but it’s a solid start. It means (hopefully!) entrepreneurs can get the money they need to take a real shot at building something. It doesn’t have to be millions of dollars, although it would nice it that kind of dough-ray-me were available. Many entrepreneurs can go a long way with $100,000 to $250,000 using a lean and mean approach.
Third, we’re starting to see exits; nothing spectacular but acquisitions nonetheless. The recent hit list includes Pushlife (by Google), Tungle (RIM), PostRank (Google) and Five Mobile (Zynga).
What’s more encouraging is if you scratch beneath the surface, there’s an awful lot of going on. In my consulting business, I’m doing a lot of work with startups and, as important, coming across a lot of startups during my travels. We’re talking about companies with great ideas working away in relative anonymity until the time comes for some of them break out.
All in all, call me optimistic that Canada’s startup community is starting to see some serious traction after too many years of struggling. Before anyone gets too excited, there is a lot more that can be done but at least we’re getting there.