Growing up in Seattle, I’ve spent my life traveling to British Columbia. You can see my two boys standing in two different countries ten years ago, recreating a photo of my brother and I when we were their age in the photo. As the years went on, my father in-law brought his boat up and we spent summers cruising the inside passage between Vancouver island and the continent of North America. I learned so much about myself, my children, my wife, and my in-laws during those intimate trips, cruising during the warm days, waking up in the middle of the night when the anchor alarm went off, and witnessing the tragedies like this boat wreck at a favorite harbor (I was piloting us around that exact rock this day).
When I was invited to travel up to Victoria at the south end of Vancouver Island to explore the startup ecosystem, meet investors and entrepreneurs, I was excited to see if my love for my northern neighbors could truly be combined with my love for entrepreneurialism as a means to economic stability and growth. I jumped at the opportunity and hopped on one of those float planes that you see taking off from Lake Union in downtown Seattle. As a kid, I’d chase them across the lake in my kayak and on this day in early 2016, I was racing across the lake and landing in Canada a mere 45min later. What I was greeted with was more than a surprise, it was a delight!
Arriving in Victoria, a city I’ve been to countless times on educational fieldtrips and vacations, I had the opportunity to hear local officials, meet a few startups and investors, and of course act as judge on a great panel of investors including Scott Lake at Fort Tectoria. The following day I had breakfast with a few investors from the Capital Investment Network ahead of the days activities and after walking into what felt like one of the best Sunday brunch restaurants at home I was put to ease and found the investors shared many of the same interests in the startup ecosystem.
As the day poured on, the group I was with visited co-working spaces, new buildings offering creative and flexible living arrangements, startups building great products, and university professors encouraging building startups. The passion for lifestyle caught my ear. Everyone I met had an air of comfort in their lifestyle, living in a city they loved, where they could go for a trail run, kayak for hours, or fish to their hearts content after spending a day hacking on the most innovative products on the planet. With a low cost of living and a ridiculous number of universities, the talent tends to be brilliant and they can afford to stick around.
I got to meet the Slack team…yes one of the secrets of the well regarded unicorn Slack is the engineering office where they started in Victoria, British Columbia and where they maintain a strong part of their team. The real interesting part came from why they maintain this office. The lower cost of living…sure. The better quality of life…yes. But the amazing number of brilliant engineers being taught at the three universities in and around Victoria all with computer engineering programs drive a top talent pool that is more affordable in comparison to even Portland or Seattle. The currency conversion rate is a huge bonus too.
The next day, I had the opportunity to provide the closing keynote. We all crowded into the totem room at the Royal BC Museum where I spoke amongst the oldest known totem poles on the planet. It was a real treat and the conversations that followed with investors and entrepreneurs gave me a lot of confidence around the ongoing growth of the startup community in Victoria. A couple hours from Silicon Valley, 45min from Seattle, I’m sure I’ll be working more with the community there and hope you’ll think more seriously about the same.
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