In the 90s, small – yet iconic – segments with a catchy tune and lots of rollerblading made their way onto our televisions. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it was the start of Body Break and ParticipACTION. Hal and Joanne’s whole focus was to get Canadians to “Keep Fit and Have Fun” through easy and accessible means. Because everything gets better when you get active.
Well, the 90s are back in a big way. Scrunchies are back, scooting is cool again, and I recently saw Cher Horowitz’s famous yellow plaid ensemble for sale in a local boutique. So maybe we should pull on some figurative rollerblades, take a page from ParticipACTION’s mandate and “move more through innovative engagement initiatives”.
If you’re wondering how this relates to Edmonton’s entrepreneurs and innovation economy, sit down and hang tight.
The Edmonton innovation ecosystem is a complicated one, and always has been. Reasons you hear are often the river divides the downtown core and the south end, parking, the city is too spread out, there’s no time, blah blah blah! But honestly, the real complication with Edmonton’s innovation ecosystem are the ones supposedly driving it, the ones fully immersed in it. They are also the ones not showing up.
Yes, I said it. Entrepreneurs and innovators in Edmonton do not make the effort to be involved in their own ecosystem.
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely business. You have an amazing idea! You desperately want it to work! Everyone will love it! So, you spend hours upon hours cooped up at your home office, a co-working space, a Starbucks – wherever – trying to get this idea off the ground. But here’s a secret…
Entrepreneurship is a team sport.
Do you think any of the game-changing innovations we have seen across the globe were completed from ideation to launch by one person? No! Steve Jobs had a team when Apple was created, and Facebook was a group of guys. Heck, do you think Elon Musk went and built the first Tesla all by his lonesome? No, they didn’t. They brought people into their circle to help get their product from ideation to launch.
So how does one do that? Especially in a small ecosystem such as ours? Where do you go to find people? How can you make the connections?
My answer is simple. Do not close yourself off from the ecosystem, become an active member and participant. Come to a Rainforest LWOL (Lunch with optional Lunch) and network! Maybe you’ll find a student to hire. Maybe you’ll find another entrepreneur with a problem and you can be each other’s solutions. Make the trek south and attend a Rainforest Connector! Hear from panels and guest speakers, ask questions, and make connections. Hit up a TNT (Thursday Night Tradition) at Polar Park Brewery! Mingle with other entrepreneurs, investors and founders over a pint to grow and build our tech community. Check out an EIEC (Edmonton Innovation Ecosystem Community) meeting to see what is actively happening. Edmonton businesses frequently run into the trouble of not wanting to connect with local businesses – they want to connect with regional and international businesses. They want that immediate jump. But growth starts inside and then develops outward.
When more people participate, more connections are made, and more things happen. At these events, there is always a connection for someone. You don’t know when or where your next investor, service provider, hire or network relationship is going to strike. Take control and make the first move by actively participating in these events where these connections can, and do, happen. The more entrepreneurs take back control and seek to be active within the ecosystem, the larger this ecosystem will grow and attract key players such as foreign investment, retaining university grads and more.
But here’s the key thing – you can’t just go to one meeting and then throw up your hands in defeat when you don’t get that connection saying “Well, I tried!”. Like Body Break taught us, you must keep going, keep participating, to see any worthwhile changes – even if it’s small actions. Bring a friend while you’re at it! More is more as I like to say.
I hope to see all of you at our next Rainforest event to progress this ecosystem; bonus points if you show up rocking a scrunchie and a pair of rollerblades.