Unable, as usual, to simply leave well enough alone, I’m writing this update as a kind of a pirate radio-style press release.
So, on Thursday, we had a pretty amazing day. We actually launched the CAMP program here in Toronto. If you’ve been following my previous posts, you’ll remember that CAMP is a program for Ontario startups, created by the Ontario Centres for Excellence (OCE) and the Canada China Angels Alliance (CCAA). You’ll also remember that I’m a mentor in the program, primarily because I’m a very lucky guy, but also because I have a lot of experience working in and with China and with talented founders and their startups.
Which is where any conversation about a program to accelerate the growth trajectory of startups needs to begin as well as end — with the startups themselves.
So here are the 10 we ended up choosing, after conversations with close to 100, formal applications from close to 70, and interviews with a couple dozen. We talked and cajoled and sent the occasional snarky email (okay — that might have been just me) and interviewed for days and — voila — the ten we felt were the absolute best fit for the inaugural CAMP program:
- Apply Board
- Eve Medical
- KA Imaging
- Raise Your Flag
And here they are, in all their just-selected splendor.
Seven out of the ten companies selected are startups that are clients of MaRS. I say this first because MaRS is the amazing place where I hang my hat.
But, more importantly, being a startup that has worked with MaRS is, for me, akin to being a student who has worked with Stanford. Those who know Stanford will know exactly what I mean. It’s not just that there’s a remarkable-ness to the place, it’s a certain quality of experience — the same quality of experience we’re going to work extremely hard to replicate at CAMP.
As an aside, CAMP has been described as an incubator. I’m not sure why or how that started, but it’s not one. It’s a program to accelerate the growth of what we see as very high-potential startups. It’s also been described as a virtual incubator. I don’t understand that one at all. The companies are all Ontario companies. Not only are mentors here in Toronto and Waterloo (as well as in Beijing), some of the leadership of the China angels group also reside here. As, again, do the companies. Over the life of this cohort (the current plan is that we actually help guide these founders for up to two years — that’s the way I’ve always believed it should be done and the kind of program I’ve always designed in my own projects) we’ll check in regularly with these startups in addition to bringing them all to Beijing for a seriously intense “bootcamp” in November of this year.
So, definitions out of the way, I need to get one more thing out of the way.
These founders are as smart as hell.
I’m just really impressed with what I’ve seen so far. Again, not all of these founders are new to me (more on that in a sec) so this shouldn’t be a surprise, but I’m always taken aback by the drive and commitment I see. As someone who has, for years, heard Canadian founders slammed in comparisons to those from places such as, well, Stanford and the tree-and-silicon-lined avenues of nearby villages, I can attest to the fact that this is simply illusion.
I first met Jessica Ching on a panel I was proud to moderate almost a year ago at MaRS. There were three amazingly talented founders and, as luck would have it, in the year since that fantastically fun talk, I’ve gotten to know all of them. I’m going to tell this story because, at MaRS, we always say that #PlaceMatters. It does — profoundly — but what really matters are the people stories that percolate within.
So, Jessica, whom I met on that day, is the founder of Eve Medical and they’re in this CAMP cohort. I remember on the day I met Jessica, I was struck by how totally together she was, even faced with really challenging questions as part of our panel. She did even better throughout our CAMP selection process and, well, here she is. It’s going to be a rare pleasure to work with her and the Eve Medical team.
Also from that same MaRS panel, I got to know Chia Chia Sun, CEO and founder of Damiva, as well as Sonia Satveit, of Open Source Health (whom I saw as recently as yesterday). I always have time for great people so, in the past year, I’ve helped the daughter of one of these entrepreneurs with guidance on her own entrepreneurial project, and the other to learn about and attend an amazing international school. These are the kinds of collisions that happen in great places and this is what needs to be absolutely fundamental to the CAMP experience.
He knows this.
The gentleman in the picture, Zhishuo (Peter) Liu, is a very interesting cat. I call him this because, well, I call most people I really like a cat or a dude or something like that. I’m also doing it because I’m imagining being in the room as someone such as Emma, the person on the right, attempts to accurately translate the intended meaning of “interesting cat” :)
Since Thursday’s event, almost half the founders have had conversations with me about Peter and the talks he gave at the launch event on Thursday and the opening work session that followed. As entrepreneurs who are new to doing business in China, they told me that they were expecting talks about efficiency, profit, and going faster. Instead, Peter very impressively spoke to them almost exclusively about human issues. He spoke eloquently and intensely on topics such as passion, creating and fulfilling dreams, doing good for yourself and others, and building companies that would sustain themselves upon many parts of a solid foundation, including people who are great and good.
Like these people.
This was a wonderful working and relaxing dinner, full of friends new and not quite as new. Each of them are committed to the success of CAMP, whether through their roles as investors, mentors, program supporters and administrators, translators, doers and fixers, or amazing toasters, as there were many that evening. Each is committed to not only the growth of the businesses that CAMP chose to invest in but the growth of the founders themselves.
I’ve known Ryan Porter since before Raise Your Flag launched and while I’ve spoken and written before about Ryan, he came up a few times this week in conversation. I was asked what Ryan would be doing if he weren’t leading Raise Your Flag and my answer was that he’d be doing exactly this. Ryan built a company that was a perfect and natural extension of his previous and current work with young people who find themselves facing daunting career prospects without the immediate avenue of post-secondary education. So Ryan has traveled all over the world talking to people, motivating them, giving them options and hope where these things simply didn’t exist.
Imagine building a business where, whether it succeeded or failed, you’d be doing the same thing. It’s like the stories of lottery winners who just go back to work amid incessant questions as to why they’ve continued to work and incredulity at the response that they actually love what they do.
The CAMP experience is going to be an amazing one because everyone involved loves what they do.
CAMP will transcend not only national boundaries, but conceptions about what a startup acceleration program needs to be, how to bring out the best in startup founders who are treading new, dense water, and how care. attention, and respect transcend comparatively little things such as language and cultural differences.
And that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.