Vancouver Co-Workspace Tour and How Richmond Accidentally Became a Tech Hotbed

I just spent 2 weeks in Vancouver visiting family, but as a startup guy how could I not also see what was happening startup-wise in my hometown.

One of my teams from Blue Startups, Virtual Fantasy League moved back after Cohort 8 in Hawaii, so it was good to see them as well as checking out some of the co-workspaces in the city.

Here are some of my observations to share with other startup connectors and to put into context the main theme of this post which is the hotbed of innovation that the city doesn't even know about.

This is Vancouver not Beijing — the amazing transformation of one of the most beautiful cities in the world into one of its ugliest is due to a massive forest fire in northern BC.

I spent time in co-works like Suite Genius, Creative Coworkers, Werklab, HelloSpaces and Invoke (which is a second floor to their agency floor)— not to mention a bunch of coffeeshops (yeah, even though they are bigger without tourists sleeping in them like in Hong Kong — I found I still need a co-workspace to get deep work done).

Luckily I visited in the week of International Cowork Week (didn't even know that was a thing) and many places on this list gave out a day or the week of free cowork.

Prices were around CAN$300–500 a desk and $25 a day for drop-in (around the same in HK, LA and other cities) very lax places in hipster-cool neighbourhoods. A different type of founder have set these up, not property plays entirely, but actually places to grow communities in the different pockets of the city like Gastown, Strathcona, Mount Pleasant, Kits, Railtown and even Richmond!

Yes, Richmond!

It’s so great to see my hometown open up so many new co-works (I dont know the actual number but in the area there seemed to be at least 30 of them for a metro area of 2.4 million and everyone is awaiting a 4-level WeWork in downtown (with 3 floors are already booked out by Amazon) not necessarily as competition, but to help validate and define the space for non-startup people. Very interesting so far, and will like to see how these spaces are doing next year.

See my tweets below for images:


Shenzhen West

Ok so the startup scene is still on the rise in Vancouver which according to Startup Genome is the most advanced of the 3 major Canadian cities (and 15th worldwide). I have not seen Montreal or Toronto yet so I am just basing this on the clarity of their reports on the cities I do know as a basis for my understanding.

What peaked my interest the most is the stuff I saw in the city of Richmond just a bridge away from Vancouver, connected by Skytrain and where the Vancouver International Airport is — the famous city that has a population of 220,000 people mostly from Hong Kong and Mainland China! If HK people complain about the Mainlanders presence in HK they should see what’s going on in Richmond.

So imagine this — a city of immigrants, many of those don’t speak English (but that’s ok because most of the retail there only have Chinese signs — even HSBC in HK has more English signs than the branches in Richmond!) but there is all the comforts of home (food, supermarkets, karaoke, cha chan teng etc) with the freedom of speech of Canada and our amazing healthcare and benefits.

Now imagine how boring it must be there after your first 3 months of looking around (or rather 3 days). Unless you’re retired, Richmond would be a living hell for a rich Chinese kid from Shanghai. (although to me it has definitely grown a lot since I visited last a decade ago and apparently the women are doing ok and have their own YouTube show).

So, what do enterprising Chinese do?

They go ahead and create their own Uber and Josephine.

And…

Using WeChat for their MVP and then releasing an app even if the BC government is against it (Uber has been banned all this time but looks like it’s finally coming to BC by the end of 2017!)

Imagine a city of startups built in the petri dish of one suburb of Vancouver that has enough customers it could expand. I guess you could say that was basically Shenzhen West! What’s next? Illegal factories producing shanzhai electronics?

This of course is nothing new for Chinese entrepreneurship as the taxi drivers in HK already made their own app before Uber arrived in the city to be able to get customers faster — hence the 5–6 smartphones adorning the dashboard of every red taxi in the city.

So Richmond has found innovation in the desire of its citizens and the only way that it will fail is (as always) government regulation — I’m sure they do this in China where it’s harder to patrol and shut down but probably relatively easy in Richmond — but this could easily scale to the rest of Vancouver and its districts all the way out to Maple Ridge then out to Alberta and across to all the heavy Chinese populated cities in the US like Los Angeles.

I want to call this a “strong niche market” but I think we all know that it’s beyond that now.

Questions to discuss:

  • How can BC help grow this instead of shutting it down?
  • How can the local talent help BC create other tech that will help the cities problems?
  • …And most importantly, how can I invest in this?