City of Innovation

This week I had the privilege of witnessing some positive change happening in my home city of Hamilton, ON.

On Wednesday I toured the new coworking space, CoMotion.  A venture put together by local organizers–including Larrisa Drobot, and Tammy Hwang of the Hamilton Innovation Factory–CoMotion aims to be:

“an eco-system for the development of start-ups and existing small businesses, but also a testing ground to explore better ways of working together.” 1

I believe CoMotion will succeed as they have a prime downtown location, super fast internet, natural lighting, great food and culture nearby, and a beautiful, retrofitted building space.  I strongly recommend anyone looking for a great working space in Hamilton to visit CoMotion for a tour.

115 King Street E. – Google hasn’t recorded the new signs yet!

On Thursday I attended the launch party for another new downtown space, the FORGE, located at (address) on James St. South.  The FORGE is a local “accelerator” for startup companies.  I’ve had the good fortune to advise a few Forge startup teams including Start the Cycle and Thrive Games.  Similar to CoMotion, The Forge creates a space where hard working people can build new companies and opportunities together.

245 James St. North

Revitalizing Hamilton’s formerly vacant, dusty downtown spaces benefits the city as a whole.  When I arrived in Hamilton about a decade ago there wasn’t a “startup ecosystem” or anything resembling the sort of collective creative vibrancy that is so active in the city today. That’s changed.

Thanks to the hard work of forward-thinking people at the Innovation Factory, Hamilton Economic Development, OCE, Software Hamilton, McMaster University (and many more parties not named here), new startups have an ecosystem of experience, networks, and resources they can tap into.  It’s working – we’re now seeing a dream of a better Hamilton with new, good jobs being realized in practice.2

This weekend, the city sees the music / food truck / culture fair SuperCrawl return and on Monday, McMaster’s Spectrum student startup program launches their new season. Later this month, Lion’s Lair returns.

In short it’s a good time to be in Hamilton.

1. Interview on CoMotion at Software Hamilton.

2. I also like to believe that my company, Weever Apps, as an early successful startup, has played a key part in the new wave of Hamilton business development–“it can happen here”.

The LiON’S Lair: Startup trial and error

Weever Apps won the inaugural “LiON’S LAIR” competition in 2011!  The Hamilton competition offers $160,000+ in prizes and is inspired by “Dragon’s Den” (known better as “Shark Tank” in the U.S.).  I had the opportunity to provide a guest post  on the Lion’s Lair site and I’ve republished it here as it may be useful to other startup ventures.

At the LiON’S LAIR awards gala, audience focus is understandably on the entrepreneurial “elevator pitch”—those precious minutes where a visionary outlines how their product will solve a problem and become the basis of a successful new business in Hamilton (and beyond). The stakes for the competing entrepreneurs are significant: the $160,000+ in cash and in-kind services for winners guarantee a chance at making it big.

Not seen in the excitement and pageantry of the award night, however, are the weeks (and months!) of hard work put in by each competing team as they adjust their business plan, product, and pitch in response to the critical reviews by volunteer LiON’S LAIR mentors. Each mentor is a successful, experienced business person in their own right. And this is where the competition really shines—it provides contestants the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those entrepreneurs who have gone before them. LiON’S LAIR uniquely provides contestants the opportunity to make business errors on paper instead of in practice.

The process of trial and error is so critical to new business development in Hamilton because, as a startup, you will get it wrong.

Don’t feel bad though! Almost every startup “gets it wrong” on some level… and we did too. Early in Weever Apps history, we thought we had it all figured out—an optimistic opinion that was corrected early and often as we prepared our pitch for the inaugural LiON’S LAIR competition of 2011. After weeks of intensive practicing, we had one critical breakthrough, and, to our surprise, it was a rather simple one: focus less on what we were excited about (our product) and more on our team’s ability to cope with mistakes successfully (because there will be tough times that need to be overcome through strategy and solid organization).

So while Weever Apps brought all of our (necessary) enthusiasm to LiON’S LAIR, we also brought in a honed pitch (from all those mentoring sessions) to emphasize the diversity and commitment of our team as a whole. Our new pitch won LiON’S LAIR but, just as importantly, it helped us to survive in those first two years as we inevitably “got it wrong” and had to quickly refocus our business on providing companies with actionable mobile data from the field.

Today, Weever Apps is a thriving company and we’re thrilled to be a sponsor of this year’s LiON’S LAIR. Our journey from being a few entrepreneurs with a “big idea” to part of a growing workplace that strives to offer real benefits to the city demonstrates anything is possible in Hamilton. LiON’S LAIR is not just about the money—it’s about learning how to fail…and how to get back up stronger than before. We wish the contestants the best of luck and look forward to seeing you on October 2nd.