In recent years, Vancouver has earned itself a place at the tech table. Start-ups like Slack, Hootsuite, and Bench have introduced solutions for tasks across the world. Big names including Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon have also taken note, opening up Vancouver to the world as a place of innovation. No longer is the tech industry synonymous solely with San Francisco; it’s right here in our backyard.
Adding to the tech scene in Vancouver is Expa, a global network of entrepreneurs who help each other build companies. Under the brand’s umbrella are three arms: Expa Studio, where new companies are made; Expa Capital, for investing in others’ ideas; and Expa Labs, which works much like an incubator or accelerator, helping budding entrepreneurs gain access to funding, office space, and technical knowledge from a seasoned list of mentors (think co-founders of Uber, Twitter, and Foursquare). Over the past 10 years, Expa has successfully launched a variety of businesses out of its New York and San Francisco offices. And now, the spotlight is on the Vancouver start-up community for the next big idea.
“We find great entrepreneurs and we listen to their ideas,” says Milun Tesovic, a partner at Expa, seated in the company’s Vancouver office, which opened in the fall of 2017. “We support them throughout their journey, and provide funding, mentorship, and guidance.”
One aspect that makes Expa stand out is its Labs program. Once accepted into Expa Labs, entrepreneurs can choose from multiple funding models. Both include a six-month residency in the start-up studio; this is paired with uninterrupted attention from Expa founders, legal setup, strategy meetings, conferences with industry experts and a greater network, plus brand execution and demo days. “It’s a six-month, relatively intense program. The primary focus is looking at the individual, what they’re passionate about, and making sure they’re willing to be in for the long journey that it’s going to be,” says Tesovic. “Time to time, we’ve taken people in who are amazingly passionate about an idea, but they have no tech background whatsoever. Part of that is we sometimes help them hire that initial tech team, or get the right agency using our network to help get them going. We also have the deeply technical individuals with gaps, such as they’re not exactly sure how to go about marketing and sales. So, we try to pair them up the other way around.”
Expa is championed by Uber and StumbleUpon co-founder Garrett Camp, Roberto Sanabria of Google and LinkedIn, Vítor Lourenço of Twitter and Envoy, and Naveen Selvadurai of Foursquare. Tesovic explains that this wealth of knowledge and expertise is a major draw for young entrepreneurs to apply and work under the Expa umbrella. The other draw? The immeasurable real-world experience.
Tesovic believes that the talent pool here, found in both the younger generation and the return of senior talent from elsewhere, is one of the main reasons he chose Vancouver as the first Canadian Expa office. “The loyalty you see in Vancouver, and the level of expertise within categories you see in the city, can be pretty much matched to any North American city,” he says, adding that the presence of big names like Amazon has helped in the training of young developers to take on more challenging projects. It has also helped prevent local talent from fleeing to San Francisco. “The second benefit of having those large companies and those large paycheques and opportunities available to the developers, is that the developers that tend to join your start-up today in Vancouver tend to be incredibly passionate about your idea,” says Tesovic. “They know they can make more money by working down the street, but they choose not to. It’s only going to get busier. It will get more competitive. I think salaries will continue to rise. But I think the quality of the start-ups that we’re going to push out will be higher.”
If all this means creating ways to make living in beautiful Vancouver more convenient or enjoyable, then it’s sure to be an easy sell.
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