Where is Alberta’s Mark Zuckerberg?

Before starting my Stretch Experience, I really romanticized how fun creating a tech startup would be. I had seen The Social Network and used Airbnb, so I think that I felt like I had a relatively OK understanding of the sector. As you might have guessed, I had a lot to learn.

For my Stretch Experience I have been working on a few projects with the Alberta Enterprise Corporation (AEC), a crown corporation that works to attract venture capital investment to tech startups in Alberta. The AEC works to try to diversify the Alberta economy by creating a fruitful space for tech entrepreneurs to be able to develop their products.

As an English major, I have been submerged in a completely new environment. I am learning about how leaders in the entrepreneurial and investment space in Alberta are working to connect the community together, drawing on the culture of Silicon Valley. On July 18 and 19 I went to Calgary with my mentor Kenya to attend and help out at events that the AEC was co-hosting with Startup Calgary and Connection Silicon Valley. The overarching event was called Silicon Valley 101, and it involved three industry people from Silicon Valley coming up to help suggest ways for the Alberta tech ecosystem to improve. The two-days included a networking dinner, breakfast with Albertan investment heads, a workshop with 12 tech startups, and a public panel session. By the end of these events, I had developed a strong understanding of the vision and difficulties of trying to create a collaborative and innovative tech environment in Alberta.

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People in the Alberta tech ecosystem know that Alberta will never be quite like Silicon Valley. California’s population is larger than the entirety of Canada’s, and they have the kind of capital that Alberta never will. The question is not how to make Alberta into Silicon Valley, but rather how to draw on some of the features that make Silicon Valley’s environment what it is and try to implement these in Alberta.

Ben Nasarin, one of the Silicon Valley speakers, reminded everyone of the challenges of trying to create a successful tech company. As he said, “it is always the darkest before it gets even darker”. Achieving success in the tech space won’t happen overnight, and for most people, it won’t happen at all. Having a successful company (which means different things to different people) involves having an amazing idea, an amazing team, and amazing tenacity. Still, there is no guaranteed model for success in the field. I think that it is because of, rather than in spite of, this risk that people are so drawn to it.

At the beginning of my Stretch Experience my mentor asked me what I thought the difference between a leader and an entrepreneur was. It is my goal by the end of my Stretch Experience to be better able to answer that question.  

Caroline Barlow

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