Friday, November 10, 2006
Waterloo as Technology Ecosystem: an Interview with Jacqui Murphy
A burgeoning crop of startups, fast-growth companies going public and blue chips arriving from south of the border. Red Canary explores why Waterloo is a tech haven.
With appellations that include successful startup executive, university professor and VP of an early-stage venture capital investor, Jacqui Murphy's familiarity with Waterloo's technology industry is matched only by her support for it.
Red Canary sat down with Jacqui to talk about how Waterloo has emerged as a robust tech community.
Waterloo and the KW area is increasingly seen as Canada's technological hotspot. What, in your opinion, has been the keystone to growth and success?
Now we have a fertile ground of early-stage technology companies, a middle layer of companies that have traction and are going public, and mature, acquiring companies.
...a technological ecosystem
Now, because Waterloo is raising its profile, we're seeing more attention from Venture Capitalists from outside the region. It's being viewed as more successful, and it's getting a larger percentage of Canada's venture investment every year.
Much of the support and championing of your tech community comes from your industry association, Communitech. Tell me more.
Over the years other associations started up or services started up and the community had to fight to push those types of services back into Communitech. But as a result we have an industry association that is incredibly strong.
Iain Klugman (Communitech's current president) is kicking some serious ass. He's out promoting the region and he has built this fantastic advocacy machine that is getting stuff done.
"In 2003, 3% of venture capital was going to the Waterloo region. In 2004 it was 4%. In 2005 it was 5%." - Jacqui Murphy
It's not a beauty pageant or a pitch competition. It's not a bunch of VCs getting together and evaluating up-and-coming technology companies. Entrepreneur Week is about educating entrepreneurs. It's peers helping peers.
Lets talk about how Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo impact the tech community
There's more commercial activity coming out of the University of Waterloo these days, they've paired students with professors and grad students who are doing research that could be commercialized.
They've also opened the Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology, which offers an eponymous master's degree (MBET). It's an MBA on steroids.
"They do beauty pageants everywhere, what's important to us is 'do we have the entrepreneurs? Do we have the technology companies to invest in? Do we have the infrastructure in place?"
Wilfrid Laurier has the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship - a whole program focused on entrepreneurship.
We've mentioned Communitech and the schools; let's talk about another Waterloo-area cultivator - Watstart
It started with an online forum and has pulled in sponsors. There are face-to-face meetings where entrepreneurs have informal networking events and once every six months entrepreneurs can talk directly to a lawyer, accountant or a venture capitalist.
"By the time entrepreneurs get to us [for investment] they're damaged. They've received bad advice, they haven't protected their intellectual property or they've hired someone they shouldn't have hired, etc." - Jacqui Murphy
It's the same with University of Waterloo Research + Technology Park. We needed more space in the community, so the University of Waterloo stepped up to the plate and devoted a huge chunk of land (400 acres) - which is growing by leaps and bounds.
Editor's Note: the Federal and Ontario govt. each donated 13.4 million for the Research + Technology park. The region and city added 6.7 million.
They have programs focused on developing and supporting entrepreneurs. A [business] accelerator in the park just opened and it's already 85% full.
The accelerator centre also has a full mentor program. If you sign on to be an accelerator centre client (you don't have to be a centre occupant) you get access to a whole suite of mentors that are affiliated with the accelerator centre -- and they are all experienced entrepreneurs.
When do the entrepreneurs find time to run their businesses with all this help?
What's the technology job market like in Waterloo? What kind of people do you need?
Tell me about your firm, Tech Capital Partners
We make the investment before they have a prototype, before they have a first customer, but we do our due diligence. We'll call people in a market and say 'if we build this, is it something you'd be interested in?'"
We want to know exactly how much money it's going to take us to get from concept (when we invest) all the way through to cash flow positive, and we try and map out how were going to get there.
"We really support this community, our objective is to be the first call for Waterloo region. We try to maintain that reputation."
Article from Red Canary - http://www.theredcanary.com
Copyright - Red Canary - 2006