Building Community: Elevating the Ecosystem Panel at Vancouver Startup Week

I’m always on the lookout for events that foster a vibrant and inclusive entrepreneurial community in Vancouver. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion at Vancouver Startup Week that delved into the challenges and opportunities of building a supportive ecosystem for startup founders.

The event, hosted by Be Pacific, a collective aimed at helping early-stage founders, brought together a diverse group of speakers who shared their journeys and insights into fostering a thriving startup community. From the outset, it was clear that community-building was at the heart of the discussion, with a focus on creating inclusive support systems and vibrant networks that encourage collaboration and mentorship.


Setting the Stage

The panel featured several accomplished individuals, each with a unique perspective on the local startup scene. Eric Joseph Lee, the moderator, kicked off the discussion by introducing the speakers and setting the stage for an engaging conversation:

“This is more like, yes, we have some amazing people here. You’ll be listening a lot from them. But we also encourage people in the room, because I know there is amazing people in this room that has their own opinion.”


The Diverse Voices

Leejoo Hwang, founder of Novus, a community for young founders, shared his experience in building a supportive network for entrepreneurs who often feel out of place in Vancouver’s more established circles. His commitment to fostering a space for action-oriented individuals working on real projects was inspiring, and his emphasis on consistency and adding value resonated with the audience.

What began as an idea between friends has evolved into a thriving hub for technical innovators. Leejoo’s commitment to fostering an action-oriented space for individuals working on real projects, not just hypothetical ideas, was inspiring. His emphasis on consistency by hosting meetups every single week, and providing an environment that adds true value, resonated deeply with the audience.

“Nowadays, the people we get are kind of people trying to raise money, have cool side projects that they might turn into a business,” he said. “Our community is growing and probably 80-90% are technical founders building something in tech.”

Originally from Brazil, Gabriela Arno brought an outsider’s perspective that deeply resonated with the room of aspiring founders. She recounted her unlikely journey from studying English literature at UBC to becoming a core part of Vancouver’s entrepreneurial fabric.

“I graduated during the pandemic, so work was weird. All I could get were remote jobs,” Gabriela said. “I started out as a writer, but then I found this woman named Tanis George who was starting The Cofounders Hub to help co-founders.”

Tanis, a serial entrepreneur herself, brought Gabriela on initially as a writer. But in true startup hustle fashion, Gabriela quickly found herself wearing multiple hats. One of those unexpected roles was building a community from scratch to connect entrepreneurial soulmates seeking co-founders.

“It started in a coffee shop with 10 people,” Gabriela said. “Now, we rent out spaces and just connect founders looking for that missing link. It’s like a dating app, but for co-founders – so not like dating at all!”

Her candid story of pivoting between roles and rallying around an unmet need – helping new entrepreneurs gain footing in the local ecosystem – struck a chord. Many saw their own scrappy startup experiences mirrored in Gabriela’s journey from outsider to community catalyst.

Hassan Pardawalla, a serial entrepreneur and mentor, brought a wealth of experience to the panel. His insights into the importance of vulnerability, constructive feedback, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone were particularly valuable. He challenged the audience to embrace discomfort and seek out diverse perspectives, highlighting the need for inclusivity and collaboration within the startup community.

“For me community building is always meeting new people, developing connection, regardless of their association.”


Immigrant Entrepreneurship: Bridging the Gap

As the panel delved deeper into the discussion, several key themes emerged. One of the most prominent was the challenge of supporting immigrant entrepreneurs, who often face language barriers, cultural differences, and a lack of established networks. The speakers emphasized the importance of creating welcoming spaces and providing opportunities for connection and mentorship.

Hassan offered a candid perspective on the cultural divide: “The language we use within Vancouver that, as immigrants coming in, we don’t know the slang. We don’t have that connection, cultural connotation on why do we say something.”

Gabriela echoed the challenges immigrant entrepreneurs face integrating into local networks. “I feel like there’s such a divide right now between newcomers and the established ecosystem,” she said. “I want to understand why that divide exists and find ways to bridge it. I invite others to reach out so we can collectively solve this problem of connecting newcomers to the right communities.”


The Vancouver vs. Silicon Valley Mentality

Another topic that garnered significant attention was the mentality of Silicon Valley versus Vancouver. While acknowledging the unique advantages of the Bay Area’s ecosystem, the panelists stressed the importance of embracing Vancouver’s distinct strengths and fostering a vibrant local community. They encouraged founders to collaborate, share resources, and celebrate each other’s successes, rather than viewing the startup landscape as a zero-sum game.

Leejoo offered a balanced perspective on Vancouver’s insular startup scene: “I don’t know if this city’s bubble mentality will ever really change. People tend to cluster into comfortable little circles wherever you go.”

He acknowledged the human tendency to gravitate toward the familiar. However, Leejoo also emphasized the importance of disrupting that status quo: “But you have to challenge yourself by having uncomfortable conversations outside your usual crowd. Like, who is this random person I invited into our circle and why?”

While recognizing Vancouver’s cliquish tendencies, Leejoo stressed that founders must make the intentional choice to break out of their bubbles and cross-pollinate with fresh ideas and perspectives.

However, he also emphasized the need for breaking out of those comfort zones: “But kind of challenging yourself and maybe having a bit of discomfort where your friends are like, Who the hell is this guy and why did you invite him?”


The Importance of Vulnerability and Feedback

Throughout the discussion, the theme of vulnerability and constructive feedback emerged as a crucial element in building a supportive and collaborative startup community. The panelists shared insights on creating an environment where founders feel empowered to take risks, seek guidance, and embrace criticism as a catalyst for growth.

Hassan’s words resonated deeply: “The only way you can talk to someone, or someone’s going to talk to you, if you’re vulnerable yourself. If you want to go down the entire route of reading Brené Brown and the Culture Code, the first person that has to be vulnerable for other people to come to you to ask for help is you.”

Gabriela echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the role of community in providing a supportive framework for vulnerability: “If you’re starting just surround yourself With people that know something about what you’re doing or that are in the same boat and are trying to figure out for themselves You know, and that way you can all lift each other up.”


Audience Interaction and Key Takeaways

Throughout the event, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions and share their own experiences, further enriching the dialogue. One particularly poignant moment came when an attendee inquired about managing “bad actors” within communities. The panelists’ responses highlighted the importance of setting clear boundaries while also encouraging open dialogue and the potential for redemption.

As the event drew to a close, I found myself inspired by the passion and commitment of the speakers and attendees. It was evident that building a thriving startup ecosystem in Vancouver requires more than just capital and resources; it demands a strong sense of community, a willingness to collaborate, and a commitment to inclusivity.


The Path Forward

Looking towards the future, I’m excited to see how organizations like Be Pacific, Novus, and The Cofounder’s Hub continue to shape the local entrepreneurial landscape. By fostering supportive networks, encouraging mentorship, and creating opportunities for diverse voices to be heard, they are laying the groundwork for a more vibrant and inclusive startup ecosystem in Vancouver.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or simply someone with a passion for innovation, I encourage you to get involved in the local community. Attend meetups, join online forums, and seek out mentorship opportunities. By embracing the spirit of collaboration and inclusivity that was so palpable at this event, we can collectively work towards building a startup ecosystem that supports and empowers founders from all walks of life.

Remember, true creativity thrives in environments where diverse perspectives are welcomed and nurtured. Let’s continue to break down barriers, challenge assumptions, and create a vibrant startup community that reflects the rich cultures and experiences that make Vancouver such a unique city.

So, what are you waiting for? Join the movement, connect with like-minded individuals, and let’s build the inclusive startup ecosystem that Vancouver deserves.


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