AccelerateTO Takeaways

September 22, 2013 Erin Bury
This post is a guest blog written by Erin Bury. Erin is the Managing Director at Toronto-based digital agency 88 Creative and former Managing Editor at Erin was our MC at AccelerateTO on September 19th, 2013. 

Events like TechCrunch Disrupt, DEMO, and Launch are commonplace in Silicon Valley. But in Toronto, there aren’t many events that attract top-tier entrepreneurs and investors, and put more than 500 attendees in one room. Last week’s AccelerateTO event did both, showcasing serial entrepreneurs from both the Valley and Toronto to over 700 investors, entrepreneurs and students in the audience (not to mention online viewers across Canada).

The goal of the C100 is to support Canadian technology entrepreneurship, and over the past several years they’ve held events like 48 Hours in the Valley and the C100 CEO Summit, both of which bring Canadian tech entrepreneurs to the Valley to learn from local investors and tech leaders. But this time they brought the Valley north of the border, and brought one of tech’s most successful founders with them.

The event was held at the new Mattamy Athletic Centre on the site of the old Maple Leaf Gardens, and kicked off with an interview with Kobo founder Mike Serbinis. Canadians know Kobo as one of the biggest exits of the last couple years, with Japanese firm Rakuten snapping up the e-reading player for $315 million in 2011. Serbinis chatted about the company and why he decided to be a David against the existing Goliath Amazon, but he spent more time talking about the road that led him to Kobo. Turns out Serbinis had quite a wild ride, between founding a company with Elon Musk and Musk’s brother after meeting them at Queen’s University in Kingston, to finding a co-founder for his second business by spilling coffee on them at a cafe.

As a counterpoint to Serbinis’ hundred-million-dollar exits, next up was TOUncovered, a new startup showcase that let two early-stage entrpreneurs pitch their big idea. Finmaven was first to demo, with founder Dmitriy Mitchev outlining how the platform lets investors get insight on capital markets from social media data. Next up was Karl Martin from Bionym, which recently debuted the Nymi band. If you saw Apple’s recent iPhone 5S release, you know that biometrics will be a big trend moving forward, and based on the pre-orders for the Nymi, the product will be in high demand.

Toronto hasn’t spawned a Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn (yet), so that’s why it was so exciting to have Twitter co-founder and Square founder Jack Dorsey as the main keynote. Jack is a founder of mythic proportions: behind one of the services that changed the way our world communicates, which now has over 200 million members and recently announced its intentions to go public. And now he’s changing the way our world pays for goods and services, with Square launching in Canada almost a year ago, and planing to open an office in Waterloo next year. As Jack said yesterday, technology is his paintbrush of choice, with Twitter as a canvas for communications, and Square a canvas for commerce.

We learned a lot during Jack’s conversation with C100 co-founder Chris Albinson: that he used to have a nose ring, that he charged Ron Conway’s black Amex $500 to see a demo of Square, that he almost called Square “Squirrel” (complete with acorn-shaped dongle), and that the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco inspires him both personally and professionally.

But the biggest takeaway I had from his talk was his explanation of his role as the CEO of a growth startup. He said he has three main day-to-day priorities: the team, and making sure the people are a fit; the product, and making sure they tell the right story to the world; and the money, to make sure there’s enough in the bank to drive growth. To me those three priorities could be the same for someone leading a team of 7 people like me, or to someone leading a team of thousands.

I know AccelerateTO made me excited to be part of the startup industry in Toronto, and I hope everyone else who attended, watched, and supported enjoyed it just as much. Next step: Mark Zuckerberg in the hot seat. If anyone can swing it it’s the C100!

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