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How Careerin Tech Society is breaking down barriers across Vancouver’s tech ecosystem

The founder, Kenneth Ip, is determined to inspire and support local entrepreneurs and create more job opportunities and economic growth

Photo: Kenneth Ip

Cross-collaboration is key to rebuilding Vancouver’s tech ecosystem and, ultimately, continuing to solve complex, global challenges. But, as with other sectors, silos remain a problem. Fortunately, organizations like Careerin Tech Society, a non-profit that aims to help people discover and develop a tech career, are breaking down those barriers. 

Careerin’s founder, Kenneth Ip, a name you more than likely recognize, is the force behind various local programs and events to inspire and support entrepreneurs. The catalyst for his unwavering dedication starts with his journey of realizing what he studied in university wasn’t something he wanted to do. 

“I studied computer science [at the University of Manitoba],” said Ip. “The reason is that I wanted to start my own computer game company. Later on, I found out that I'm not really a good programmer. The truth is I don't enjoy sitting there all day trying to find out what's wrong with the code.”

To Ip, it was clear what he needed to do instead: pursue the motive behind his degree, which was becoming an entrepreneur. Ip also knew that to be successful, he would need to find opportunities to learn the things he didn’t get the chance to hone in school — like communication and team-building skills.

Starting over

Next, Ip left Winnipeg and moved back to Hong Kong. There, he helped out at his aunt’s recruiting agency and then worked for an insurance company that trained him to be a financial planner. Over a few years, Ip worked his way up from an entry-level position to assistant unit manager, team manager, and eventually, branch manager.  

The experiences taught Ip the skills he hoped to learn, as well as listening and sales. So when the 2008 financial crisis hit, Ip felt equipped to take a risk in starting his own business. 

“During that time, there were a lot of layoffs happening from different companies,” explained Ip. “Similar to now, that creates a problem for the smaller recruitment agencies. They either go out of business, need to downsize, or move to another market. I see that as an opportunity to start my recruitment agency.”

The agency made it through the crisis and even expanded to Vancouver when Ip moved to be closer to his parents. From doing cold outreach on LinkedIn, Ip managed to get T&T Supermarket as the first of many local clients.

The wakeup call

When Ip and his wife welcomed their first child, he took time off work to care for his family and think about his next company. “I wanted it to be a scalable company, instead of a service-based like a recruitment agency [...] so that it can have a bigger impact,” Ip explained.

In hopes of learning what it takes and meeting and learning from others, Ip attended local startup programs and events. He also picked up a copy of Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City by renowned investor and entrepreneur, Brad Feld. The book made him realize that many initiatives often work in silos — resulting in only serving a small part of a startup ecosystem. For example, Ip recognized in Vancouver that there were few programs and events for early-stage and underrepresented founders. 

Startup Communities not only sparked the idea but also equipped Ip with a roadmap to connect Vancouver’s ecosystem. The mission he set out on was to inspire and support more entrepreneurs and create job opportunities and economic growth. 

Growing the ecosystem

As a starting point, Ip decided to launch a chapter of Startup Grind, a global entrepreneurship community with a presence in over 600 cities. He settled on Richmond since it’s where he lives, and there wasn’t much startup activity in the area. He also set out to find more diverse speakers for events. The first was Randy Wu, the founder of Fantuan, the Burnaby-based food delivery app specializing in Asian food — which has now expanded to 50 cities in Canada, the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.

As the Richmond chapter grew, bringing in attendees from all over the Lower Mainland, Ip started building his tech company. He planned to create a video platform for companies who wanted to connect with job candidates to share their vision, team culture, or office environment —  giving candidates a better sense of what the company is like and how it would be to work with them.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Ip was quick to realize the timing wasn’t right. So, he shifted his focus toward his initial mission and founded Careerin. Soon after, he launched an online version of FoundersBoost, an accelerator program for pre-seed stage startups with a presence in 20 cities across Canada, U.S., Europe, and Africa. Ip saw it as an opportunity to offer what was missing in Vancouver’s tech ecosystem, given many accelerator programs ceased operations when government funding programs expired in 2019.

Fast forward to 2023, Ip became the lead organizer for Vancouver’s Techstars Startup Week, a three to five-day program where aspiring entrepreneurs can experience startup life in over a thousand cities worldwide. While the first one that Ip ran was last October and the second a few weeks ago, Ip has already begun seeing an impact.

“A few of those startups decided to continue running,” Ip shared. “So that's why we're building and developing different programs [at Careerin] to support those that start the idea through the startup weekend. Then we can have different [programs and events] to help them continue that journey.”

What’s happening now and coming up

More recently, Careerin started hosting its newest monthly event in Richmond and Vancouver: Founders Huddle. It aims to offer a safe space where three founders can use five to 10 minutes to share what they’re building, their challenges, and what kind of help they need. The audience can then ask questions, offer suggestions, and provide resources to help the founders achieve their goals.

Ip has found that the attendees, many of whom are founders, mentors, and investors, are incredibly supportive and try to help each other out as much as possible.

“Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey because sometimes your family or circle may not understand why you're taking this risk of building a business, rather than getting a job in a corporation or just any job,” said Ip. “The huddle lets them meet like-minded people where they can bounce ideas and share something that they might not be able to with their employees or partners because they need to be positive to lead, right?”

Some of the most common challenges brought up include finding co-founders, building their product, finding their first new customers, getting funding, and building traction. Ip encouraged founders facing any of these problems to continue attending events and connecting with different people — as well as not hesitating to do cold outreach online.

“In that way, gradually, there will be more connections they can tap into when they need help,” Ip explained. “For example, if they need an introduction to certain investors, the more people you know in your network, the more that will help. And sometimes it may [lead] to different resources and people that can also help. Maybe someone to build a website or product [...] or a co-founder.”

Upcoming programs and events hosted by Careerin, which can be found on its website, include its monthly Founders Huddles in Richmond and Vancouver, the next Techstars Startup Week, and a Vancouver Tech Community gathering. The community gathering event will notably feature diverse speakers: Leah Nguyen, chief investment officer at InBC Investment, a strategic investment fund created by B.C.’s government, and Alex Cheng, general partner at Zenith Venture Studio, which helps startups launch revenue-generating businesses.

Reflections

Comparing Vancouver’s tech ecosystem to when he first got involved to now, Ip said it’s still in a rebuilding mode. However, he’s been noticing a new wave of organizations trying to achieve the same mission as him and less of a silo across initiatives. 

“This cannot be done by just one person or one team or one organization alone,” Ip highlighted. “It's a collective kind of work to actually make this happen to improve the whole ecosystem.”

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