Vancouver Startup Week is back in a big way
We sat down with co-chairs Vivian Lago and Katty Wang as they share their backstory with the organization, bond over a mutual love of hugs, and look forward to the week’s events.
Vancouver Startup Week (VSW) acts as a microcosm of the Vancouver tech community at large. Dedicated individuals create space for dialogue, connectivity, and learning. While it takes a village to bring The Village of Vancouver’s tech community together, two folks are synonymous with the gathering: co-chairs Vivian Lago and Katty Wang. We caught up with the pair as VSW returns IRL this June for the first time since the pre-COVID days.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with VSW? What inspired you to get involved?
Vivian Lago: In 2014, I was approached by one of the VSW founders, Boris Mann, to get involved as an event partner. I joined as a volunteer in 2015 and, after taking a one-year hiatus from VSW due to work and travel obligations, I returned as co-chair in 2017.
VSW has always been a way to bring the community together and build relationships — something I’m personally very passionate about — and we’ve seen the positive impact it has had from job placements, investment deals closed, and even immigration to Vancouver. What drives me each year is watching how VSW has impacted members of our team. From supporting each other through life milestones to allowing each other to develop new skills or find new job opportunities, that’s a testament to what this ecosystem can enable.
Katty Wang: I co-founded my tech startup in 2016. At the time, I was looking for chances to learn more about how to run it while getting to know the community. Joining the volunteer team with VSW sounded like a great opportunity. It promised a free pass to experience the week and free food during volunteer meetings: all very enticing for a pre-revenue founder living on a tight budget!
In just a few weeks, I fell in love with the team, the culture, and the community. I was surprised to find that despite Vancouver being a large city, the community was friendly and welcoming. Through that first year, I was connected with accelerators, incubators, funding program officers, and other founders who were experiencing the same growing pains. I learned so much from the event.
Though my startup met its demise, the connections I made during that week taught me about how to run a business. I stayed in the community, putting on this event year-after-year so more founders like myself could benefit.
How long has VSW been around, and how do you think it’s evolved over the years?
VL: VSW started in 2014. Back then, it was more a community calendar to gather partner events in one place. In the years since, we’ve grown VSW to make the week’s events more accessible, easier to navigate, and continue to bring in lots of community partners.
KW: What Viv said. I also feel like we are getting higher-profile speakers each year. Now that we’ve established the brand, many include VSW in their planning discussions and dedicate resources to it, which really does showcase that VSW is for the community, by the community.
The last in-person VSW was in 2019. What can we expect in 2023?
VL: A lot of hugs and high fives! We’re finally able to reconnect in person and nothing is virtual this year.
We’ll have featured events that focus on bringing the community together such as our Ecosystem Showcase, Investment Showcase, and networking events galore! There will be panel discussions, fireside chats, and workshops held at various venues around town.
Our famous Recruitment Fair is back at Science World. That long line down the seawall during VSW isn’t for a sample sale; it’s people in the community looking for their next career opportunity.
KW: Lots of hugs! We miss hugs! The community asked for more networking events, and we’re working hard to deliver that (and then some). VSW will be back louder, prouder, and better than ever.
What have you missed most about in-person VSWs?
VL: While we enjoyed bringing the community together when virtual was the only option, connecting in person can never be beat. I can’t wait to see everyone face-to-face! Networking virtually is awkward and I personally don’t enjoy it.
KW: Seeing people in person. From an organizer’s point of view, it is such an accomplishment to see 150 to 200 volunteers running around downtown during the week with banners and signage. It’s rewarding to see our banners on the side of the street or have friends send photos of our signage to us.
When it’s in person, we see the scale of our event and how many people it takes to mobilize in a week. Everyone is talking about it, the city is buzzing, and you can bump into people wearing passes on the street.
Who should attend VSW?
VL and KW: Everyone! Early stage founders: you have so much to learn and you gain access to so many different individuals. For growth stage founders, it’s time to raise money. Come meet investors and network with the community. Students should see what people are doing in the community and be inspired. Maybe you can even start a career you love. For supporting organizations, service providers, or government: come and meet the community. These could be your leads, clients, or future revenue.
What three things are you most looking forward to at VSW 2023?
VL: Reconnecting with friends and partners, having VSW HQ at Bentall Centre, and being with my VSW team in person! We have members of the team who joined during COVID and haven’t even met each other in person yet.
KW: Seeing lineups around False Creek outside Science World at Recruitment Fair, seeing founders talking to supporting organizations at the ecosystem event, and watching people have a great time at the closing party while I sit in the corner and unwind.
What opportunities are there to sponsor, partner, or work with VSW?
VL: We’re always looking for sponsors, partners, and volunteers to support VSW. While we have no plans to be a large-scale conference at the Convention Centre, we do what we can to make the week a fun experience for everyone so any support is greatly appreciated.
VSW is a not-for-profit that’s run by volunteers who are passionate about growing and supporting this ecosystem. The team has great ideas to grow VSW over the years and host more fun experiences, and we can’t do it without the community’s support!
We also have a large crew of volunteers who help us on the week of (you’ll see them at events in VSW shirts) checking attendees in and lending a hand where needed. Please get in touch with us at [email protected] and let’s chat!
KW: For entrepreneurs, VSW is a great opportunity to be with the community that supported you through your journey. We encourage everyone to be a part of the community, to give back to this community. If you think VSW is valuable, help out whenever and however you can so we can keep going.
VSW masks were the hottest fashion accessory of 2021. Is there anything up your sleeve for 2023?
VL: We always have something up our sleeve! And James was the best mask model we could have asked for – thanks for that exposure! We’ll have something fun again this year for sure. Everyone seems to like socks, though… Hey Outway, let’s chat!
KW: I’ve seen design mockups for 2023 where I said “ohhhh so prettttty!” You’ll find out.Hey, speaking of that James guy, sign up here to receive 10 percent off a one-year membership to VTJ and become a Friend of James.