Why Web Summit Vancouver won’t just be another tech conference

BC's Minister Brenda Bailey, Destination Vancouver’s Royce Chwin, AmbiMi’s Jeff Harris, and Convergence’s Matthew Housser weigh in

Vancouver’s win of landing a three-year deal to host Web Summit’s North America flagship event is expected to revitalize the city.

Widely known as the world’s premier tech conference and “the Olympics of Tech,” Web Summit currently runs five events in Lisbon, Rio, Qatar, Asia, and Toronto. Vancouver will succeed Toronto’s edition, Collision, and will be rebranded as Web Summit Vancouver starting next year — drawing an estimated 35,000 attendees, including tech leaders, startups, investors, policymakers, and media. The deal was made possible by a consortium and all levels of government pledging $14.8 million in funding.

Strengthening tech ecosystems in its host cities and countries has always been pivotal to Web Summit. In Toronto alone, Collision reportedly generated $189 million in economic impact over the past three years and is projected to bring in an additional $77 million this week. As for deal flow, more than 2,000 deals were reportedly signed as a result of the conference.

What kind of impact can we expect the Web Summit to create for Vancouver? We spoke with local leaders to get their take and share how we can collectively maximize this win.

A major opportunity for growth

Hon. Brenda Bailey, minister of jobs, economic development, and innovation, believes that Web Summit Vancouver will help fuel serious growth.

“We're not well-known internationally, and we don't attract the level of investment that you would expect for the quality of companies we have in B.C.,” said Bailey. “So how do we solve that? This, to me, is a component to solving for that.”

When asked why B.C. has long struggled to attract more investment, Bailey highlighted that it’s a complex question but shared a couple of reasons why. 

With the province being a small open market of over five million people next to the U.S., the largest economy in the world, our promising tech tends to get bought “very quickly.”

“Having an exit event can be very positive for the ecosystem and certainly for the entrepreneurs who built that company,” added Bailey. “But we have less of a culture in B.C. of having our tech companies become mature tech companies [...] What we also want to see is companies stay and grow,” adding that it’s one of the reasons why the government started its $500 million strategic investment fund, InBC.

Bailey also pointed out that British Columbians and Canadians generally have a culture of not pointing toward their successes as “we're not braggarts by nature.” 

“I remember my grandmother teaching me that you never toot your own horn, ever. We’ve got some of that thinking deeply integrated into who we are as Canadians,” said Bailey. “That doesn't help us because we really have a lot to toot our own horn about. I think that's a component as well, not the biggest but part of it.”

Breaking down silos across B.C.

Web Summit Vancouver is expected not only to help boost our global reputation and deal flow but also further break down silos.

“I think that's a really important aspect of this summit,” shared Bailey. “This is not one subset. This is very much a collective effort […] There's many different organizations involved and opportunities for others. It's also important to ask the question, ‘How are we going to make sure that this isn't just a benefit for tech in Vancouver?’”

Bailey added that it’s incumbent that we find a way to bring in and collaborate with the other tech hubs across B.C., like in Victoria and Kelowna.

“Our goal with this conference is to pull all of these ecosystem actors together so that we can all benefit from this conference and contribute to it,” said Bailey.

Jeff Harris, who’s been named one of B.C.’s most influential leaders and is the founder of skills-based job matching platform AmbiMi, believes one reason silos remain an issue is the difficulty of raising capital.

“Local tech founders are spending too much time trying to create awareness of their own efforts,” said Harris. “The ecosystem could replace the time spent on this, much as a rising tide floats all boats.”

According to a new report on global tech ecosystems, a general lack of access to capital affected Vancouver’s ranking — sliding from 30th to 34th compared to the previous year

Matthew Housser, founder of Convergence, which creates award-winning digital products for public and private sector clients, shared that he continues to see a high failure rate among the fundraising deals that he screens.

“I’ve always thought of us as Silicon Valley North and I don’t think the international scene has taken us seriously enough,” shared Housser. “Web Summit definitely strengthens our position on the world stage so I think it’ll become easier for entrepreneurs seeking funding beyond our city to be able to meet with more investors elsewhere like in Toronto and San Francisco.”

Harris added the announcement alone of Web Summit could start to change things ahead of the conference, given the much-needed positive news has rallied the community.

“The general business sections of the local and B.C.-based newspapers often focus too much on negative news,” explained Harris. “Vancouver is full of wonderful growth businesses, some of which have reached world scale. We should be excited about this community.”

Blending tech with culture

On what experience attendees can expect from Web Summit Vancouver, the consortium is setting out to blend tech with culture — which, many would argue, has been lacking in the city.

Royce Chwin, CEO of Destination Vancouver, a tourism-development non-profit, said this focus is part of a bigger strategy for Vancouver and that the approach with the event is to not “hibernate in four walls.”

“It's to not only have the tech investors and all of those things that you would expect but also create an experience by bringing the conference out into the community,” said Chwin. 

As for what that will look like, Chwin said more will be shared in the coming months as a local organizing committee will explore the opportunities.

“Now that the conference has landed in Vancouver, the next question is who are the best industry leaders out there that have the connections both in tech and cultural forums to then work with the organizing committee to say, ‘Here are some opportunities to work with Web Summit,’” added Chwin. “How do we best animate, attract, and invigorate our city and create an incredible experience that happens to be a tech conference? Those are the next steps.”

Chwin highlighted that Web Summit Vancouver is also intended to be a conference that’s accessible for all who want to attend.

“It's designed to have people show up versus something that has got extreme price points that really just marginalizes or pushes out certain groups of people,” said Chwin, adding that he hopes this will be part of the legacy that Web Summit Vancouver creates.

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