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Chris Albinson is a managing partner in Panorama Capital, a Sand Hill Road VC firm. (Melissa Barnes)
Chris Albinson is a managing partner in Panorama Capital, a Sand Hill Road VC firm. (Melissa Barnes)

ROB Magazine

Lessons from Canada's Silicon Valley diaspora Add to ...

But then, when he got off the plane, his boss asked him, instead, only to let go half of the team. “We stayed up all night deciding people’s fates, who would go, who would stay. I thought: ‘This is not how you treat people. This is not how you make these decisions.’ As Bell Northern Research, it had been a great company, a truly great company, but it wasn’t any more. Of course, the ones we’d saved were let go six months later.”

The three team leaders also had to decide what to do with themselves. Sickened, Ananmalay put himself in the outbox. He’d been smart enough to get a green card when he was transferred down to the Valley, and quickly secured another job. “It was one of those things when I finished work on Friday and started the next job on Monday.”

He’s wistful about not living in Canada. Mostly. “Not when I think of shovelling snow midwinter. But yes, for a long time, it was a good place for me and my family.” He asks me who else I’ve interviewed. I mention Albinson and Palihapitiya. “I wish I could say I didn’t have to work, but I do. A lot of us do down here—not everyone makes it happen to that extent.” Even Sand Hill Road isn’t paved with gold.



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THE WANNABE

In early December, the C100 and the consulate invite the founders of 19 start-ups down to the Valley for two days and three nights of concentrated mentoring by Valley insiders, networking (at a party thrown by Mozilla) and pitching (to a room full of VCs).

The first day is held at a tech incubator in downtown San Francisco, the second at a big reception room in Google. The fledgling companies range from one that aims to offer the ultimate online teaching marketplace (eProf out of Kanata) to another that has developed a zombie gaming app (Massive Damage out of Toronto); from a means of helping families stay connected through their mobile devices (Moby out of Vancouver) to a mechanism for managing data contained in old e-mails (Context.IO out of Montreal) to two electronic modes of reducing the pain of human resources (TribeHR out of Waterloo and Kudos out of Calgary).

Most of the founders are young, almost all are men. Their presentations are generally impressive, and most of them come away with a few follow-up meetings, some nibbles. The talk is the hard-nosed stuff of the ask, of the right pitch-deck for the VCs, of seed and Round A funding. “You’re going to love my slides,” one founder says to another.

In a Q&A, a garrulous American VC encourages a Canadian entrepreneur to ask for much more money from potential funders in Canada.

“You don’t understand,” another entrepreneur pipes up. “If we ask for that kind of money in Canada, they’ll think we’re on crack.”

The VC chuckles: the small-mindedness of in-country funders.

Bred in Montreal, Aidan Nulman turned 24 on the first day of the conference. The psychology and cinema studies graduate from U of T has taught himself how to code, using Ruby to build his first app. His pitch is simple: “Our product is a mobile app that aims to disrupt the car service industry. Instead of speaking with a curt dispatcher, waiting for a car without knowing if it’s on its way, riding in gross cars and fumbling with their wallets, our customers simply tap one button to receive a managed, end-to-end car-service experience.” His company, Winston Inc., has just started in Toronto, landing several big corporate accounts. The idea was to use an app to match underutilized limousines with passengers wanting a less grotty, less snotty cab experience. The car’s GPS would report on its location, telling passengers where and how far away their ride was—it would also help corporate HR managers keep tabs on employee cab and car rides. Bye-bye, cab chits.

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