The C100, a Silicon Valley-based association dedicated to helping Canadian tech entrepreneurs, is expanding outside North America for the first time with a London chapter set to launch in early 2012.
The C100 U.K. will build on the work the group has done in California to help a new generation of Canadian companies become global players, its London-based co-founders say.
"It's a natural place to be. It's a gateway to Asia, a gateway to continental Europe, and for people from North America it's an easy point to come to. And as Canadians, our heritage is very connected with the U.K.," says C100 U.K. co-founder Sacha Mann, a London-based health-care investor for Inventages Venture Capital SA. "It's all about opportunities and opening doors for people."
The Silicon Valley group was founded by 100 investors, entrepreneurs and senior Canadian executives at giants such as Google and Microsoft to help fund and nurture Canadian startups. It was inspired by TiE The Indus Entrepreneurs, and the California Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC) – groups dedicated to giving back to their business communities.
Since launching in Silicon Valley last year, the C100 says it has helped deliver $330 million in investments to Canadian-run companies, held more than 80 events – including its flagship 48 Hours in the Valley – and mentored 80 startups.
The London leadership team includes Canadian venture capital and angel investors, serial entrepreneurs and senior executives from Microsoft and global pharmaceutical companies, and a LinkedIn board member. There are no immediate plans for a physical office or full-time staff members, but the pre-launch leadership committee already includes 30 people. That figure is expected to increase as members come on board.
The C100 U.K. was born after Ms. Mann, who proposed to the C100 that a chapter in Britain could help Canadian entrepreneurs. C100 founder and co-chair Chris Albinson was enthusiastic and recruited Paul Heydon, a former classmate at the Richard Ivey School of Business, to be a co-founder.
The Silicon Valley group and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) are closely involved and they are helping organize three pre-launch events for the U.K. leadership committee. The focus of the C100 U.K. will ultimately be decided by member needs, but the group's activities will be tailored to the different conditions and challenges overseas.
"If with a couple of e-mails and calls through our network, they can save time, they can save money, and they can connect with the right people, then we're doing our job," says Mr. Heydon, a video-game-sector investor and managing director of investment banking firm Avista Partners LLP.
While Silicon Valley attracts startups hungry for seed funding, London is a good hunting ground for later-stage funding, Mr. Heydon says. "The first goal will be making Europe more accessible, so it's not 'Big Bad Europe.' We want them to say, 'Hey there's people we can connect to in Europe, maybe they can make a few connections for us and help justify a trip.'"
The C100 U.K. aims to help young Canadian businesses understand how doing business in Europe differs from North America, to introduce them to European customers and to help them establish European bases so they can grow, Ms. Mann says.
"If you're a tech entrepreneur, particularly if you've taken VC money, you raised that money on the basis that you're going to grow extremely fast. The reality is there's only so much you can grow in Canada or even the U.S.," Mr. Heydon says. "You need to go global."
The C100's arrival in Britain coincides with a high-profile initiative to establish a European Silicon Valley in east London. Tech City has been dubbed "Silicon Roundabout" for the Old Street traffic that the cluster of companies encircles. "Any Canadian entrepreneurs who are coming through Europe should definitely connect with that tech hub, be it for recruitment, networking or just getting a desk there, getting their first employee out here," Mr. Heydon says.
The C100 U.K. will also assist Canadian firms already in Europe. It will focus on high-tech companies, but it includes pharma, health care and clean tech in that category.
Reaching for the next level is a common theme for the C100. The group launched just after the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and like Team Canada's Own the Podium campaign, it aims to raise ambitions. "What the C100 is about is to help guide and mentor young entrepreneurs to be more successful, and part of that is thinking big," Mr. Heydon says. "If you don't think big enough, you're never going to be big enough."
The C100 U.K. can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Special to The Globe and Mail