David Brown is a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of widely regarded Techstars accelerator.
Techstars was founded in 2006 in Boulder, Colo. It operates accelerators in major cities worldwide, and last March announced it was opening an accelerator in Toronto, impressed with the ecosystem it sees developing in the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor.
Brown, a Canadian and graduate of McGill University in Montreal, is co-CEO of Techstars and now lives in Boulder.
He spent Wednesday at Communitech, his first visit, and also served as one of four judges during the Rev Demo Day pitch competition, which capped off Day 1 of Tech Leadership Conference 2017.
Startups that gain membership in the Techstars three-month program receive US$20,000, a US$100,000 convertible note and other benefits in exchange for a six per cent equity stake.
Brown spent a few minutes with Communitech News at the conclusion of Wednesday’s pitch competition and talked about the state of tech and entrepreneurship in Canada.
Q – You’re Canadian. It must be nice to be on home soil …
A – It is. [Canada has] been the bane of my existence. Techstars had no real presence in Canada in terms of accelerators until recently. We’re going to have a program in Toronto next year. Being Canadian, it’s hard to see us expand to Europe and Africa and other parts of the world without expanding to Canada, so I’m glad we’ve rectified that.
Q – Talk about why your company decided to come to Canada, and Toronto in particular.
A – Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, has always been high on our radar. My co-founder, David Cohen, came here two years ago, spent time, I think, with you guys here and came back feeling very convinced this is a place we should be. It took some time to put it together, but I’m awfully glad we’re here.
Q – You’ve said in the past that Canadians need ‘to stop whining’ and just get on with building good companies. Do you still feel that way? Is that still the case?
A – It is the case. As a Canadian I recognize that trait that we have, almost apologizing for ourselves. It’s not warranted. There are as many great companies, and as many great people, in Canada as anywhere else. Sometimes it’s just [a matter of] ‘get over yourselves and do it.’ I totally believe that to be true.
Q – The lack of capital and funding for startups in Canada is often talked about. Is the problem real or no?
A – Look, everybody in the U.S. says funding is a problem, too. Especially those that aren’t getting funding. That’s who you hear it from. Successful companies get funding. Unsuccessful companies don’t get funding. I don’t think it’s any different in Canada than in the U.S. I think in Canada there’s the extra benefit that there’s federal [government] funding available in a way that’s not available to American companies.
Q – What are your impressions of Communitech?
A – I’ve heard about Communitech for years. I feel like Communitech and Techstars are kindred spirits in many ways. We are around to help entrepreneurs succeed. That’s our mission. It’s been great to meet everyone here who feels the same way.
Q – What’s your impression of the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor and its impact on the tech scene?
A – I’m not an expert in the local geography, but I do feel there is something magic, whether it’s Toronto, whether it’s Kitchener-Waterloo. They’re close enough that there are a lot of similarities to Boulder [Colorado] and Denver, where I live. Forty-five minutes apart, in my case. Boulder is Kitchener-Waterloo. It’s small. Denver is much larger. I think it’s so close, you can go there for the day. You really get the benefit of both places no matter where you are. So I think it’s a great place to build a business. I don’t know that it matters massively if you do it here or there.