Techtoberfest – it’s a term that, on a couple of levels, suggests “sausage party.”

Instead, diversity was front and centre at this year’s Techtoberfest, Communitech’s yearly startup festival, as speakers stressed its importance to success in a hyper-competitive and ever-more-global tech industry.

“Start doing it. Start taking an interest in people who don’t look like you,” Kelly Hoey, an author, investor and networking expert, said in a keynote speech today at the Tannery Event Centre. “If you want to succeed, you need and you must pursue diversity, not just because it’s the right thing to do,” but because companies with diverse teams do better at business.

Hoey, a Canadian now based in the United States, related a story about a pair of young women she met at a speaking engagement in January of 2012, within weeks of her co-founding the Women Innovate Mobile Accelerator in New York.

“We’re back-end developers,” they told Hoey, who laughed before replying, “According to the world, you two don’t exist. You’re black, one of you is Muslim and you’re female.”

Despite their programming skills, the women told Hoey they had only received offers to work on an IT help desk.

“I asked, why? Because they’re quiet? Because one doesn’t drink?” Hoey told the Techtoberfest crowd.

Hoey offered the women internships at her accelerator, though it didn’t even have an office yet, and eventually, they landed development roles. One is at a fast-growing tech company, where she recently recruited another member of her rare species – a female developer – who had been working as a cleaner at the company’s office.

Hoey said the woman had worked in computer science in her native eastern Europe, but couldn’t find related work in the U.S.

The anecdote drove home the point that diversity is less difficult to achieve for those willing to look beyond their own narrow contexts – which tech innovators should be doing anyway.

In a talk that was largely off-the-cuff and tinged with sarcasm, the Victoria, B.C. native offered three pieces of advice to startup entrepreneurs: Build your expertise, build your network and build your bank account.

On expertise, Hoey said the popular “fake it ‘til you make it” credo will only get you so far.

“Become the expert and be the expert in whatever your area is, in the problem your solving,” she said, adding that describing your company as “the Uber for . . .” or “the Airbnb for . . .” does not convey expertise. Similarly, founders who don’t fully understand the financials around their companies and their markets cannot be considered experts in their fields.

On building networks, she urged founders to do their homework and be intentional and targeted, rather than commit “random acts of networking” that can waste valuable time.

“It’s no longer what you know or who you know; it’s who knows what you know,” Hoey said. “It’s great if you have expertise, but who knows about it?”

On building a bank account, Hoey stressed the value of having paying customers, saving money and developing a great pitch to win free money at pitch competitions, since venture investment – contrary to Silicon Valley hype – is incredibly difficult to secure.

“Between one and three per cent of those who have the opportunity to pitch investors actually get some,” she said. “There is a lot of money out there, but it’s going into very few pockets.”

Hoey followed a keynote by Troy Carter, a high-school dropout who grew up in tough circumstances in West Philadelphia, built a music talent management empire and was an early investor in Uber, Spotify, Dropbox and other companies.

Carter, who also invested in Waterloo-based bargain-mobile provider TextNow, bolstered the notion that success can flourish in unlikely places, and thus, the importance of keeping an open mind.

“Silicon Valley feels like it has a lock on innovation, and it’s not the case,” said Carter, who helped Lady Gaga launch her music career.

Drawing on his own life story, Carter offered up hard-won lessons for entrepreneurs on everything from first-mover advantage (he started bringing hip-hop acts like The Notorious B.I.G. to Philly when others thought it was too risky); seeking out great mentors (Will Smith was an early one); seizing unexpected opportunities (he went from promoter to talent manager with zero experience in the latter); the importance of cultural fit (he sold a company and wound up hating working for the acquirer); and moving on from failure (he lost almost everything in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis).

“I remember driving down Ventura Boulevard and pulling over and having one of those hard, hard, hard moments. I just broke down. It was one of those ugly cries,” Carter said.

“One of those ideas we get caught up in is the hockey stick, up and to the right,” he continued, referring to the much-sought-after revenue growth curve. “But the reality is, it looks more like this,” he said, waving a finger around randomly.

Asked what stands out among the successful entrepreneurs he has worked with as an investor, Carter said, “ideas are cheap. It’s all about execution.” Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, he said, “is probably the only guy who could accomplish what he was going to accomplish” through “that ability to drive a Mack truck through a cul-de-sac” and make the business happen, despite major regulatory barriers and taxi-industry pushback.

As for the music business, he predicted data will be the next big trend, as artists seek to know more about their fans and identify the superfans among them, so that they can market to them more effectively.

Troy Carter techtoberfest sulon

Troy Carter tries out the Sulon Q headset. (Communitech photo: Meghan Thompson)

After his talk, Carter took a quick tour through the Communitech Hub, where his mind was blown during a demo of the Sulon Q, a wireless augmented reality/virtual reality headset developed by Sulon, a Communitech Startup Services client company from Markham, Ont. In a report last month, tech-scouting firm Lux Research said the Sulon Q is among devices “poised to overtake Facebook-owned Oculus Rift and Samsung in the race to build virtual reality (VR) devices.”

After the lunch break, attendees sat in on key learning sessions on ideation, validation and scaling, then listened to a panel of investors cover a range of topics, from the necessity (or lack thereof) of formal pitch decks to the necessity of building networks in Silicon Valley.

The closing keynote went to Leonard Brody, a Canadian investor and entrepreneur behind NowPublic, the citizen journalism site he sold to Anschutz Entertainment Group in 2009. Brody is now Chief Innovation Officer at Anschutz Company – which owns the Los Angeles Kings and Lakers sports teams (among others) and promotes concerts worldwide – and he spoke about what he calls “the Great Rewrite.”

The term refers to how Brody believes Western society has outgrown the traditional concept of innovation and is now living through “the largest mass institutional shift in the history of humanity” as business, government and even religion are “rewritten” from the ground up.

Exponential advances in technology and an Internet-fuelled inversion of power is creating huge threats for established companies and structures, but also huge opportunities for entrepreneurs, he said.

“We can no longer predict a future based on the past,” Brody said.

He pointed to the past 20 years, during which “we have become fundamentally different in our behaviour” as the Internet became ubiquitous. Nowhere is that more evident than in the widespread social sharing of our personal lives, which would have been considered abnormal barely a decade ago.

We now have a dual identity – our real-world self, spent interacting with others in the tangible world, and our virtual self – and the latter is where the average westerner now spends two-thirds of their working day, Brody said.

“This is probably the most important sociological finding of the last three centuries,” he said. “You are engaged now in a world which is, behaviourally, completely dissimilar to the world 20 years ago.”

Today’s programming unfolded against a backdrop of dozens of one-on-one meetings between entrepreneurs and investors at the Communitech Hub that began on Wednesday.

Techtoberfest wrapped up with an evening of traditional Bavarian good cheer at a pair of festhalls operating during the nine-day Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest, the world’s second largest Oktoberfest outside of Munich.