Over the last year and a half I’ve been lucky enough to get to know many of the fast growing startup communities in Canada. Communities like Halifax in Nova Scotia, Fredericton in New Brunswick, St.John’s in Newfoundland, Kithener/Waterloo and Toronto in Ontario and most recently I got a chance to visit Edmonton in Alberta.

As I have been traveling to these places I have constantly been thinking about what it is that plays the biggest role in the success of these communities. Is it the location, the talent pool, the experience, the investors, the government support, the knowledge, a bit of luck or some invisible factor that is impossible to pinpoint?

The sun is rising on my first day in Edmonton. #Alberta #Canada #NewDay #Beautiful

A photo posted by Haukur Gudjonsson (@haukurgud) on

First impression

When I first arrived to Edmonton the city felt like so many other I had been to before and I could find no signs that within the city was a thriving startup community. But this is true of all cities I have been to except maybe Austin Texas (where I could literally not go into a café without sitting next to an founder working on his startup) and San Francisco (with all their startup ad boards). It is difficult to realise how active the startup community is by just exploring the city or talking with the locals, you have to spend some time to find those startup hubs within the cities where all the magic happens. In Edmonton’s case the magic was taking place at the Startup Edmonton office.

Startup Edmonton is located in a prime downtown location within walking distance from most of Edmonton’s hottest startups. As I walked into the office for the first time I felt oddly at home, most likely due to the good startup vibe and friendly people that welcomed me. The office space seemed like a great place for early stage founders as they can rent desks, get access to mentoring and join various lectures and seminars. But it was not the physical space itself that I was most impressed with.. it was the people.

Bridge builders

The startup community in Edmonton faces a lot of problems, just like any other startup community. It’s still young, it’s lacking active VC’s in the area and the founders often have to apply to business accelerators in other cities. But what Edmonton has and what I have now started to believe is the essence of a startup community on the right path is passionate and experienced people that are willing to take responsibility for their community and help it grow. Edmonton has that in Ken Bautista, Cam Linke and their team at Startup Edmonton.

I had been lucky enough to meet Ken Bautista, co-founder of Startup Edmonton earlier this year at the Startup Iceland event in Reykjavik and then later in San Francisco with his co-founder Cam Linke when I crashed a startup event I wasn’t invited to :). Those coincidental meetups reflect well how active Ken and Cam are, they are constantly networking and building up international bridges for their startups. They are the reason I ended up visiting Edmonton and consequently why I’m now writing this article, they are responsible for builing up a strong bridge between Reykjavik and Edmonton, they are responsible for me now telling all my friends about the great work that’s being done in Edmonton.They are truly passionate about what they are doing and it really shows.

Edmonton Startup Week

Edmonton Startup Week took place during my stay in Edmonton and me and Bala Kamallakharan from Startup Iceland were invited to speak about our experience with building up the startup community in Iceland. I also got a chance to participate in many of the events including the Startupcrawl which basicly consisted of drinking beer and visiting cool startups, events don’t get much better than that in my opinion hehe.. and then they closed down the whole street for a Startup Street Hockey competition where startup employees competed against each other. The main event was the 6th annual Launch Party, the city’s flagship startup event that celebrates and showcases the hottest startups in town. Overall the week was packed with cool meetups and I was very impressed with the caliber of startups we got to meet and Edmonton is obviously doing something right.

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Conclusion

At the beginning of this blog post I mentioned the question “what plays the biggest role in the success in startup communities?” and although there are a lot of things that can help a community I think I have now come to the conclusion that the one thing that is impossible for succesful communities to be without is passionate and experienced people that are willing to step up and take responsibility for the success of the startup community.

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And no meetup with Icelandic vikings is complete without Icelandic liquorice snaps. Skál! :)