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An Interview With Danny Robinson, CEO, British Columbia Innovation Council (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Feb 7th 2011

By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold

Today I am talking to Danny Robinson, CEO of British Columbia Innovation Council. The Vancouver-based BCIC is dedicated to developing entrepreneurial talent and commercializing technology in British Columbia, Canada.

Irina: Hi, Danny. So, what is BCIC?

Danny: The BC Innovation Council (BCIC) is a government-funded organization that is responsible for making sure that the entire technology ecosystem is intact and has no holes in it.

That means that, really, we start at the high school level, funding things like science fairs. Then we go into universities and fund research projects and the commercialization of research to come out of universities and turn these ideas into companies.

And then, we work in what we call idea validation or the inspirational stages, where somebody decides, I’m going to do it; I’m going to start a company. [At] that moment, there’s a lot we can do to encourage people to actually give it a try.

Then, going up the stages of starting a company, you’re into market validation if you follow the whole lean startup. The entire methodology’s there. The nomenclature is, you know, idea validation, market validation, market penetration, and market expansion.

These are the stages we’re following as we help grow the ecosystem here. We make sure, at each of the stages, that an entrepreneur has every chance at success that he could possibly have.

And then we even break down all of those stages by sector. We don’t just cover Internet companies. We also cover biotech, clean tech, life sciences, whatever you want to call it.

Also ICT, so hardware devices and things like that are all a part of our technology ecosystem here, and we want to make sure that no matter what type of technology you’re building, you have the support you need to get it to the next level.

Irina: Would you tell us briefly about your personal background?

Danny: Sure. I’ve started three Internet companies. My first one [Spinway, a free ISP] was started in Silicon Valley in 1998.

I’m Canadian by birth, so after we sold that company [to United Online ] at the end of 2000, I moved to Vancouver and decided to raise a family and that kind of thing.

While I was here, I started a company called Peerflix, which was mostly funded out of Silicon Valley, from Silicon Valley–based venture capitalists. After Peerflix was going through what it went through, we decided that it would be better if I either moved to Silicon Valley or stayed in Vancouver.

That’s when, for personal reasons, I decided to stay in Vancouver. My wife and I and my two kids decided to stay in Vancouver. I resigned from that company and started another company in Vancouver. But this time, I really started to look at the local ecosystem.

I wanted to understand what we could do, what I could do, to help build it up into the kind of environment I was used to operating in while I was living in Silicon Valley.

So, when I started my third company here in Vancouver, I pretty quickly got an idea of what was missing. Within a year or two, I started an accelerator, or an incubator, along the lines of how Tech Stars or Y Combinator operate.

It was a venture-based accelerator [what] we call a seed accelerator, Bootup Labs. We call it a seed accelerator because our business model is based on the same approach as a venture capital company. In other words, we took equity in exchange for an investment in the company, but we also provided all of the mentoring and the connections that the company would need to get to the next level. So, [it’s] different from an incubator, for example, that charges rent and has a real estate–based business model.

With that organization, we accelerated about eight companies, invested $150,000 in each of them, and got them to the point where . . . Well, some of them worked out and some of them didn’t. We had one exit. So, we sold one company out of the portfolio. A bunch of others are doing very well right now, but one has probably not done so well.

Out of all of our companies, I’m pretty proud of our portfolio and what we’ve accomplished there. But I felt like I needed to do more and needed to scale what had been built there. That’s when I decided to take a look at what BCIC was doing.

This segment is part 1 in the series : An Interview With Danny Robinson, CEO, British Columbia Innovation Council
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