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An Interview With Danny Robinson, CEO, British Columbia Innovation Council (Part 4)

Posted on Thursday, Feb 10th 2011

By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold

Danny: We’ve got some role models, and we’re using them as poster children. For example, Stewart Butterfield created Flickr in Vancouver. Stewart is a great example of somebody who has built a company, sold it to the States, and ended up coming back to Vancouver and starting his next company here. Bringing all that credibility and financial resources to the region has been fantastic.

There are lots of people. There are people who have started and failed and then gone on to start second companies and done fantastically. That’s not an uncommon story. You hear that a lot, where people fail, fail, fail, and then their fourth companies are a success.

That’s a valuable person who’s willing to repeatedly risk everything he’s got, his livelihood, to build a company that eventually is going to employ lots of people and generate wealth for the region in all sorts of ways.

We don’t have enough of those people, quite frankly. We need a lot more people giving it a try . . .  getting them into the funnel so we can get them, hopefully, a lot more coming at the end of the funnel. To us, as far as BCIC is concerned, we want to see more anchors in the region – anchor companies, big tenants.

Irina: What is BCIC’s target audience? Whom do you talk to on a daily basis?

Danny: That’s a good question. We consider our customers, the people whom we want to understand more than anybody else, to be the entrepreneurs. So, we want to make sure that we talk to them as often as we can, work with them on a daily basis.

The people who carry out the programs and things that help the entrepreneurs are our partners. Our partners are industry associations and different groups in the ecosystem that help to create all the programs and things that entrepreneurs need to succeed.

That said, again, I can’t stress enough that entrepreneurs are our absolute reason for living. The only way to really understand if we’re being effective is to know who they are and be in constant communication with them.

Irina: How do you engage with entrepreneurs?

Danny: [We have] multiple ways of communicating with and talking to them. One is I personally donate time to accelerators and incubators under a mentoring program to help entrepreneurs get started, specifically in the Internet space because that’s where I’m strong.

I encourage all of my employees to do the same thing, to get out there and get to know people. In fact, we’ve instituted a policy where you can take 20% of your time here, a day a week. As long as you’re spending it with an entrepreneur, that’s fine.

I don’t care who you are. Our accountant is, I hope, going to start doing that soon. Entrepreneurs need that skill set. A lot of them aren’t accountants to begin with. Having that kind of help is valuable to them in the very early stages.

We do all sorts of online things. Obviously, we try to engage people on our blog. We also are in constant communication on other social platforms, Twitter, of course. We are also going to open up a user voice channel, you know, voice to BCIC.

It hasn’t launched, yet, but it will have the ability for anybody who’s an entrepreneur – anybody in the province for that matter – to get in there and start debating what the right thing for us to do is.

[It’ll be] online right there in front of everybody that we can all discuss, “Hey, we want to give money to some university.” And people will say, “That’s a stupid idea,” or “I love that idea.” Whatever, we can all talk about it.

User voice is a little bit more structured. You can vote things up or down and get a little bit more focused on what the intent of that is. Of course, we’ll still have the blog that people can comment on. But to get the structured data we’re looking for, user voice is the right solution for us.

Irina: When you say you encourage BCIC employees to go work with entrepreneurs, do you mean any entrepreneurs whom they choose to spend time with?

Danny: Yes, as long as they’re in technology industry and fall within the mandate of what we’re working on as an organization. That counts toward your employment and your day here at BCIC.

This segment is part 4 in the series : An Interview With Danny Robinson, CEO, British Columbia Innovation Council
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