Written by Andrew Seale
If you’re looking into some insight for navigating the Toronto startup ecosystem, you’re going to get a lot more out of Bryan Watson with three minutes and a pint than you would over coffee. Don’t get him wrong, the partner at Flow Ventures – a boutique consultancy and venture services firm – loves hearing from entrepreneurs, he just isn’t sure he can take all that caffeine.
“I constantly get emails asking to take me out for coffee and I’d love to, I legitimately would love to, because I love seeing what people are doing,” he says. “(But) if I had that much caffeine I’d vibrate through the floor.”
However, a casual beer in a pub jammed with dozens of other energetic entrepreneurs to feed off, that he can do.
So that’s what he did. In 2008 he created StartupDrinks, launching the first official event in 2009 as a means to draw a cross-section of entrepreneurs, founders and investors together.
“Basically getting people out of the basement, out of the garage and out talking to each other,” he says.
It came at a time when the city’s startup ecosystem was still in its infancy and there was nothing really of its kind, no casual gathering without speakers and agendas to drive it along.
Unsurprisingly, it took off, following a last Wednesday of the month format.
“At the height (we were) probably breaking multiple fire codes (with) 500 people out,” he says. “It’s always a very good mix of funders, founders and growth people and other stakeholders in the community, grants people… people building companies, not just looking to support them, we really learn from each other.”
This year it reached its 10,000th attendee.
“That got me thinking of the number of companies who’ve found funding, found partners… the jobs created – the impact it’s had on the city and the ecosystem full-stop, just by having a pub night,” says Watson. By his count, 300 jobs have been created by company’s who met their co-founders at StartupDrinks and over $5 million worth of funding has been raised by companies that have met Angel and VC funders there.
And that’s just what they know of, says Watson. “My greatest joy has been watching those companies and some of those founders now leading some of the rising stars in the Canadian tech ecosystem.”
Other than evolving to include five one-minute pitches at the beginning of the night, he’s kept it casual.
“The magic is in its simplicity,” he says.
Entrepreneurs Aman Moolji of VM Farms, Sunil Sharma who’s launching Techstars Toronto and Paul Dowman of OK Grow! have stepped in, helping Watson organize. “Good people in the community who’ve helped add to my bandwidth, truthfully, because I've got other things I need to be focused on.”
But going forward, he hopes to preserve the spirit of that first pub night.
“I think there's a lot of of value in having a programming light organization that can really help companies overcome some of those hurdles while just sitting out and having a relaxed pint,” he says. After all, how often does management get to unwind at more formalized networking events? The benefits, he says, pay dividends.
“I’m borrowing from Startup North but give, give, get – give to the community, build that community – yes, something might come back to you, but the primary reason for engaging is to try and help do some good,” he says. “(You’re) probably having a pint anyways, (so) help some folks build some companies.”
The next StartupDrinksTO night will be Wednesday, Nov 1. Register here.
Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)