Tom Emrich is a born-and-raised Canadian who founded We Are Wearables, a wearable tech meetup that has gone global. Now, he’s a VC at Super Ventures in San Francisco, but his heart and mind continually look back on Toronto tech and our burgeoning wearables, AR, VR, and AI scene. Read on to see his global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I have always been involved in tech because my father introduced me to gaming and personal computing at a young age. He was always a ‘tinkerer’ who encouraged me to get involved in tech as a kid.
I initially went to study musical theatre and ended up going to musical theatre school. After school, I found odd jobs until I got the opportunity work for SBR Global in Toronto. There I met Jennifer Lum, who had been involved in many startups around the dot-com bubble and asked me to join her at m-Qube, a mobile ringtone and wallpaper startup. That was my first foray into startups.
From then on, I chased the emerging tech curve. The dot-com bubble and mobile wave encouraged me to find out the next wave of computing, and that led me to AR, VR, and wearable tech. I worked for a number of media and publishing companies in Canada, helping them leverage the earliest iterations of AR back in 2007 and 2008 before deciding to go out on my own.
Taking this passion and interest, I wanted to build a community of people to further education on emerging topics and open doors for my business; I ultimately founded We Are Wearables, which now has over 120,000 members in North America.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
Hands down I’d take them to Queen West.
We’d start at Queen and Bathurst and then go restaurant, bar, and cafe hopping down Queen street, stopping by Trinity Bellwoods park and making sure we try one of my favourite coffee shops, Tokyo Smoke.
Toronto is amazing because we have so much diversity, and a walking tour of Queen West shows that off.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
It’s a really important principle. As a tech founder, you need to be solving real problems that exist in the real world. Often, though, you can get stuck in a bubble and get too far removed from the market that you’re addressing.
I see this in Silicon Valley.
We have an advantage in that there’s a huge concentration of tech companies and investors. However, there’s a lack of diversity in terms of the jobs that people have had in their working life.
This is a critical strength of Canada. We’re surrounded by people not just from different identities but also by people who are doing different things in their lives. We benefit because those people can educate us on what their problems are and can be great sounding boards for solutions we come up with to ensure solutions are grounded in reality.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
I think my global idea would be to ensure continued, global access to core digital platforms like the Internet. It’s a cause everyone in tech needs to support and raise up.
In terms of our economic lives, the internet has entered into our hierarchy of needs. We have to ensure people from different economic backgrounds have access to this platform because not having internet tools can seriously impact the earning potential and future development potential of that individual.
Looking ahead, this will apply to wearable tech.
Innovations will help with improved sight, enhanced memory, improved ability to walk, and other life-enhancing technologies. It would break my heart if these advancements were only available to the richest people in our world.
If someone wanted to get a coffee with you to ask for advice, what would they need to come prepared with?
If it’s a startup, I want to see that they’ve tested their market before talking to someone, even if this is just running their idea by their target audience. For instance, if you have an AR idea for nurses, you better have talked to a nurse before you talk to me.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
The world should know that the Canadian tech community has always had a knack to succeed in the next wave of computing, whatever “next” is at the time.
BlackBerry and Nortel are great older examples of Canadian companies becoming powerhouses in driving innovations that eventually become a way of life. We can continue to expect this in startups and organizations that come out of Toronto, and Canada.