PitchFest 2016: And the winner is… the Comox Valley!

Two years ago. The fall of 2014. I was excited. I was working with tech startups in YVR and drinking in the excitement of their startup community. So many people doing so many amazing things. And connecting as a community.

I started to imagine what it would be like, to have a vibrant startup community in my talent-rich town. When I came home I got to work. With the help of Dianne Hawkins, Marty Douglas, Adil Amlani, Jerad Langille, and Leif Jason I launched the #WeAreYQQ Project.

PitchFest 2016

Fast-forward two years. It’s the fall of 2016. The #WeAreYQQ tag – “from the Comox Valley & proud of it! – is widely used on social media. We’ve rebranded as LIFT Comox Valley. As I’m writing this I find out we’re a finalist for Best Social Media Organization.    

Heady stuff. But there’s more: on September 28 we host the first #WeAreYQQ PitchFest. We feature eight Comox Valley entrepreneurs pitching. We’ve got three judges with startup smarts. We’ve got $5000 in prizes thanks to the Comox Valley Record, 98.9 The GOAT, and the LIFT Comox Valley crew featuring Mastermynde Strategy, 50th Parallel PR, Karen McKinnon Photography, Jabin Postal Films, and myself at hanspetermeyer.com.

On deck we’ve got eight entrepreneurs with projects or ventures that have all been pitched at our BizOnDeck workshops over the past 15 months. That was the “soft pitch,” in front of a supportive room full of entrepreneurs. This time they’re in front of real judges, with prizes at stake.

  • Joyce McMenamon, Speedibin Composters
  • Joe Julien, the Comox Valley Shed Tool Sharing project
  • Brooke Ferguson, Wags Doggy Bags
  • Ivan Loubier, Ivan’s Truffles
  • Leif Jason, with the Comox Valley community calendar project
  • James Flawith, Lil Worker Safety Gear
  • Paul Hansen, Local Photo Adventures, and
  • Ron Pogue, Ron Pogue Photography.

The judges have a wealth of experience pitching and growing and/or helping startups. Adam Speigel, from Business Development Canada (BDC). Steve Morgan, a semi-retired Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has retired to Cumberland. Jayesh Parmar, CEO Picatic.com and mentor to what is now LIFT Comox Valley.

Who’s watching? The future of our Comox Valley business community. Over 110 enthusiastic, youthful, and noisy people who want to see shift happen in our regional economy. 

The winners

All the pitchers had something important to offer, and the judges had kudos and critical comments for each one of them. In the end, the judges had to fit the prizes to the pitches.

  • James Flawith and Lil Worker Safety Gear won the $1000 advertising package from 98.9 The GOAT
  • Ron Pogue and Ron Pogue Photography won the $1000 advertising package from the Comox Valley Record.
  • Ivan Loubier and Ivan’s Truffles won the $3000 marketing package from LIFT Comox Valley.

It’s a long game that starts with the grassroots

I’m proud of these eight pitchers who stood up in front of 110+ people at Prime Chophouse on September 28. They’re my community. They’re my inspiration. And they’re already making shift happen in our town, in our economy.

But we’re just getting started. Some of it is fun – like our PitchFest and Party event. People who play together trust each other. We do business with each other. So these events are important. But our “bible,” Startup Communities by Brad Feld, says we’ve just started making a 10-25 year shift. There’s still lots of work to be done.

Let’s “pause” the tech push, please

Lots of the hoopla about “startups” is focused on the tech stars. Agencies want results – fast. But Feld says it’s not about tech. And it’s not about fast. It’s about attitude. It’s about entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs, at the grassroots. It’s about individuals committed to the long game.

For example, what do these three have in common?

  • Brooke at Wags Doggy Bags;
  • Paul Hansen with Local Photo Adventures;
  • Joyce McMenamon with Speedibin Composters.

They’re not afraid of risk. Or opportunity. They know they’re more effective when they work together.

We need to grow more of them. And that takes time. It takes building a community that supports risk, creativity, getting back up after failure, a community that inspires.

I’m proud of these eight pitchers. They’re my community. And they’re already making shift happen in our town, in our economy.

That moment at PitchFest when…

It’s about 9:30pm on September 28. The pitchers have fuelled everyone’s imaginations. The judges have retired to mull over their decisions. I’m trying to talk to the crowd but Leanne Zdebiak-Eni has just launched mayhem with her game at PitchFest. Adil is shouting above the mayhem, “San serif! San serif!” And I’m feeling it: the vision I had, it’s tangible. Nearly 120 people tuned into the energy of this movement. Goosebumps.

Madness! Fun and games unleashed by Leanne at #WeAreYQQ PitchFest & Party

A post shared by Hans Peter Meyer (@hanspetermeyer) on

It’s early days, but the Comox Valley is already winning!

Fuelling a startup community is an exercise in experiments. There are no guarantees of success. Some fires don’t spread. Others take where we least expect them.

But this I know: the eight pitchers, and the crowd who listened, learned, and cheered – that burn is just getting started. And it’s hot.

Which is a very good thing if you live in the Comox Valley. Because we need this fire to inspire and attract other talent. To help sustain our property values, our schools. It’s my bet that this entrepreneurial fire is the future of our community, and I’m going to do everything I can to support the entrepreneurs who are making this shift happen.

And I want your help. I want you to be part of the action. So I invite you to get your feet wet, test the waters, sip the koolaid. It’s good. It’s fun.

See what we’re up to at: https://liftstartup.wpengine.com/events/

for LIFT Comox Valley
@LIFT_WeAreYQQ on Twitter