An agile marketing conference in Richmond is not where you’d expect to find a doctor with her newborn. But Dr. Alexandra T. Greenhill is not your typical physician. Many years ago she found herself in a room full of 300 whisper quiet developers. Dr. Greenhill’s daughter, who is surprisingly accustomed to hearing noise, found the silence disconcerting and cried enough that they were both forced to step outside of the main conference room and into the hallway. At one point during the day, Dr. Greenhill needed a restroom break, and so she handed her child to a conference volunteer. “I was like, ‘Here, hold the baby,’” she recalled saying to him. After a minor panic and counting of blessings, the volunteer obliged. When Dr. Greenhill returned, both the baby and the on-demand helper were doing fine. That chance encounter would have far-reaching consequences.
Dr. Greenhill is now the CEO and founder of a startup called myBestHelper. In only five years, myBestHelper has seen meteoric growth, been featured in the Globe and Mail and the Financial Post and won top prizes in Vancouver Startup Week (2011) and the BCIC-New Ventures Competition (2012).
Alex, as she’s referred to by people close to her, is not afraid to admit that Vancouver’s tightknit Vancouver tech community has contributed to her success. “Without this ecosystem no startup can survive,” she recently told an audience of a couple hundred people.
Who was the event staffer who took up temporary babysitting duties? It happened to be none other than Jesse Heaslip, a co-founder of Vancouver’s most well-known startup incubator and non-profit, Launch Academy. He would go on support Alex in other realms of life. He advised her company, invited her to join Launch Academy and was a pillar in her entrepreneurial journey, she explained.
Alex’s story is just one of many that was told at the Launch Academy Fourth Anniversary Party that celebrated the incubators impact on the Vancouver startup community.
In The Beginning
Founded by in 2012 by Ray Walia and a small team, Launch, as it’s often shortened to, quickly gained its reputation as ground-zero for tech startups in Vancouver.
Walia explains their origination like this: “In 2012, we started with twelve desks. And twelve months later we had twelve thousand square feet filled up.” Eighteen months after that they reported the following results: 270 entrepreneurs supported, 150 startups, 300 jobs, $800,000 in perks and nearly one thousand hours in mentorship sessions. Not to mention high-profile partnerships with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, BCIC, BDC, LX Ventures, GrowLab and myriad other impressive organizations.
Fast forward to November 2015 and Launch Academy companies had raised over $57 million dollars and created over 600 jobs in the BC economy. Most inspiring, however, is that for every dollar Launch Academy has spent, they have reportedly returned $61 in GDP for the economy, according to Walia’s calculations.
Started From The Bottom
Even in Vancouver, it’s not always smooth sailing. Walia would be the first to tell you that. Speaking at the anniversary party, he talked about moments of desperation and despondency; days where when doubt crept in and blocked out any hints of sunlight. “There was one day when I was sitting in here…I was looking around thinking to myself, ‘What the fuck did I get myself in to?’” he shared.
The upshot he distilled from all of his experience? “It takes a mixture of luck, hard work, skill and the support of other people around you. That’s what tonight’s all about. It’s about the people that helped support us and get us here.”
In thanking some of Launch Academy’s very first startups, including Battlefy, Thinkific and Karmahire, Walia further praised the community and encouraged Vancourverites not to take it for granted. “We in Vancouver have become very cynical,” he said. “We look at what we have around us and say it can always be better, it can always be better. Well guess what? It can always be worse.”
Now They’re Here
Indeed, when I scanned the space and counted the number of people wearing those signature LA t-shirts featuring a rocket ship on the front and their well-known maxim, GET SHIT DONE, on the back, the fullness of kinship was palpable.
Hussein Hallak, Launch Academy’s new general manager, called on everyone to recognize the rarity of such an interwoven and splendid group. “In Dubai” — where he lived for eleven years — “there’s a shitload of money,” he quipped. “But there’s nothing like this.”