With more than two decades of marketing experience via her own advertising agency, Jennifer joined Platform Calgary in 2019 as the organization’s entrepreneur in residence and quickly climbed the non-profit’s ranks as an advisor, director of growth and VP of growth, before being named chief operating officer in February this year.
She is a shining example of a Calgary-founder success and, her own words, failure story…
Jennifer was the co-founder of AnyQuip, a B2B marketplace for machine rentals and sales. When AnyQuip failed in 2019, she decided to uplift fellow business-savvy souls as the founder of Eff Academy – a forum for entrepreneurs to discuss (and hopefully overcome) the challenges they have experienced in building, running, scaling, or closing down a business.
With Innovation Week YYC kicking off this week, Jennifer sat down to discuss the importance of nurturing and growing Calgary’s tech sector.
What is the biggest takeaway or milestone(s) you can point to, or love to talk about or reflect on when you think about how far Calgary’s tech and startup sector has come since Platform launched in 2019?
JL: When I got into tech in 2015, I had no idea there was a support system or existing community for tech startups in Calgary. I fell into it by accident about a year into my journey. Back then you had to ‘know someone who knew someone’ to find out what was happening. That meant a lot of people missing out on events, workshops, and other opportunities to build a peer community. Back then, the ecosystem was highly fragmented and hard to navigate as an entrepreneur. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, or what the next steps should be.
I think what’s changed the most is how much easier it is for new entrepreneurs to quickly and easily find these base resources to get going, and the community of support around them to keep going. I really appreciate that since my time as a tech founder we now have a clearer and easier pathway for founders to find the supports they need, faster.
Why is failure so important to a founder’s journey, and how do we help our ecosystem embrace it as part of the innovation and success journey? You have and what were your hopes in founding Eff Academy?
JL: Failure is equally important to success in informing every next step a founder takes in their entrepreneurial journey. I founded Eff Academy initially because I was devastated that we couldn’t get our first startup, AnyQuip, to work. I felt the guilt of losing our investors’ money and that what we had worked so hard to build, was gone. I wanted to understand where we went wrong, and how we could learn from that experience. When I started talking about it with others, I found that as soon as I shared an example of a misstep, people were immediately open to sharing back with me their own failure, and a great conversation would ensue.
That’s when I decided to create badges (similar to those that Girl Guides/Scouts earn) that represented the common mistakes a founder might make, that could be worn with pride. It became this great community-building community building exercise when people picked their own badges, and then sought out others that wore the same badge as them. Most importantly, I wanted Eff Academy to make light of how difficult it is at times to be an entrepreneur, and occasionally have a laugh at one’s own mistakes with others that share similar experiences.
How would you describe Calgary’s tech ecosystem in terms of its ability to work together as a community?
JL: The entrepreneurial spirit is a respected and celebrated part of Calgary’s identity. I like to think it’s fundamentally one of the reasons why as a community, we love to collectively rally behind the tech founder solving big challenges and making the world a better place. The Calgary tech ecosystem is significantly more collaborative than it used to be and anecdotally, we’ve heard the work we’ve done in the past 3-4 years has resulted in #yyctech being more integrated and aligned than other, more mature tech sectors in Canada.
No doubt we still have a long way to go, but having a central, highly accessible and easy-to-access place such as the Platform Innovation Centre is a huge asset. Through this front door to Calgary’s tech community, we strive to make it easier for entrepreneurs to flourish. Through a network of partner organizations, founders have access to advisory and mentorship education, as well as a multitude of supports to access investment, talent, and connections with potential customers. By removing the degrees of separation between all these groups, we can help the community connect faster, which is critical to the experience and advancement of a founder.
What is the importance of Innovation Week YYC in empowering the local tech community?
JL: Innovation Week YYC is a celebration of everything happening in Calgary tech, it can inspire and open doors for people looking for new opportunities and help tech companies accelerate their growth.
Is this year’s Innovation Week YYC different from previous years in terms of Platform Calgary’s approach, and if so, why?
JL: This year we created content tracks to better organize participants’ schedules and get the most out of the week.
- Discover: Get a taste of the tech and innovation world in the DISCOVER track and immerse yourself in the #yycTech community.
- Founder: Have a business idea? If you’re looking for help bringing it to life, this track will point you in the right direction.
- People & Culture: From hiring, retention and building inclusive teams, to getting your first tech job, upskilling and more, this track covers everything you
- Scale: Everything it takes to grow your business. This track is for you if your company has seen measurable growth, from increasing sales to market strategies or if you’re looking for investment and funding. You need to know about working in tech, from both sides.
- Social Innovation: Startups and technology solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Hear from and connect with innovators addressing social, cultural, and environmental issues in out-of-the-box ways.
- Technology: Full stack, big data, AI, VR, you name it. Dive into the world of tech as you learn something new, refine your skills or brush up on the latest and greatest.
We’ve seen an increase in the number of events and activities submitted by the community for the community from 80+ in 2022 to 100+ this year!
And finally, it all comes together on November 23 with Launch Party. This year’s Launch Party is bigger and better than ever as we celebrate a fantastic year for tech in Calgary and rally around the top 10 startups of 2023.