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Vancouver Startup Week draws a bead on new realities of economy

Seventh annual event explores how early-stage companies can navigate business challenges amid pandemic
Photo: Rob Kruyt

Vancouver Startup Week was not immune to the pall of uncertainty cast throughout the West Coast business community at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis.

“To be honest, we didn’t think we were going to do anything because of the pandemic. It was like, ‘Does anyone even care right now?’” recalls VSW co-chairwoman Vivian Chan.

But by late spring, organizers were determined to bring back a sense of normalcy with the seventh annual event, which aims to educate and showcase the region’s startups.

“And the next thing you know, we have the craziest schedule,” Chan said, referring to the 70-80 panels and other programs set to run September 26 to October 1.  

“It is so packed that we can't fit anything else.”

Like other conferences, in-person panels and fireside chats at offices throughout the city have given way to a wholly virtual occasion — one that aims to acknowledge the new reality startups face during the pandemic.

Among the scheduled programs:

·      Techstars: Everything but the Pitch - Early Stage Fundraising in the Time of Covid

·      Startup Vancouver presents: What Keeps You Up At Night? - Entrepreneurship During Challenging Times

·      Beacon HR: Elevate your people - Attract, recruit, and retain top talent through a pandemic

“We can't not focus on what's actually happening. We don't want to brush it under the rug. This is a fact: everyone's been affected,” Chan said. 

“How do you [run a business] when, to be honest, shit’s hit the fan, right? A lot of companies have unfortunately shut down, reshuffled or they were in the middle of a [capital] raise, and all of a sudden, it's like, ‘What does this mean for us?’”

A hackathon led by TTT Studios will kick off VSW, and other panels will focus on the needs of startups beyond just early-stage tech companies. 

But big names in technology such as Shopify Inc. (TSX:SHOP) and HubSpot Inc. (NYSE:HUBS) are also participating for the first time.

One of the VSW’s staples has been the recruitment fair.

It will be going virtual as well and Chan acknowledged the biggest gap will be the lack of in-person network — something that can’t easily be replicated through technology.

After events wrap in October, organizers will be examining how the virtual VSW unfolded to determine whether it would be best to move to late May, allowing for outdoor events with reasonable spacing between attendees.

“And as much as we have backup plans, I can't walk into every speakers’ home to make sure they have a good internet connection,” Chan said.

“It's our first time [going virtual] so we’re trying to keep it somewhat simple.”

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