Discover Tectoria high-tech business fair draws youth, investors

Crystal Garden was swimming with activity Friday as Discover Tectoria drew more than 3,000 people to explore the Greater Victoria’s high-tech sector.

It was, at times, a frenzied scene with busloads of students piling through the doors and through presentations and interactive exhibits, including the game-design industry’s lounge, a mini science fair and information booths highlighting high-tech firms looking for young talent and others trying to make a name for themselves.

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Under the noise, there was also a quieter game being played by start-up companies looking to find their feet.

The Victoria Advanced Technology Council, which put on the day-long event, set up “start-up alley,” a row of 19 new companies in various stages of development opening themselves up to the community.

Some did it for exposure, some for experience and others were looking for additional investment.

For nine month-old start-up Sendwithus, which offers an email service for large companies that want improved and more meaningful email communication with their customers, Friday was about exposure.

According to co-founder Brad Van Vugt, it was about getting their name and message across and being part of the local tech community. “We think we are on to something really big, and it’s exciting to grow a company and do it in Victoria,” he said.

A few desks down the alley, Nicole Smith, founder of Flytographer, was getting the word out about her service that matches vacationers with professional photographers around the world to ensure quality holiday pictures.

“There’s also the chance a good investor could come by as well,” she said, noting her business is ready to grow to the next level. “We have proved we’re a viable product. We’ve done 150 shoots in 60 cities ... the next step is to accelerate growth through third-party distributors like travel agents and hotels.”

She also needs a new website to handle the interest she has generated. All of it takes money.

“With us, a little bit of investment would take us a long way,” Smith said.

Several angel investors took in the event. Rasool Rayani, owner of RDL Health and an angel investor who has helped bankroll 10 start-up firms, said he is blown away by the increase in what he calls “start-up culture” in Victoria. But he said there are certain things investors consider before writing a cheque.

He said it often comes down to knowing the team well or having faith in their ability to execute an idea.

“Sometimes, I also look for early traction. Do they have customers paying for the product? It’s a great validator, though it’s not a hard and fast rule,” Rayani said.

Adrian Pereira, co-founder of ParetoLogic and a major angel investor, said it’s also not just about making money. “Victoria is a tight-knit community and it seems like people who have had success here want to put their money back into it,” he said.

That’s been the ParetoLogic game plan. The company has invested in a half dozen start-ups while the individual founders of the firm have also spread considerable investment through the tech community.

“In the last month, we have probably seen three or four pitches, so we have to be selective about who we work with. You invest in the people first. We see if it’s someone we get along with and, from there, if we think they can execute a plan, that’s usually why we invest. Tonnes of people have good ideas, but if you can’t execute, the business will go nowhere,” he said.

Both Rayani and Pereira said there are red flags investors look for — unfocused owners, those who have not been able to measure success, personalities and goals that don’t mesh with the investor and companies that are trying to break into a small market.

“Obviously, we like to put money back into the community, but we also want to invest in a company that has the chance to hit a home run,” said Pereira. “We are not really looking at getting three or five times our money back. We want to see them hit it out of the park.”

The high-tech sector hit it out of the park Friday, according to Piko Marketing founder Jude Brown. “It’s great to see so many kids here looking at what could be their future,” he said.

Brown said if an event like Tectoria had been around when he was in high school, he might have been able to see his future in the industry more clearly.

“It would have meant Victoria was a place I could have stayed,” he said, noting he left Victoria for 10 years to cut his teeth in the business world.

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