UPDATE: This post from February 21, 2016, is being republished in the light of the announcement that Club Penguin […]


British Columbia and New Zealand share many economic similarities, except that New Zealand has way more sheep, are way better at rugby and are better sailors. Both economies are focused on natural resource exploitation, tourism, wine, and horticulture. Both economies have similar populations though we have more space and are not isolated in the South Pacific. The motion picture industry has been a major factor in both economies, but both are highly vulnerable to foreign exchange fluctuations. Both economies have made efforts to diversify into high tech, pouring millions into development of startups. Both economies have had modestly successful companies in high tech, which have been bought out and moved out. The crucial difference may be New Zealand’s pragmatism about how to deal with this economic reality. British Columbia could learn from New Zealand.


My biggest complaint with venture capital and the current entrepreneurial landscape is the lack of Big Ideas— the superficiality of the technology sector. “We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters” –Peter Thiel. We also got corporate greed masquerading as “the sharing economy.” Many other well-known observers of this industry share my complaint. Some argue that these Big Ideas are too big for private investment, and can only be funded by governments with the resources and vision to accomplish such large long term projects. I disagree.


A local journal today glowingly reported that not one, but two local companies had won investment on the Dragon’s Den Canadian “reality” television show. What struck me about the two, apparently best “winning ideas” from our community, was how utterly mundane they were: an “empty beer bottle handling system” and “illuminated party clothing.” As an entrepreneur myself, I first need to give respect to the two entrepreneurs who achieved this success with the likes of Kevin O’Leary and the other investors. It is no mean feat and they should be acknowledged and congratulated for it. On the other hand, these are not the kind of ideas that are going to make a major dent in the local or Canadian economy. Meanwhile in Vancouver, two startups, D-Wave and General Fusion are working on Big Ideas that could change our lives.


This is the best info-graphic I have seen on the historical evolution of venture capital, from the early days of Arthur Rock to the current trend of “platform” investors offering the “everything in a box” approach to entrepreneurial investment. The evolving venture capital models are overlayed onto a trend graph of the cost of startups contrasted with the number of startups. At first glance one might accept the now common refrain that traditional “venture capital is dead.” When I began my career in Silicon Valley, the typical entrepreneurial growth company needed $5 to $10 Million dollars to launch itself. Today, the argument is that a promising company can be started on $5000 or less, and competitors eager to serve this new market have mushroomed. But is this really the future?


Maybe three years ago, I recall hearing something about a “nuclear fusion” company starting up in Burnaby. In my mind, the thought of a nuclear fusion company in Burnaby was outlandish and preposterous. Growing up in southern California, and later northern California, I had grown up close and personal with the Space Program, and nuclear physics at UC Berkeley Lawrence Nuclear Labs and the super secret Lawrence Livermore National Labs.