AccelerateAB 2013: The Next Billion Users with Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs

In less than a month, Alberta’s tech entrepreneurs and investors will descend upon Calgary for AccelerateAB. Now in its third year, AccelerateAB is an initiative of the A100 focused on “connecting, educating and showcasing the incredible tech companies that proudly call Alberta home.” It’s not just locals you can expect to see there, but also mentors and investors from around the country and across the continent.

This event is a true melting pot that brings together Alberta’s seasoned veterans, young punks, quality mentors, whip-smart investors and keen students, all with the goal of building Alberta’s tech ecosystem. With speakers, mentors and investors jetting in from Silicon Valley and all across Canada, this isn’t just a great tech event for Alberta, it’s a great tech event. Period.

Here’s a promo video for the event:

This year’s opening keynote features Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs who will be speaking about The Next Billion Users:

The next billion users: the global opportunity of wireless. As mobile technology spreads throughout the developing world, everything we know about mobile communication, commerce and information is about to change.

I had the opportunity to talk with Gary back in April about his keynote.

Born in Toronto, Gary completed his BComm and MBA at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business throughout the 90s. Though now located in California, he does make it back to Calgary a couple of times a year. Given that AccelerateAB is taking place during the Stampede, Gary said he was looking forward to returning with his family. Beyond that, he relishes the opportunity to connect with Alberta-based entrepreneurs. “I want to bring my mistakes and lessons back to people who are working hard in Alberta,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to speak one-to-many, not just one-to-one.”

Gary has talked about the next billion users before. He spoke at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona back in February, and I encourage you to check out his blog post about the topic. “It took 22 years for the first billion users to come online, and everything changed,” Gary started. “The next two billion will come online over the next five years.” It’s that dramatic pace that has Gary most excited. “If we thought we were moving fast before, we can’t even understand this change.”

The interesting thing about the next billion users is that they aren’t tied down. “They won’t be constrained by any existing process,” Gary said. “They can start something new.” Sending money using a phone might be a shift in habit for someone from Canada used to visiting a bank, but for the next billion that will be just the way you do things. I mentioned that students in Africa often receive test scores via text message, whereas I had to wait for a piece of paper when I was in high school. Being free of the context of paper is part of what makes the coming shift so exciting to Gary. “To anyone who has never had a test score delivered via a sheet of paper, they don’t even have that in mind.”

Something that Gary has focused a lot of energy on during his time at Mozilla is privacy. “It’s a concern mostly because there’s no transparency,” he told me, which in the context of the recent NSA and PRISM news is quite accurate. The challenge around privacy in bringing the next billion users online is to enable them to have control. “Tools are being developed, and there will be ways for them to have a much better privacy experience from the start,” Gary said.

gary kovacs
Gary Kovacs at Mobile World Congress

Another topic we discussed was the open web. “It must be open and available for all to participate,” he said. “The next two billion people can’t be forced to go online in a way that advantages one commercial organization over another.” Gary mentioned the history we’ve been through with AOL, and noted that in the world of mobile today we’re forced to essentially choose one of two centrally planned economies. “One or two organizations cannot possibly keep up with the millions of requests of human innovation,” he said.

Lastly, I wanted to ask Gary what advice he’d give to startups. “Big organizations innovate at the centre of the bell curve,” he said. “Startups are magically placed to innovate at the edges.” For Gary, the next two billion people coming online is an incredible opportunity for startups. “Look beyond the boundaries of where you live,” he advised. Startups are able to have an impact in areas that simply cannot be contemplated by larger organizations. “Also think in terms of systems,” he added. “We should no longer think of mobile as a device or an app, that wave of innovation has occurred; the next wave is when anything is connected.”

Very exciting times ahead indeed! This is just a small snapshot of the things you’ll hear discussed at AccelerateAB in Calgary next month. The conference takes place on July 11, and tickets are just $30. You’ve got until July 2 to register, so get on it! You can check out the schedule here.

The other thing happening in conjunction with AccelerateAB is Alberta Tech Week. All week long there will be interesting tech events taking place, and you can submit your own if you’d like to get involved. It’s going to be a great week to connect with tech entrepreneurs from across the province!