Canada gets a conference for startups: Startup Nation

Early this morning Jevon MacDonald at StartupNorth announced Startup Nation, a conference for startups in Canada. The two-day event will take place in Toronto on November 13th and 14th and features a number of high profile speakers, including Howard Lindzon, Lane Becker, Leila Boujnane, and Canadian participants in the YCombinator Summer ’08 class. Here’s how the conference is described:

StartupNorth is Canada’s only grassroots conference for startups. Created for entrepreneurs and by entrepreneurs, StartupNorth aims to educate and inspire by connecting you with other entrepreneurs, mentors and the ecosystem of support needed to create and operate a successful startup in Canada and the world.

Yes, they seem to be conflicted about what to call it. Some pages and images say “Startup Nation” while others say “Startup North”. The URL is http://startupnation.ca.

I think this type of event is great for Canada. The more opportunities we have to get people face-to-face meeting one another, sharing knowledge and ideas, the better. That said, there’s something about this conference that rubs me the wrong way.

At first I was put off by the fact that it takes place in Toronto, yet is called “Canada’s conference for startups.” I guess you can’t really hold that against them though – you’ve got to start somewhere, and Toronto is as good a place as any. Other conferences such as Mesh and Northern Voice are similar in this regard.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my problem with the conference is the price. A regular ticket costs $355 CDN, with early bird tickets running $295 CDN (before October 12th). What was that about grassroots and such in the description?

I am kind of surprised at the price. Even if the conference wasn’t completely free, it seems expensive compared to something like Northern Voice which only costs about $50. They are able to do that with the help of sponsors – surely Startup North could have signed up enough sponsor support.

I was further put off by Jevon’s comments on his post when others asked about the price. He seemed to take a very defensive approach. Furthermore, he listed Red Herring Canada and TechCrunch50 as examples of more expensive events. Sorry Jevon, I hope the conference is a success, but you’re not TC50.

There is a lot of talk about connecting, and networking, and meeting with some really smart people. Thing is, many of them are fairly accessible already – no $400 fee required. So what does Startup Nation offer beyond that? Can the workshops and training make up for the steep entry fee? I’m not convinced you can learn that much in a day or two.

What do you think? Would you pay $400 on top of travel and accommodations to attend Startup Nation?

9 thoughts on “Canada gets a conference for startups: Startup Nation

  1. I think you’re off the mark on the price. $300 as an early bird reg price is very very reasonable for a two day conference. To put in perhaps better context there’s an “Entrepreneurial Summit” happening at Toronto Tech Week next week that is the same price for one day of content, with only a handful of sessions throughout the day.

    At the end of the day you have to look at the content and decide if the speakers, content & potential connections you could make at the event are worth that $300-350 for you.

    Anyone can come to a free/almost free event and I think what Jevon and David have done here have wisely set a bar that ensures not just a quality event and quality speakers but also quality attendees as each of those people has decided to invest in their business and take two days to learn and make solid connections to help them advance.

    Toronto’s free events are great but the most value I’ve gotten in a long time is the $100 I spent going to a Founders & Funders dinner because the crowd all had a vested interest in getting value from the evening – I expect Startup Nation will deliver the same, if not more value.

  2. Ryan, thanks for the comment. You’re right of course, each person is going to get something different out of the event.

    My experience has always been that the best connections I’ve made have come when we haven’t paid to meet one another.

    Just because something costs money doesn’t mean that it is going to be of high quality.

    I think it is still fairly early though, and Jevon and his team have more announcements to make, so I look forward to learning about what they have lined up.

  3. @Leigh – What part of working to inspire, educate and connect Canadian entrepreneurs makes us on crack? We are not focused on social media marketing agencies. Marketing and strategy are only one part of the topics we are hoping to cover. The topics range from papering companies to papering term sheets; from desiging your products to designing your sales pipe.

    Our target audience: Aspiring high-tech entrepreneurs who want to build high growth businesses.

    @Mack: We’re not the TechCrunch50. We’re Canadian. We’re trying to help promote, grow, inspire and connect Canadian entrepreneurs.

    Check out what my colleagues Mark Relph and John Oxley have to say about producing events:

    http://blogs.msdn.com/mark_relph/archive/2008/09/22/techdays-some-q-a.aspx

    “Secondly, I’ve had some comments on if there is a discount for students and user groups. Short answer is no as this is an already subsidized conference. Long answer: It costs a lot to bring this level of technical conference to Canada and since we wanted this type of training to be accessible to all, we’ve invested quite a bit to make the early bird price as low as it is. Our cost to deliver this conference series on a per per person level is well over the full costs of $499.99 (2 Day event) and $249.99 (1 day event). To that point we are committed to supporting you and your development/skills growth…..So, please take advantage of the early bird price as soon as you can”

    Cheers,
    David

  4. Hi David,

    If you were targeting agencies, I wouldn’t think you were on crack.

    However, speaking from the perspective of someone who had a start up with a marketing budget of pretty much whatever we could scrape together, the dollars you are talking about are really significant. If one has VC funding (which as you know are few and far between here in Canada) then again it’s not an issue but for most start ups even with a clear value proposition, the dollars you are suggesting might be a hard pill to swallow.

    But, I could always be wrong. 🙂

  5. @Leigh targeting agencies wouldn’t be a startup conference. It would continue the misnomer in Canada that anyone and everyone is a startup and an entrepreneur. The goal is to provide content and an experience that will be top notch and worth every penny.

    The goal is not to appeal to marketing. The goal is to be within reach for any entrepreneur in Canada. $299 might mean that you may have to give up eating out or a couple of drinks to attend. We’re hoping to help provide workshops and materials and speakers that will justify the cost.

    We are entrepreneurs. What would be worth $300 to you as an entrepreneur? How can we provide value above and beyond what you spend?

  6. @David

    I know you weren’t targeting agencies. I just meant that agencies could at least afford the price! 🙂

    As for the value – that is a tough one.

    Since doing my start up, I’ve spoken to anyone and everyone who wants to network and know about my own experiences etc. What I find (in general) is that particularly with first time entrepreneurs, they have a lot of preconceived ideas and most of those are based on US market realities not Canadian (And by the by, i was the exact same way…)

    As entrepreneurs, we are by nature, know-it-alls, or entrepreneurial enough to believe that we can find the info ourselves, or through out own networks for free.

    For that reason, I think a lower price point may at least make taking a chance on what value they may or may not get a much smaller decision and give your conference some potential for WOM for the next year.

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