Communitech and the Kitchener-Waterloo Tech Startup Community

Posted on October 26, 2011

Understanding the Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) startup community is critical for any local entrepreneur. I want to share what I have learned over the past 6 weeks to help others navigate through the different organizations and people. I focused on trying to understand the structure, the organizations involved, and the programs that help create a thriving crop of startups. Like every community, it’s never organized the way it appears on the surface. The KW startup community is surprisingly convoluted with several organizations sharing responsibilities and activities.

I’m going to share my observations with you over the next couple of posts. Let’s start with Communitech.

Communitech is a not-for-profit organization based in the Waterloo region focused on supporting local companies to create a technology cluster. As an organization, Communitech has been around formally since 1997 where it was founded by local executives of technology companies in the Waterloo region. It was originally founded to help bring together like-minded individuals who wanted to share their experiences and increase their chances of success in building tech companies in the region. According to Communitech’s website, there are over 650 companies who are part of Communitech in the region and over 30,000 people working in tech companies. Those numbers may have changed after RIM’s layoffs in July. As it stands today, Communitech receives a substantial amount of funding from local, provincial and federal governments along with private funding to establish facilities and programs to help build the startup community in KW. It is easy to join Communitech with a variety of options based on the size of your organization. In return for joining as a “Network Member” (member) you get access to a variety of different programs and opportunities offered by the organization.

Venture Services

The Venture Services group, run by Steve Currie, provides access to “Executives in Residence” (EiR) who are individuals that have substantial experience as entrepreneurs. The EiRs provide cross-functional support for Communitech members in a variety of capacities. In the program’s current form, each member is assigned a single EIR who is their main point of contact for support. However, with over 650 companies in Communitech the resources and time provided by the EIRs is heavily constrained and in high demand.

Access to Events

One of the biggest benefits available to all members is access to Communitech events for free or at a discounted rate. Examples of Communitech events are Entrepreneur Week, breakfasts events with great speakers, and regular peer-to-peer group in focused areas (e.g. game developers, Executive Directors, User Experience designers). Communitech doesn’t seem to list their own events on their website but do host a list of community events for anyone to join.

Recruitment

One of the critical aspects of building any company is having access to great talent. With the well respected University of Waterloo supplying new graduates in both computer science and engineering disciplines there is a steady flow of new recruits for local tech companies. Communitech offers several programs that try to help entrepreneurs connect with potential employees.

The biggest program is the Communitech-run job site WaterlooTechJobs where members can list job opportunities. There are quite a few jobs listed on the website and, like the rest of the industry, developers are the most sought after resource. Communitech also runs job fairs providing job seekers with the opportunity to learn more about local companies.

Communitech is one of the most well known startup brands in the KW region which causes confusion in terms of the role it plays for other organizations who help startups. As a great example, most people assume that Communitech runs the Accelerator Centre when in fact they are completely separate sister organizations. My next post will outline how the Accelerator Centre is structured and provide additional clarity around the roles of the two organizations.


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