Building Community: SureSwift in the Victoria Tech Scene

Building Community: SureSwift in the Victoria Tech Scene

As a tech entrepreneur, it’s easy to get caught up in the fast-paced and global nature of the industry. While we embrace that at SureSwift (with a truly global and remote-first hiring strategy), we’ve also learned that there are huge benefits to getting involved in your local community, even if your work is largely remote or online. Community involvement can be a valuable way to build relationships, gain visibility, and make a positive impact. In this post, we’ll talk with SureSwift COO John Austin and explore why tech entrepreneurs should consider getting involved in their local communities, as well as how SureSwift leadership is engaged with the tech community in Victoria. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the tech industry for years, local community involvement can be a powerful tool for building your business and making a difference in the world around you.

Hi John, thanks for chatting with me today. Can you share a little bit about your background and how you got involved with your local tech community?

Sure. I think there are a lot of different things that people at SureSwift are doing, including James and I, but we each have a bit of a different approach, so I’ll just set the stage and talk about me.

I started getting involved in the Victoria technology community when I was in a previous role, and part of that involved a lot of outreach, trying to be good stewards of the community. I was one of the primary local representatives for the company that I was with at the time, and when we eventually parted ways around 2018, I ended up doubling down on that community involvement. At the time I was really looking to reinvent myself, and I knew that I wanted to be involved in entrepreneurship and startups. I had a lot of operational and growth experience, and I reached out to VIATEC and asked how I could get involved in supporting technology companies. It was a win-win, I would leverage my expertise and help out starting businesses, and at the same time, I’d meet entrepreneurs, and hearing about their passion and pursuits fueled the next steps in my career.

I joined a program called the Venture Acceleration Program, or VAP, which is basically their startup program, and a bunch of companies apply for that every year to get involved. There are similar programs all over, and they can be an amazing resource whether you’re just starting out or looking to volunteer your expertise.

I work as what’s called a community mentor, which means I get called upon to come to quarterly meetings and review where a business is and address any major challenges they have. I’ve been doing that for three plus years now, and I try to make time quarterly to attend at least some of those sessions. It’s a great way to build relationships with the entrepreneurs looking for some advice and assistance, which is also a great way to expand my own network. I offer my advice based on my pretty broad operational and growth experience, and then I’m also able to connect them with other people in my network who can help with any other key business challenges they may be facing.

Whether or not startups or entrepreneurs are selected for the official accelerator program, there are a lot of really good opportunities for them to connect with people in the community who can provide that advice or connections, or just be a sounding board and understand some of those pretty unique challenges of being a Founder and entrepreneur, so it’s a pretty valuable community to have.

sureswift-involvement-in-victoria-bc

That’s amazing. And even though you’re volunteering your time and your expertise, you still feel like you’re getting a lot out of the experience.

I really am. One of the most obvious benefits is just seeing all these different businesses and the different problems they’re facing, and working together with some really smart and experienced people to help solve them only makes me that much better at what I do, and that’s something I can bring right back to what we’re doing here at SureSwift. It gives us more and more exposure and experience, and allows us to start seeing patterns in these businesses which allows us to be more effective operators of the businesses in the SureSwift portfolio. When it comes down to the most basic level, a lot of these businesses are similar in terms of their challenges and their growth, so having that exposure to a number of businesses makes us better at running ours.

Additionally, I find I also get a lot of energy and inspiration from being around these earlier stage startups and entrepreneurs who are a little earlier in their journey, seeing the passion and creativity they bring to their work every day is pretty incredible and it makes me want to be an even better steward of this tech community we have.

I know James (SureSwift’s CEO) has a pretty similar outlook, and he’s always coming back from local events or meetings with new ideas and energy.

Yes, James is also very involved in the startup and tech community. He inspires me with the wisdom, support and energy he provides to entrepreneurs, and the respect they have for him. James and I are part of Cindicates together with some other awesome folks, which has the goal of providing angel investors with diversified early stage technology company exposure. Via a fund model, the team at Cindicates leverage their experience to find, assess and invest in seed round technology investments on behalf of our investors. The end result is support for BC based startups -  investments in tech companies at an early stage to provide that fuel in terms of capital, but also in terms of support and experience to help overcome those initial roadblocks.

That’s great, it sounds like you’re both helping grow something pretty amazing and unique in Victoria.

I’m pretty proud of the Victoria tech community, and I think it does benefit from some uniques that make it an ideal place for this entrepreneurial, startup culture to grow, but I also think it’s something that can happen anywhere when the right ingredients come together, and people are supportive of each other.

When people start talking, and volunteering their time or expertise, or angel investing, there’s a kind of multiplier effect. Where these young entrepreneurs and businesses reap the benefits, but eventually they find that success and they turn around and start giving back to the community as well. And as people get involved, they tend to pull in their own networks, so things just grow and get better and better as they realize the benefits not just to these young businesses they’re helping, but to themselves and the community.

But Victoria is pretty amazing – we’ve got some great schools out here, great educational foundation. Proximity to big tech hubs like Seattle, San Francisco. We’re in the same time zone as Silicon Valley. It’s also just a really beautiful, desirable place to live.

We have fewer big players in our city like Amazon, Google or Microsoft compared to larger markets like Vancouver, but we benefit from their talent pool. Victoria draws in people who have experience at these larger firms but choose to live our island lifestyle. Unlike some of those bigger cities, our "smaller" tech community is integrated, supportive, and has great depth across a broad range of smaller companies, which makes people want to stay here. And I think that encourages and creates that closeness of the ecosystem.

VIATEC in Victoria, BC

How do you see SureSwift growing and getting involved in that ecosystem?

Well, that’s something we’ve been trying to balance, because while James and I are both Victoria locals, and highly involved in the community here, we recognize that SureSwift is a global company and we want to hold really true to that. There are massive benefits to being a remote first and global company that we want to keep at SureSwift, and it’s really important to us not to become homogeneous, not just in terms of culture but in location and diversity of experience and perspective.

At the same time though, Victoria is where James and I are, and we have had some pretty amazing local folks join our team. It’s also a bit of a coming home for SureSwift, it has its roots here, and now with more of the leadership team here, we have this really cool opportunity to do something meaningful and be involved in this community here in Victoria.

That doesn’t mean we’re not interested in being involved in more of these global communities and events, but while we have the opportunity to engage with and benefit from the tech ecosystem here in Victoria, we’re definitely going to take advantage of that to the fullest.

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