Last week I attended the annual Big DiF event hosted by Innovation Factory (@itsbeginswithIF) with about 300 other people. The event featured an open house with demos and setups by companies like Hard Circle, OverAir and Weever Apps, as well as a lot of networking in the open space at McMaster Innovation Park Atrium. Innovation Factory is Hamilton’s regional innovation center and part of a province-wide network of similar centers, the equivalent organizations would be Communitech in Waterloo or Mars Discovery District in Toronto. They’ve been doing an excellent job promoting innovation locally and helping startups in the Hamilton-area succeed. Check out this video that they played at The Big DiF:
Since last year they’ve been awarding a “Difizen” of the Year award to somebody that has made a big difference in the innovation community. Last year’s winner was Jim Rundick (@JVRudnick), a successful entrepreneur (CanuckSEO and KKT Interactive) and a great Hamiltonian that mentors many local startup founders and contributes to the community tirelessly. The award itself is named after Mark Chamberlain (@mj_chamberlain), a business and community leader famous for his leadership of WesCam amongst many other succeses. At this year’s event, I was thrilled and honoured to win the award!
As people that know me well or read this blog have already heard before, I’ve been a McMaster student for 10 years from a Bachelors degree to now finishing a PhD. Over the years I’ve seen friend after friend come into town and get a great education, and then leave town for lack of a stronger technology sector. Sure, lots of people leave the place where they went to school, even in a mature tech city like Waterloo. But all of them leave? Between seeing McMaster students leave, and family and friends that I grew up with leave, all because of the “jobs problem” in Hamilton, I got really, really frustrated. So I started organizing tech events like DemoCamp, StartupDrinks and Startup Weekend to act as a catalyst for a stronger software industry. It’s been a lot of work over the last couple years, but it’s also been a blast. I love seeing this industry grow in Hamilton. I love organizing events, it’s been the best hobby in the world. That’s why it felt really awesome to win this award. I’ll always be grateful.
A big, big thanks to everyone that has either sponsored, presented at, or attended a Software Hamilton event, along with everyone that has contributed content of any kind to this blog. These initiatives really wouldn’t have been what they were if not for all the help and support from the community. Innovation Factory themselves have been fantastic supporters and partners on these different initiatives, having sponsored every single DemoCampHamilton event. Hamilton Economic Development, Mohawk College and McMaster University have also regularly sponsored DemoCamps, with each of FluidMedia, Factor[e], Gowlings, Orbital, KPMG, The Art Gallery of Hamilton, SR&ED One, and the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce also sponsoring a DemoCamp. Dozens of speakers volunteered their time to come out to these events and dispense their knowledge or put their product out their for criticism/feedback, and the community has benefited from this sharing of experience. Again, a big, big thanks to everyone!
Many community building theories stress the importance of volunteer work. I’ve heard that volunteering 10% of your time is optimal. Startup Communities author Brad Feld suggests spending 20% of your time, “These leadership roles are not full-time jobs – they are volunteer positions! Think of Google 20% ruleâ€¦ 20% of your time should be dedicated to whatever you want… so spend 20% of your time leading the startup community.â€ť I couldn’t afford to pay people to talk at events. Most people can’t afford to pay for a mentor. But volunteers can step up and fill the gap and make it happen for the community.
I’m a believer in the power of volunteer work, mostly because of my grandmother.
In 1979, my grandfather had a brain aneurysm. He survived, but he would never be remotely the same or ever get better. He would require constant care for the rest of his life. Experiencing this kind of tragedy can break a person. But my grandmother had a particularly unconquerable soul. She took care of him at the long term care facility where he stayed for 29 years, until he passed away in 2008.
She went far beyond taking care of my grandfather though. She put thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours in at the facilities where he stayed. Pushing wheelchairs, feeding patients, and running activities for patients. She added joy to the lives of so many people in their final years. She continued after my grandfather passed on. At 84-years-old she was still riding the bus every day from her house in the east end all the way to the west mountain, to take care of other people, just because that’s what made her happy. And she did it all with a smile and sense of humor too. Her passion was an inspiration to everyone that knew her.
She passed away a month before the first DemoCamp. I’ll always be thankful to her for teaching me the value of volunteer work.
Thanks to everyone who has volunteered their time in our community. And I encourage anyone to volunteer their time for others, whether it’s in this community or another. Step up. Fill a gap. Make it happen. I promise it will make you happy.