Report to Community: In conversation with Brad Zumwalt

Report to Community: In conversation with Brad Zumwalt

Platform Calgary is a non-profit, member based organization. Our mandate is to bring together the resources of Calgary's tech ecosystem to help startups launch and grow at every step of their journey, from ideation through to scale.

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Think back to Calgary’s tech community when you were building your businesses. What did that look like?

It didn’t really exist. Decades ago, those of us in tech really admired Calgary’s energy sector. There was a connection and a personal touch to the relationships in that community that played a pivotal role in helping Calgary based companies compete on a global scale. The tech sector as a whole had very little connectivity and very little peer interaction where we could learn from each other. The interactions that did happen were at out of market tradeshows and events, but almost never within the city where we all lived.

Talk to us about the advent of Rainforest Calgary. What was the need that you were addressing?

In the early days, Calgary tech companies were competing internationally – we knew it was possible, but we weren’t acting like a hometeam. Great example – another Calgary tech leader and I each helped build 100+ employee tech companies at the same time, in the same office building, two floors apart. It took more than
a decade for us to finally meet. How is that possible? I got interested in a concept out of Silicon Valley called “The Rainforest”. A consulting firm was looking into the conditions that contribute to a growing tech ecosystem. Their findings showed that trust and a sense of community were central to success. That resonated with Calgary tech leaders. In looking at other places around the world, we started to learn from their examples while building our own made-in-Calgary approach. All of the ingredients were here in Calgary, we just needed to find a way to bring it all together.

Looking back, what has been Rainforest’s biggest contribution to Calgary’s tech ecosystem. What are you most proud of?

Early on it became clear that we didn’t have a centre ice location where all of this activity could live. We needed a Calgary tech barnraising to pull everything together into something the community could see, touch, feel and smell. The inspiration for Platform Calgary was born out of Rainforest. Not to replace anything, but to bring connection and focus to the work.

Through these connections we could add a tailwind to the local teams that are trying to build something great. Rainforest and Platform Calgary have contributed to building needed connections between founders, industry, talent, government, and funders. And the entire ecosystem is better for it.

“The idea of Rainforest has helped build intangible connections between community members. The strength of a network is not measured by individual nodes in the system. It is measured by the linkages between those nodes.”

What role does Platform Calgary play in the evolution of the Rainforest journey?

The progress is there, but we still have so much work to do. We now have that central point of access in our city, and it will stay here. Now we need to start scaling that activity. How many 1-2 person startups do we want to foster and support each year that can grow to 5-10 employees, or 20-50 employees, or 100+ employee companies? Platform plays an important role in building that assembly line by understanding the gaps in the ecosystem and bringing together the resources that are here to support Calgary’s innovators. There are no shortcuts here. Platform is not the silver bullet to make all of this possible, the work is bigger than that. Platform is a working symbol that Calgary is a city where we can believe in each other to take small ideas and turn them into companies that make a difference in our community. To get a 100+ employee company, we may have to work with over 100 startups in the process. Collectively, we have to believe in that process. We have to build that confidence in every corner of our city – that Calgary innovators can build something great that can compete on a global scale.

What comes next? How do you see the spirit of Rainforest living on to support Calgary innovators?

This movement needs to go everywhere. The spirit of collaboration and inclusion needs to permeate into every coffee room and every conversation we have as city builders. We need to continue to create the conditions where support organizations, founders, investors, and everyone else in the community can do their best work. These principles need to live beyond any one organization. Rainforest Calgary was always designed to be that way. Today we have reached that transition point where we can look at Calgary’s tech ecosystem and recognize that those values are taking hold and that the benefits are being felt throughout the community. To me, that is the true legacy of Rainforest.

Published on

June 26, 2024


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