Growing Startup Market in Canada: Startup Open House Organiser

By September 14, 2016Tech and Startups
Early this year we participated in Startup Open House London and immediately fell in love with the initiative. As part of the event, some of the most exciting startups have opened the doors to their condominiums for Talent.
The companies today are investing more in their employer branding and nurture culture, Talent is looking for not just a 9-5 job but an inspiring environment filled with like-minded people. These changes in market sentiment have been suggesting the shift in headhunting and job searching tactics. Giving startups an opportunity to welcome Talent offline and let them see further through the dull job board ad has turned Startup Open House initiative into a go-to example of new ways of attracting the workforce. As it resonates with Jobbio’s philosophy to bring the right opportunities in front of the right audience, we are thrilled to announce our partnership with SOH.  More about the initiative and the opportunities rising from it in our interview with SOH Lead Organiser Kara Sheppard-Jones.
The Startup Open House is now in its fourth year of existence. Tell us about the initial stages of the idea and its expansion in different cities (and countries).

Kara Sheppard-Jones

Startup Open House originated in Montréal in 2013 as a reverse career fair. It was imagined as a better way to recruit Talent for startups, by putting culture at the center of recruitment. For startups, it’s an easy way to meet Talent right within their workplace. The first year, the simplicity of the concept and its appeal to participants attracted 50 startups and 1000 participants in Montréal. In 2014, a team in Toronto decided they wanted to bring the concept there, leading to an increase in the number of startups and participants. Since then, Vancouver, Quebec City, Waterloo, London (UK) and now Ottawa have signed up to run a Startup Open House. The appeal for startups is significant and participants love the opportunity to enter the workplaces and meet the teams. Our growth has been organic and largely demand driven – we expand where local teams have demonstrated an interest in running the event.

What it’s like to project-manage the event of such scale? Tell us more about the challenges of your role and how do you handle them.
It’s a lot of back and forth with lots and lots of people. There are over 400 startups participating at the moment plus thousands of participants across Canada, plus our local teams and partners. I spend a lot of my days communicating with people, but I love it! Because the event is so decentralised it’s even harder for us as organisers to properly connect with all stakeholders but we’re working on building ways to be on the field, check-in with all our startups, connect with our participants, and build the SOH community through the event but also through year-long programming.
How did you manage to make startups open their doors? What were some of the FAQs from your first participants?
Startups find they can benefit from the visibility and the access to Talent the event provides. It is a counter-intuitive concept, hence, at times there are hesitations as to how to host people in their space, how many people to expect, etc. For participants, the idea that they gain access to the startup workplaces and can build their own itinerary through the city was counter-intuitive. We’ve had to communicate very clearly the concept, so everybody understands the event well.
Startup Open House
“It’s undeniable that Talent are flocking to the startup space for its unique culture and quirkiness.”
The startups might have asked – what’s the value we are getting by inviting people to our offices? Your reply?
If you’re getting off the ground, it’s a whole lot of visibility. By bringing together the largest players in the space with the emerging startups, we’re able to shine the light on all startups. Participants enter your place eager to learn more about who you are and what you do. They are all future potential customers, investors, employees, etc.
You get to meet Talent, from within your workplace, while showcasing who you are. We know how hard it is to attract the right people. Startup Open House increases the likelihood of finding a good fit candidate.
Could the SOH be an informal interview for interested Talent visiting the company they want to work for?
I wouldn’t use the word interview. Rather, it’s an opportunity for both Talent and startups to connect. Participants can gain insights on the company’s culture, interact with the entire team, and see if the fit might be right. Some startups may do spontaneous, casual interviews but the added value of Startup Open House is the ability for both parties to interact in a natural, casual setting.
Are startups as quirky as their reputation?
I think so, but it always depends. There’s lots of variation in the startup space. Like with any other company, management makes a big difference in the organisation’s culture. However, it’s undeniable that Talent are flocking to the startup space for its unique culture and quirkiness. In that sense, companies are having to adapt to employee expectations. Startup Open House exemplifies this quirkiness and its importance in recruiting top Talent.
Startup Open House
“Startups find they can benefit from the visibility and the access to Talent the event provides.”
What has surprised you the most after you got to know startup culture from the inside?
I don’t claim to “know startup culture” perfectly. However, my experience in Montreal, especially, has proven to me just how genuine the culture is. Some may think there’s a lot of show, showing off just “how cool” a company is but then it’s a different story when you look under the hood. In Montreal, I’ve discovered a bunch of fantastic people dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs and innovating, and ready to pitch in to support the community. It’s genuine and Startup Open House lets you glimpse that authenticity.
 
You are a keen supporter of entrepreneurship and innovation, what’s your top tip for those looking to kickstart their career at a startup?
Hustle. Maybe one of the most used words in the space. But it’s for a good reason. One thing I learned and admire from the startup space is that actions speak 100% louder than words, especially here. If you want to work for a startup, then be at every event, connect with their staff, volunteer for events like Startup Open House to get a sense of the ecosystem and give back, jump into the ecosystem and work hard.
Startup Open House
“Participants coming through your doors are your future potential customers, investors, employees.”
What’s in the pipeline? Who, where, when will open their doors? 
Our growth has been quite organic so far and I predict it will remain so. We support local ecosystems who reach out with the right resources to run a successful Startup Open House. At the moment, we’ve had interest from Boston, NYC, Dublin, Sao Paolo and Tel Aviv. However, our Canadian events remain our largest and there’s still lots we can do here to provide additional value to participants and startups.
Turn Startup Open House into three words that reflect each of its components.
    • Discover
    • Exchange
    • Celebrate

Quick-Fire Round

My least favourite thing about startups… I never thought there was such a thing as too much pizza.

What makes a startup stick out is… 100% it’s culture.

A successful entrepreneur has these three skills… Passion, humility, focus.

If something goes wrong… You try again, differently.

Favourite app… Pinterest, it’s inspiration at the tip of your fingers.


Find your next job at a startup