In 2017, Vancouver was ranked the best city in the world for startups. Over the last decade, the startup scene has exploded in Canada’s third largest city, boasting household names like Slack, Hootsuite, and Shopify. Indeed, with a selection of government aid available for small businesses, paired with a high quality of life and reasonable living costs, starting up in Vancouver is not only an alternative to Silicon Valley, but a viable option.
Enter Liz Dickinson, Founder of MIO Global and PaiHealth, named by wareable.com as one of the world’s most innovative influencers in wearable technology. Since 1999, the Vancouver based founder has pioneered technology that gives people unique insights into their biology and physiological wellbeing— starting with the world’s first ECG accurate heart rate-tracking wrist wearable. Her lead investor in the product? Adidas. How? She leveraged her international network of peer mentors. In our interview with the 2-time serial entrepreneur, whose products are now in the hands of a few million individuals, we learned why fostering and leveraging a global community is vital to the success of a Vancouver based startup, especially when it comes to fundraising.
What led to your decision to start up MIO Global?
Liz: I was traveling internationally, and so I started to research the best way to optimize exercise, and I came across heart rate monitoring. That was the late 1990’s and I didn’t like the tech that was out at the time. So I actually hired an engineer and ended up creating the world’s first heart rate monitoring watch.
In your opinion, what are the primary differences between starting a technology company in Vancouver vs. the United States?
Liz: Vancouver is changing. When I started raising it was more of a user space, there was very little VC money for companies in the startup phase. For a founder to find that level of capital between angel and when the big private equity companies come in, there’s a huge gap in the high tech marketplace. I see it maturing now. There are more funds but it’s still risk averse and there is not that much A or pre-A series capital.
There is more talent in the U.S., because it tends to drain brains from Canada. However, it’s expensive. The talent here is also very expensive, and with big firms locating here it will get even more scarce. The return on the work is not the same as in the United States; Vancouver tends to be about lifestyle choices. We ended up doing the bulk of our development in China, which has its own challenges.
There are more funds [in Vancouver now] but it’s still risk averse and there is not that much A or pre-A series capital @Mio_Boss
Your first Series A investor was Adidas, with a $23M pre-money valuation. Can you talk about how you were able to raise funds from such a large client?
Liz: In order to get investments from strategics, you need to be able to solve a problem they have with their internal business. So it just so happened that Adidas was really pushing to launch a product similar to ours, but ours was much better and we had a very unique technology they wanted access to.
In order to get investments from strategics, you need to be able to solve a problem they have with their internal business. @Mio_Boss
What is the most important thing for founders in Vancouver to understand when starting a technology company?
Liz: They have to understand that just because they’re in Vancouver, they can’t build a network just in Vancouver— they have to be willing to build a global network; in Europe, Silicon Valley, etc— connections in Europe are how I got Adidas. Most Silicon Valley firms don’t like to invest outside of the country. So it’s tough to get VC funding from the valley when you’re outside the valley.
I think the same is true in every country— they like to invest in local founders. Vancouver is extraordinarily small, so just go anywhere— China, Hong Kong, etc. Just be prepared to expand your network globally.
[Founders] have to understand that just because they’re in Vancouver, they can’t build a network just in Vancouver— they have to be willing to build a global network. @Mio_Boss
Why is your network important to you as an entrepreneur? What do you do to take care of it?
Liz: Well I’m retired now, but I continue to have meetings and reach out to the people I’ve worked with. Or just stay interested in the same things they are. When I was working actively, I made sure to go to all the major events, that was key.
What is one thing you wish you knew at the beginning of your journey as a founder that you know now?
Liz: I always knew this but didn’t quite appreciate just how important subscription business models and huge gross margins are.
Meet Liz and our Vancouver Chapter of tech founders on June 12th, 2018 for an intimate discussion by RSVP’ing here.
Briana manages Founders Network’s community of 600+ tech founders.