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ej - where ideas collide

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Dec 11, 2009
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Where ideas collide

Startup Edmonton aims to bring innovators together

By Lewis Kelly, Edmonton Journal January 21, 2012

(image/Mayor Stephen Mandel and Startup Edmonton founder Ken Bautista at a preview Friday of the new workspace in the Mercer Building
Photograph by: Bruce Edwards, The Journal, Edmonton Journal)

Ken Bautista wants to increase the number of accidents in Edmonton.

Not traffic accidents, of course. Bautista, CEO of Startup Edmonton, thinks more intellectual mishaps will make the city more entrepreneurial and dynamic.

He announced the next step in his accident-creation strategy Friday. Startup Edmonton will move into the top floor of the Mercer Building at the north end of 104th Street's trendy downtown stretch.

"Innovation evolves from the collision of ideas and people," he said. ""We want to have a place where people can come and collide with other people." Bautista hopes Startup's offices will foster such providential ricochets by getting nascent tech firms to share the same space.

Video chats and smartphones might make furthering shoulder-rubbing among tech entrepreneurs seem a bit like selling bicycles to salmon, but Bautista insists on the value of face-to-face interaction for fostering innovation.

Local tech firms evidently agree with him. A handful has lined up to rent space with Startup, including Empire Avenue, Rinksters and Edistorm.

"The thing that I've found very important for this level [of development] is collaboration," said Sean Kopen of Cinder, a local game developer considering renting space with Startup. "I find sitting down with people face-to-face and hammering out ideas to be really effective."

A non-profit corporation founded in 2009 and aimed at boosting local tech entrepreneurs, Startup will join four other tenants in the 101-year-old Mercer building.

Originally a scotch and tobacco warehouse for local merchant J.B. Mercer, its latest in-carnation will open this spring under the auspices of the Pope family. Kelly Pope bought the building roughly a year ago, and his son Devin acts as property manager.

Bautista hopes the location, near Grant Mac-Ewan's downtown campus, close to the LRT and across the street from the location of the proposed downtown arena, will help create a campuslike atmosphere at Startup's office.

"The most innovative companies of the world build campuses, not office towers," he said, pointing to companies like Apple, Google and Nike.

Startup's success will lie in failure - the failure of many, many ideas and startups needed to produce gilt-edged tech companies.

"If you want the superstar entrepreneurs, you've gotta have a lot of prospects in the pipeline. That's what we're trying to do with this space," said Batista.

He said he hoped Startup will create in Edmonton something similar to burgeoning tech centres in Boulder, Colo. and Austin, Tex. "This isn't about building the next Silicon Valley," he said. "We don't have to be big, we just have to be great."

Mayor Stephen Mandel echoed Bautista's hopeful tone.

"Startup Edmonton is really about the younger generation of our creative people having an opportunity to work with others to come up with some dynamic and interesting ideas to create an industry within the city," he said. "I'm incredibly pleased that this is happening."

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