Why the VSW Team is BRAVE
Every year, at the start of Vancouver Startup Week, we host a VIP Reception where we invite our sponsors and key partners to say “thank you!”. Did you know that every single member of our team is a dedicated volunteer?
With the “What great leaders look like” panel in Vancouver Startup Week fast approaching on June 8, we were curious; What does a great leader look like to Handol Kim of the Asian Canadian Venture Collective and Lindsay Chan of Vancouver Entrepreneurs Forum? And in honor of Asian Heritage Month, how does their heritage play a part?
What does a great leader look like to you as a person with Asian heritage?
Lindsay: A great leader is someone who shows respect to those around them, is supportive and encourages others to take risks. They like to create opportunities for others around them because they want others to be heard and to succeed. Also, they’re well balanced and know there is often more than one way to get to a destination.
As a CBC (Chinese born Canadian), I’m proud of my Chinese heritage but it does not define me. I am Canadian and love connecting with other like-minded members of the Vancouver tech community.
What does Asian Canadian Venture Collective stand for and what is its main goal?
Handol: ACVC is about Asian-Canadians helping each other succeed in creating, funding, and supporting world-class Canadian companies across the technology and innovation landscape. There are so many amazing and successful Canadian entrepreneurs, investors, and ecosystem players of Asian heritage who have some much to share; ACVC is tapping into this resource for the benefit of other members of our community.
What does Vancouver Entrepreneurship Forum stand for and what is its main goal?
Lindsay: VEF is Vancouver’s premier networking forum for technology entrepreneurs and members of the wider technology ecosystem. VEF aims to help entrepreneurs achieve their goals and build long-lasting relationships that will support their journey towards success. We deliver eight events each year, each designed to educate, inspire and foster lasting connections. We’ve been around since 1998 and are proud of the incredible community that has supported us over the years.
Why is Asian representation so important in the startup world and in tech?
Handol: Representation matters in the startup world just like in other fields. A more nuanced explanation is that there are so many massively successful global tech companies led by Asian founders, but not many that are based in Canada. ACVC is focused on supporting the Canadian part of the equation.
How can Asians be better represented in the startup or tech world in Canada?
Lindsay: Events like the panel in Vancouver Startup Week are a really great start. So are groups like ACVC. More opportunities that connect members of the Asian community for inspiration, mentorship and support can always help.
There’s an inherent familiarity and trust grounded in values, how we were raised, how we connect (often over great food) and how we sustain relationships. When we see other Asians taking the stage, gaining well-deserved recognition and sharing their stories, it can inspire others to step out, take risks and do something they may otherwise have been afraid to do.
Community and coalition matter. How has your organization worked to create said community for Asian founders?
Handol: Most of our activities to date have focused on events that coalesce the startup community based on themes of common interest, such as fundraising, exits, and startup origin stories. Entrepreneurs tend to be solitary by nature. This is understandable because of the crushing workload and pressure involved in trying to create a successful startup through sheer will, focus, hustle, and technical excellence with not enough money. When you get entrepreneurs comfortable enough to share their struggles and ask hard questions in a safe space among their peers all going through the same issues, as well as allies who can actually help, this is of massive benefit.
Of course, there are many great organizations that already do this, but none specifically for Asian-Canadians. And while many of the challenges are common, there are some that are more specific to people in our community such as parental conditioning/pressures, culturally-ingrained biases (even among 2nd and 3rd generation Asian-Canadians), and fear of failure. ACVC tries to fill this gap.
Lindsay: VEF events and membership showcase the diversity of Vancouver’s tech sector. We do our best to offer events that span a great cross-section of sectors and expertise, that will really appeal to the diversity of our membership. Governed by a diverse board of directors, I think VEF has done a great job of showcasing founders of all backgrounds. This upcoming event on June 8 is a joint effort between VEF and ACVC which we hope the collaboration continues.
In what ways has immigrating to Canada or elsewhere changed your life?
Handol: My parents immigrated to Canada when I was a baby, so you could say that was pretty life-changing. Aside from Canada, I’ve been fortunate enough to live in multiple countries around the world, like Japan, Taiwan, and the USA. While everywhere I’ve lived have impacted me fundamentally, I’d have to single-out that it was living in America, namely the San Francisco Bay Area, that has made the biggest impact on me in a professional context. Silicon Valley has now changed (and maybe quite a bit for the worse), but for me, it remains a place that opened my eyes to the fact that even the most successful companies and founders all started small and made mistakes. That failure happens but does not kill you.
Why do you think Asian leaders have had successful immigrant journeys and integration into society?
Lindsay: Hard work and perseverance, plus the support (sometimes pressure to succeed) of family. Sometimes it’s the quiet ones who find success; Those who shied away from the spotlight, put their heads down and worked, worked, worked. Along the way they build very strong relationships with others like them that endure and they succeed together!
42% of companies in the last few years have one Asian founder - clearly hard work and having a vision was instrumental! In what ways have you worked hard and been a visionary to be where you are today?
Handol: Hard work is where the good-ole immigrant work ethic shines through. While I’ve never had to flee my home due to war like my parents did, that prior trauma informs their values which then filter down through the bloodline to me. Nothing beats hard work! Being lucky enough to have grown up here in Canada, I don’t personally face the same challenges as more recent immigrants. But I know what it’s like second-hand from being a kid and watching my parents try to navigate this new place called Canada when they first arrived.
At the “What great leaders look like” panel on June 8, we’ll have three accomplished Asian speakers coming in. Tell us a bit more about them and why they were selected, according to the goals for both the panel and your organization.
Lindsay: We hope people will come out to hear their stories! We’ve assembled an incredible panel of leaders that is sure to inspire and surprise our audience. Great leadership is great leadership and success is success. However, when we bring community together, who knows what can happen!
What are you looking forward to the most at the panel?
Handol: Stories. Personal and honest stories that let the audience understand the startup journey, both the good and the bad. Doing what they do with verve and commitment despite doubting themselves or feeling like impostors. It’s through these stories that we get an understanding that success is never a straight line or predetermined. I’m a sucker for a great story because it inspires me as an entrepreneur.
What are you looking forward to the most at the panel?
Lindsay: I look forward to connecting with others in the community and shining the spotlight on the success of these three incredible leaders. Their success should be celebrated irrespective of their ethnicity. I can’t wait for everyone to hear more from them!
Please share three words of wisdom for aspiring Asian founders out there who need encouragement to chase their dreams of creating a company?
Handol: Just. Do. It.
Lindsay: Bold. Determination. Community.
To learn more about great leadership, don’t forget to check out the “What great leaders look like” panel in Vancouver Startup Week on June 8! Be sure to follow Handol and Lindsay on LinkedIn and Instagram to learn more from them!