With costs rising beyond $50 billion, it’s natural to wonder why any nation would want to host the Olympics. Proponents gush about the influx of visitors, spending boosts in the local economy, the chance to quickly inject capital into a city’s infrastructure and the opportunity to shape a country’s reputation on the global stage.
However, there are less obvious but equally powerful outcomes from hosting the games. The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver had a deep impact on the Canadian psyche, creating a brazen, publicly demonstrated drive to win. That ambition rippled into the entrepreneurial community and has influenced much of the current crop of business leaders who are dedicated to keeping Canada on the proverbial podium.
Before Vancouver, Canada had failed to win any gold medals at the first two Olympics it hosted (1976 and 1988).
Determined to erase this history, Canada launched the Own The Podium initiative in 2006, injecting $150 million to support its athletes. The mission (which to many Canadians seemed … un-Canadian) was to not just show up and compete, but to come in first place.
During the first few days of the 2010 Olympics, you didn’t see many Canadian flags or attire around Vancouver. However, more and more maple leafs came out as the games went on, and Canadian athletes were indeed owning the podium. Seemingly for the first time, an exuberant sense of national pride gripped the country.
The ripple effect of this pride made its way a thousand miles south to reach Canadian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Amid all the cheering for Canadian hockey and curling teams, a group of elite Silicon Valley business people from Canada discovered a mutual desire to help their fellow countrymen and -women. Instead of fostering the next generation of gold medalists, they wanted to support the next generation of homegrown, billion-dollar tech companies.
At any other time of year, Canadian expats mesh so well into American culture that they’re near indistinguishable. But the Olympics gave Canadians a push to self-identify, and more importantly, with Own The Podium sanctioned on a national level, Canadians were encouraged to be bold about their desire to win. There was no need to hide ambition and pride behind pleasantries and politeness.
It was this Olympic fervor that planted the seeds for The C100, a nonprofit organization that connects Canadian entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley’s most influential Canadians with the explicit mission to help companies win on the global stage.
In the four years since the last winter Olympics, a lot has happened within the tech landscape in Canada:
- Startups connected to The C100 have raised more than $700 million in venture capital since March 2010.
- Canadian-based tech companies joining the billion-dollar club include HootSuite, Shopify, Kobo and OpenText.
- Exits from companies like Rypple, GoInstant, Eloqua, Taleo, BufferBox and Radian6 have created a renewed energy around angel investing.
Just a few weeks ago, Canadians were glued to their screens to cheer on their athletes. But it will be interesting to watch where the lasting impacts lie after the closing ceremonies. The last Olympics in London left the legacy of Tech City, where the Olympic Park media center was converted into accelerator space for startups and tech firms. There are more than 1,300 startups there today. We have yet to see the impact that Sochi and Russia’s $52 billion Olympic investment will have on the entrepreneurial scene in Russia.
In Canada, hosting the Olympics has meant far more than improvements to public transportation and infrastructure. It helped transform the country’s image as a polite underdog into a major competitor. Thanks to this makeover, today’s generation of entrepreneurs are free to be brash, driven and unapologetic about their successes.
Atlee Clark is executive director of The C100, a nonprofit, member-driven organization dedicated to supporting Canadian technology entrepreneurship and investment in Silicon Valley. Find her @atleeclark or @thec100.