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HootSuite’s Ryan Holmes Recruits First Generation of “Maple Syrup Mafia”


Holmes: “The Internet radically decentralized information and ideas. So why is start-up success still confined mainly to one corner of California?”HootSuite founder and CEO Ryan Holmes has wasted no time making good on his promise to foster a Maple Syrup Mafia (so named after the PayPal Mafia down south, which famously produced such heavy hitters as Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Max Levchin and Russel Simmons).

He and co-founder philanthropist and “fashionpreneur” Meredith Powell are launching a new accelerator for young entrepreneurs. And putting the lie to the idea that Canadian modesty would be a necessary trait in naming our version of Y Combinator, they’ve called it The Next Big Thing. It’s aimed squarely at “this generation’s rule-breakers, dreamers, and doers – the kids that dare to try.”

“I want applicants to know that with us at ‘The Next Big Thing’, there’s no such thing as failure,” says Powell. “We’re passionate about championing young entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, regardless of their GPA.”

Indeed, the Next Big Thing’s website emphasizes the program’s neutral attitude towards scholastic success or failure for applicants. “No degree? Or maybe you dropped-out?” asks the site’s eligibility section. “Don’t worry, you’re in the same boat as Mark Zuckerberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Tony Hawk, Angelina Jolie, Walt Disney, Oprah, David Geffen, Richard Branson, James Cameron & JayZ. Just sayin’.”

Ryan Holmes has been talking about this for a while. “Why does Silicon Valley get to have a monopoly on innovation?” he wrote recently. “Why aren’t new tech mafias springing up elsewhere? The Internet radically decentralized information and ideas. So why is start-up success still confined mainly to one corner of California?”

In lamenting the twin drain on Canada’s competitive edge represented by the lack of qualified workers and the drift of those who are qualified to the Bay area, Holmes wrote, “For a Maple Syrup Mafia to flourish, universities here need to counter this loss of talent by exponentially increasing the number of tech grads – and fast. Consider this an open challenge to the ivory tower. In a few years’ time, Vancouver will be flush with tech capital, and some smart people will be gunning to build the next Facebooks and Instagrams.”

While the Canadian centre of gravity has naturally revolved around Waterloo with its R&D university infrastructure spawning tech giants like BlackBerry, not to mention Toronto and Waterloo forming a tech corridor, you’d think that southern Ontario would be the logical place to launch a search for “the Next Big Thing”. So Holmes’ and Powell’s initiative seems as much a challenge to Waterloo’s dominance as Silicon Valley’s.

The Next Big Thing’s 2014 cohort will be made up of ten 18-to-23-year-olds who will be working out of HootSuite’s headquarters in Vancouver for a period of six months, with partners such as the Emily Carr University of Art & Design on Granville Island providing participants access to cutting edge prototyping tools and research labs. The program aims to provide young participants with mentorship and networking opportunities, not to mention a no-strings-attached bursary and monthly stipend. Applications close on December 15.

Emily Carr makes great sense as an institutional fit, too, for HootSuite’s less academic approach to thinking about the future of innovation. The school is opening a new campus, and has been taking a very innovative approach since the late ‘90s to the intersection of art, design and technology.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when we equip these talented young entrepreneurs with the tools I lacked early on in my own entrepreneurial journey: vision, money, and community. I’m betting some of them will change the world,” says Holmes.


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