After 21 years, Angie Schick is ready for her close-up
The head of the New Ventures BC Competition reflects on more than two decades fueling BC entrepreneurial success.
Angie Schick, the executive director of New Ventures BC, keeps a low profile. In advance of a recent interview between her and Vancouver Tech Journal, I researched her background online. I didn’t find much. When we chatted, I told her this, and she couldn’t have been more pleased. “Honestly, that's the best news I've heard in a long time,” she said of my failed reconnaissance mission.
“Because I am a graduate of the School of Communication at SFU, I learned a lot about the influence of media and technology on life. And I think, for better or worse, I have always just been very mindful of your online identity, and how everything lives forever. So, I’m generally a private person. I’ve purposely not done that much to have a big online presence,” she said.
Google search “Angie Schick” and you’ll turn up a few interviews here and there, a couple of Q&As, a video of her talking about tech — things you might expect. But if you look just a little closer, you will discover one of the more interesting content contributions she’s made to the Internet: her old food blogs and restaurant reviews. You see, when Schick is not refining her organization’s recipe for creating successful startups, she’s refining actual recipes. Schick is a foodie, and not just a reads-Vancouver-Mag-awards-for-recommendations foodie; no, she has flown to Copenhagen to dine at Noma, a three Michelin starred restaurant that has been named best in the world on five occasions. Schick’s food fandom is legit.
While her work and her gastronomic passions may seem like disparate interests, they have more in common than you may think. You could ask what connects kitchens and boardrooms, or how a perfect meal and product-market fit relate, or where, exactly, the bridge between the culinary world and the tech industry exists? I would say in the type of people both dimensions attract. The people in both realms are usually unreasonable visionaries, pushing boundaries, and striving to make something new and innovative. You have chefs crafting new sensory experiences and entrepreneurs creating new ventures — and Schick gets inspiration and joy from engaging with both.
In the food world, you would call her an eager participant, but in the entrepreneurial scene, she’s a catalyst. Over the past year, BC’s tech sector has been on a remarkable run with more than 11 billion-dollar businesses produced, through funding, acquisition, or IPO since December 2020. Startups are raising records amounts of funding and primarily bootstrapped businesses like VanHack, Launchpad and Jane Software are hitting record revenues. As shepherds of BC’s biggest technology business initiative, Schick and her team have played a key role in not just fueling but sparking elements of this collective success.
The Innovate BC-sponsored NVBC Competition is in its 21st year and the competition’s alumni include a who’s who of business names, including Thinkific, Aspect Biosystems, Lumen5 and AbCellera. These and other top 25 finalists, including Dooly and MetaOptima, have raised over $1 billion in financing since 2000 and have created upwards of 8,600 news jobs. Schick has been there, in one way or another, from day one.
Schick was introduced to NVBC in 2000 while she was a graduate student at SFU. While working on her master’s thesis, her supervisor was a man by the name Richard Smith, and his wife happened to be Deborah Kirby, NVBC’s first executive director.
When planning the maiden awards show, Kirby enlisted her husband's help to find some extra hands — and he recruited Schick to help with event logistics. “I just showed up to help [Deborah], giving out name tags, whatever, little things,” Schick recalled. “Then that just turned into casual work whenever she needed a little help with something. So, I’ve been involved in some respects off and on since the beginning.”
That night Schick tested the tech industry waters. She found it warm enough to take multiple dips over the next few years.
In the early 2000s, while a student, she worked on projects for the now-defunct New Media Innovation Centre, managing projects for a team that studied the social uses of technology for Sierra Wireless, TELUS and Sony. She did communications consulting for Upside Wireless, an international SMS text messaging company. She also led various research projects studying mobile technology applications while completing her graduate degree. Still, you could say her first deep immersion into the tech scene came immediately after she graduated.
The way Schick tells it, she had just handed in her transcript before a close friend talked her into attending a networking event. “I'm a bit of an introvert, but she wanted to go to this event at Radical Entertainment. So, I went with her,” Schick recalled.
The event’s focus was women working in the gaming industry, and by chance, after the panel discussion, during the networking portion of the evening, Schick noticed an idol and isolated project manager from the studio. Schick got into a conversation about what her role entailed and found out that she was hiring a production assistant. Schick applied for the job — and she got it.
Over the next five years, Schick would help ship games like Crash Tag Team Racing and Crash of the Titans, while working with large, diverse teams. “It was really a great experience, learning how to how to lead in and navigate that world, even though we were, I don't know, maybe five women and a 90-person dev team,” she said.
Throughout this time, Schick kept her connection to Kirby and the NVBC team, and even though she worked full-time for Radical, she continued to help. “I kind of did both for a little while, and then after a few years, it was starting to wear a little thin on me. Like, I look back now and I don't know how I did it all. It’s pre-children, clearly,” she laughed.
“I knew I was going have to figure out if I want to stay in games or do I want to move over to New Ventures or do something else. I was kind of leaning one way, but at the end of the day, that decision got made before I even had to make it,” she recalled.
Uncertainty in the gaming world led to certainty for Schick’s trajectory. In June 2012, due to poor financial performance, Activision, Radical’s parent company, decided to shut the local studio down. “RIP Radical Entertainment 1991-2012,” tweeted Rob Bridgett, a former Radical audio designer. Schick was one of many laid off in a round of cuts. “And after that, I just moved over to New Ventures,” Schick explained, “and stayed on from there and grew into the role of an executive director over time.”
Since Schick joined NVBC, much has changed — about the competition, about BC’s tech ecosystem and about herself. For example, in the competition’s current iteration, there are awards for the top three companies, plus several specialized prizes. But in the early years, everyone in the top 10 got a prize. It got changed to focus on a top 3 “at some point, which I think is good, because, you know, it is a competition,” Schick said.
Another notable change took place when Bob de Wit, who Schick considers a mentor, was NVBC executive director. De Wit was determined to ensure that, in the judges’ startup assessments, they didn’t miss any “diamonds in the rough,” so he introduced an extra round into the competition to give some startups a chance to pitch in person. “There's always people that present better in person and some people present better on paper,” Schick explained. “So when you can see them in person, it does help make that decision either way.”
As the competition’s format has evolved, Schick has sharpened her instinct for predicting what companies will do well, she believes. “I would say I have a pretty good sense of what a good pitch looks like and what a promising company looks like now because I've watched so many pitches. But I totally remember back in the day, like early days watching a pitch, I'd be like, ‘Oh, this looks good to me. What a great story,’ and then I’d hear the judges poke holes in it. It’s like, ‘Oh, I never thought about that.’”
Taking part in the process, hearing from investors, learning how the judges evaluate pitches — it’s all changed how Schick thinks. “I feel like I am much better at accurately picking the winners now than I did say 15 years ago,” she said.
Having developed a sharper lens through which to view competing entrepreneurs, Schick can more easily identify common weaknesses or things that will tank a company’s scores. A big red flag for her is if the CEO is not the person pitching. Another common issue is if “there's too much time focused on the technology and what it does versus what the business case for it is,” she warned. “There is a big emphasis that New Ventures is a business-technology-competition, it's not just a technology competition.” Finally, sometimes the weak point is the startup team. “Some of these are pre-revenue companies and pre-commercialization technology. Sometimes the idea is great, the technology is even pretty good. But can the people currently on the team execute?” she asked. Schick has nothing against first-time entrepreneurs. But the data backs up her caution. Research says what Schick has seen in practice: First-time founders are not as successful as repeat-founders.
For that reason, NVBC hosts multiple workshops and seminars meant to level up entrepreneurs with key skills and expertise. And despite COVID-19 flipping business-as-usual on its head, Schick’s team has had no trouble continuing to deliver these sessions. In fact, the changes they’ve been forced to make may have improved how things are done. NVBC runs province-wide programming and the transition to online-only content has increased its accessibility and quality for companies outside of the Lower Mainland, she believes. “I think more regional people can attend easily,” she said of the educational sessions, “and they probably get a much better experience, because now everyone is online, there's more interaction, and just the overall experience from a tech and delivery standpoint is better.”
The next generation may benefit, too. “I think our archives are better as a result of all this virtual-ness,” she suggested.
When Schick reflects on what she’s most proud of from her time at NVBC, it’s the impact that her small team has been able to make that comes to mind. Someone recently said to her, “Thank you for everything you do for the ecosystem.” She took that as a massive compliment because she doesn’t really think of her work from that vantage point. “I honestly never really thought about it that way. I have really just focused on making sure that we are supporting as many entrepreneurs as we can,” Schick said. “So, when I get comments like that, it just makes me realize that everything we're doing is worth it.”
A lot has changed since Schick entered BC’s fastest-growing industry. Last year, the high-tech sector’s GDP in BC reached $18.3 billion, according to BC Stats. There are more than 10,000 companies that employ upwards of 110,000 workers in the province. Schick is excited about what’s next. “I'd be curious to see with all these unicorns how that's going to change,” Schick wondered out loud. “Because I'd say the biggest thing I still see is in the competition [are] people's projections maybe are too conservative — they're not thinking big enough.”
What else that’s changed is the number of organizations ready and waiting to help nurture this next cycle of BC tech businesses. Indeed, Schick acknowledges that her’s is just one of many. “It's way busier, and I don't mean that in a bad way. But 15 years ago, there were maybe a handful organizations working with companies, and now, there are dozens,” she noted.
She tells potential accelerator clients that it’s okay if they want to work with her team of staff, mentors and entrepreneurs-in-residence, but she’s also happy to introduce them to other organizations too. “Find the place that you're meant to be at,” Schick tells them. “And if that's us, that's fine. If it's not, that's fine, too.”
Given Schick’s and NVBC’s 21-year track record, you wouldn’t fault founders for choosing not to look elsewhere.
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The 21st annual New Ventures BC Competition Awards, presented by Innovate BC, will be live-streamed on Monday, October 4 from 5:00-6:30pm. Register here.