Last week, I attended a talk from Jim Gibson about RainforestAB. Jim is a serial-entrepreneur, boasting a track record of “6 companies, 4 successful, 2 unsuccessful”. 66% success rate – not bad. Jim is currently serving as the the de facto leader/voice of RainforestAB, a movement working to improve the culture of innovation in Alberta. During his presentation, Jim shared the history of RainforestAB, and how interested people can get involved.
What is RainforestAB?
RainforestAB was founded in 2016 by some key individuals within the Alberta technology and innovation circles. The group cannot even be called a ‘group’. RainforestAB does not call itself an organization. It isn’t even an incorporated legal entity. Rather it is a movement consisting of anyone interested in supporting growth of innovation enterprise of Alberta.
Those interested in participating in the movement are invited to the weekly meetings. It is an opportunity for making connections with new people and facilitating open discussion among all members. Typical attendees include local past and current entrepreneurs, academics and researchers, industry leaders, and government workers.
New members are always welcome. RainforestAB prides itself as being open and inclusive. First-timers are asked to introduce themselves, explain what they are looking for, and describe what they can provide to the Rainforest. New members are also encouraged to sign a social contract. The document outlines some behaviors that are core to building a rainforest culture – honesty, sharing, acting as a role model, etc…
Why was RainforestAB launched in Alberta?
To understand RainforestAB, one needs to understand the history of The Rainforest. It started as a book appropriately named The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley. Authors Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt are venture capitalists who co-founded an investment firm T2 Venture Creation in Silicon Valley. They have significant experience with technology innovation and have consulted with numerous governments and NGOs.
Hwang and Horowitt sought to capture why some communities excel at nurturing innovation while others struggle. After extensive study of socio-economic and macroeconomic factors, they learned that the core element of a successful innovation ecosystem is not government policies, tax incentives, or access to capital. Rather, the key driver is culture and trust among the individuals and organization in the community.
Last year, a few folks came together to discuss why Alberta struggles to build and grow technology companies. The discussion is timely because the recent collapse of oil prices and the resulting recession are causing Albertans to seek economic diversification, particularly to technology industries.
After reading The Rainforest book, they realized that the lack of trust between entities was a major roadblock to growth in the technology sector. Hence, RainforestAB was founded to reset and build these relationships. The new focus is not on individual gain, but instead of enriching the commonwealth of all Albertans through development of a thriving technology sector.
How do I participate in RainforestAB?
Joining The Rainforest is simple; go to their website at https://www.rainforestab.ca and sign the social contract. In Calgary, meetings are open to everyone and take place at the Assembly co-workspace on Wednesdays between 11:45 AM and 1:00 PM. While RainforestAB was founded to serve all Alberta, the Edmonton chapter does not appear to be fully formed yet.
RainforestAB is quickly gaining momentum within Calgary. Judging from the frequency of posts to their #RainforestABContract Twitter hashtag, new members are signing the social contract and joining everyday. Now the question is, will RainforestAB succeed in its quest to improve trust amongst the stakeholders in Calgary’s technology sector? Certainly, the movement has had some success already. It is also clear that its motivations and founding principles are heading down the right path. But real cultural and intra-organization change is difficult to accomplish. If RainforestAB is successful at improving and maintaining trust and dialogue, then a brighter future exists for all Albertans.