VTN members welcome return of all-Canada meeting

Rob Bracey

Rob Bracey, current VTN Canadian chapter president

While getting together with peers from across North America is valuable, there’s something special about meetings where there’s a common and universal passion for hockey and Tim Horton’s.

That’s the feeling amongst Canadian members of the VentureTech Network after it held its first all-Canada meeting in many years in Toronto late last month. After many years of doing two North America-wide meetings and two regional meetings each year, VTN brought back its medium-sized meeting with what it’s branded “Super-Regionals.” In the case of Canada, this encompassed the three Canadian VTN Chapters – Fleur de Lis, Maple Leaf and Wild West.

And as Goldilocks learned, sometimes the medium-sized option is the best. For VentureTech, it’s all about context.

Some – including VTN Canadian chapter president Rob Bracey of Toronto’s Quartet Service, came in with low expectations.

“I thought it was going to suck – I didn’t think there was going to be enough context,” said Bracey in his typical matter-of-fact style.

And yet, content and context turned out to be the strong points of the Super-Regional. From business updates from Ingram Micro Canada executives – including GM Mark Snider’s hilarious and Toronto-centric parody of Greg Spierkel’s oft-used “where I’ve lived” presentation, to a rundown of the Canadian economy from Scotiabank chief economist Dr. Warren Jestin, Canadian content was the order of the days.

“I think it was fantastic to have a 100 per cent Canadian view on everything from top to bottom – that was really valuable to us,” said Leanne Yeatman, operations manager at F12 Networks, an Edmonton-based VTN member.

And that extends to the vendor presentations offered at the show. While sponsoring vendors are a key ingredient for VTN’s success and largely pay the freight for these events, some vendor presentations have historically earned rolling eyes for being far too tactical and product-oriented. Not so much so at the Toronto Super-Regional, confirmed Bracey, Yeatman and Doron Kaminski, vice president of operations at Markham, Ont.-based Insite Computer Group.

The grand stage of the Invitationals are often host to high-ranking vendor executives, but those execs are often U.S.-based, and program peculiarities across borders often leave Canadian members wondering what’s in it for them. Not so much so with the Super-Regionals.

“The content presented by each of the key vendors was more relevant to us,” Yeatman said. “They were from our region, they know the business in Canada, and they were really focused on the business and not the technology.”

One of the most talked-about presentations wasn’t really much of a presentation at all – more of a dialogue fostered by Microsoft Canada SMS&P chief Neil Tanner, who largely fielded questions from VTN members on the company’s cloud efforts, and handled questions, comments and criticism head-on and with actionable ideas. Expect more on the VTN/Microsoft connection in the days to come here at ChannelBuzz.ca as we gear up for Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference next week.

There were also the networking opportunities. While the broader Invitationals include Canada-specific evenings out, the fact that this was an all-hands meeting for Canadian VTN members made it a lot easier to mingle than is often possible when Canadian partners a minority in the much larger U.S. community.

“At Invitationals, we have to search out other Canadians,” Bracey said. “But here, there weren’t even 40 companies in that room, but everyone there was relevant to my business.”

Kaminski said he had the opportunity to get to know Canadian VTN members he hasn’t really had a chance to do business with in the past because of the smaller group size – even hosting some out-of-town partners for a day at his own offices just north of Toronto to continue the conversation.

“From a cohesiveness perspective, it brought the Canadian group a lot tighter,” he said.

Going forward, Bracey said VTN members have an eye on doing the two North America-wide Invitationals, plus one regional and one Super-Regional meeting per year, although members of Fleur de Lis are eyeing more regional meetings due to the proximity and common bond of doing business in Quebec. The Super-Regionals would also benefit from being made more inclusive for Francophone members, Bracey suggested.

“We really should be bringing in translators for them,” he said.

One request from Yeatman – rather than going for a fully packed day-and-a-half schedule, she’d like to see next year’s Super-Regional be a full two days with some built-in buffer time for members who have to at least keep an eye on what’s going on back in the office – it would help cut down on the number of member having to step out of sessions or otherwise distracted by e-mail during presentations, she figures.

“But I can’t wait until next year’s Super-Regional,” she said. “You can put that in there.”

VTN members will next get together in October at the Aria in Las Vegas for the Fall Invitational.