The elegance of entrepreneurship: getting to know A100 Chair, Aaryn Flynn

Aaryn Flynn

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Incoming A100 Chair, Aaryn Flynn, brings deep technology experience, an entrepreneurial spirit, and creative passion to his new role with Alberta’s foremost tech pioneers and mentors

Congratulations on your appointment as A100 Chair, Aaryn. You’ve been a member of the A100 since 2017, but can you tell us more about your entrepreneurial journey?

I started building web pages with my wife for companies in the mid-1990s, just as I was starting computing science. It was good and bad—we learned a ton, but it woke me up to the realities of building a business! In the end I just wasn’t technical enough to do the things I wanted to do, so that helped me commit to my Computing Science degree at the University of Alberta. 

You were an early team member at BioWare (co-founded by A100 member Ray Muzyka). How did your time there inform your growth as a tech entrepreneur?

I learned an enormous amount in my 17 years at BioWare, and will never be able to thank founders Ray and Greg [Zeschuk] enough for what they did for me so many others. 

After my time at BioWare, I rediscovered the joy of starting things. I’d also completed my MBA while I was there, which gave me better tools to understand business. I’ve invested in and support almost half-a-dozen companies in Alberta, where I get to bring more 20 years of lessons learned from technology development and operations to them. 

“After my time at BioWare, I rediscovered that joy of starting things.”

Meanwhile our Improbable game development studio in Edmonton is like a startup within a startup. I got the remarkable opportunity to build that studio from nothing, and now we’re well over 100 people and looking to launch our first game in the next 12 months.

What are some of the advantages to starting a tech company in Alberta? 

A few come to mind. One is that you’ve got a chance to get in on the ground floor. I feel like we’ve turned a corner as a province, and momentum is building. Just look at the statistics for venture capital funding that were just announced—we were up 100% in Alberta. So if that appeals to you, you’ll also benefit from the great technical talent that exists here, thanks to our world-class post-secondary institutions.

“We’ve turned a corner as a province, and momentum is building.”

What do you feel are some of the hurdles (or opportunities) facing Alberta’s tech sector?

Yes, there are definitely still hurdles. One is concentration—it seems like Calgary has more momentum than Edmonton. That’s no slight against Calgary—just a callout to those in Edmonton and a recognition we have to work to do. Another is funding. I think that situation continues to improve, but we still need more capital to flow into the province, and I still want to see more Alberta investors get off the sidelines, as it were, and support Alberta entrepreneurs. But that’s a key area where the A100 can help.

Stepping into this Chairperson role at the A100, what are the key areas you’d like to focus on?

As we think about our BHAG of 75,000 tech jobs in Alberta by 2031, my key areas of focus should directly align and support that.

  1. Diversity of our membership, across all dimensions. As we enter our “next evolution” as the A100, we have an opportunity to practice what we preach about diversity. Our membership makeup should be a strong indicator of where we’re going as a province, which includes greater representation with regards to gender and BIPOC. 
  2. Evolving our program delivery. We want to increase focus on the needs of what our members and their organizations need to grow. COVID has given us a chance to fast-forward our thinking on this, and I’m keen to help share that thinking in the form of new programs and opportunities for our members.
  3. Advocacy. Our BHAG is crystal clear and is resonating with everyone we share it with. Amplifying it with success stories, lessons learned through entrepreneurial journeys of our members and educating others who can support it will be top of mind for me. There’s so much to do—and per the Rainforest Social Contract, the worst thing we can do is find ourselves competing with ourselves.

“I still want to see more Alberta investors get off the sidelines and support Alberta entrepreneurs.”

What would be your top 3 tips for people thinking about starting a tech company (or pivoting their skills towards tech)?

Start with a genuine problem that would benefit from a solution. I always go back to the now romantic-sounding original definition of “entrepreneur” from the fellow who coined the term, Jean-Baptiste Say. He defined an entrepreneur as, “someone who shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield.” I just think that is so elegant, beautiful and profound. 

“Start with a genuine problem that would benefit from a solution.”

Next, I’d say get a mentor. Ray Muzyka had a great reminder of the power of mentors in a recent interview, where he reminded people that mentors just help you test hypotheses faster than if you work in a vacuum. Again, simple and profound. Lastly, connect to a community. There’s so much opportunity to go around – don’t be shy about getting out there and connect with others to learn from them, offer your own thoughts, and grow our entrepreneurial community across the province.

2021-2022 A100 Board Appointments

On April 15, 2021, the following A100 members were appointed Directors to the A100 Board:

Aaryn Flynn, Chair
Juan Benitez, Treasurer
David Edmonds, Industry Chair, Accelerate Fund II & III
Keith Driver
Dan Belostotsky
Shelley Kuipers
Michael Lake 

The A100 and Executive Director, Tamara Woolgar, would like to extend heartfelt thanks to outgoing Chair, Tim Hodge, and to outgoing Director, Clark Johannson, for their leadership, support, and valuable contributions during their terms on the Board. 

Photo credit: Edmonton Global