Nov 5, 2010

Five Questions with Startup Calgary Founder Arpad Barabas

While known for oil and gas production and the sweeping beauty of the Rockies, Calgary is no hotbed for tech startup networking.

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Arpad Barabas believes Startup Calgary, a new networking group for Calgary-based entrepreneurs, will help change that. Barabas is the group’s founder, who also launched SaaS startup Mobizou this week. “A lot of people invest quietly (in tech) here,” says Barabas, who spent time living in the U.S. and Europe, but always found his way home to Calgary. “Now we’ll have a more formal structure.” Through the new group, Barabas will focus on the entrepreneur and building deep relationships in the startup community, rather than parading startups in front of investors.

So far, Barabas has signed on 16 startups for a showcase at the Startup Calgary launch party Nov. 23 at Hotel Arts. He says he’s shooting to find a total of 20 companies that focus on a variety of markets from iPhone apps to games to online project management tools. Barabas (whose unique name comes from his German mother and Hungarian father) spoke to us yesterday about what’s behind Startup Calgary — and his new company.

DigitalPuck.ca: What inspired you to found Startup Calgary?
Arpad Barabas: Having left a great job in January to focus my full efforts on my startup Mobizou, I was very anxious to connect with the tech community in Calgary in order to help my startup get off the ground.  While I managed to obtain support from a government- backed organization and hooked up with a few events at the grass roots entrepreneurial level, I found the support needed for a fledgling startup not being met.  A couple of experiences I had during this time provided the real impetus behind me teaming up with fellow entrepreneurs to create Startup Calgary.

The first was a startup school weekend event I attended here in Calgary. While the material presented was great, the best part was that there were 12 other like-minded entrepreneurs in the room, where we were able to share experiences and obtain awesome feedback from peers.

The second was an event called 48hrs in the Valley that Mobizou was fortuitous to attend in Silicon Valley put on by the C100. Over the course of the two days, I was able to network and obtain more valuable feedback than I would have received in Calgary for an entire year!

The experience really ignited my desire to bolster the ecosystem in Calgary for entrepreneurs like myself where we could network with each other, receive support and enable us to grow our startups.

DP: How did you get the ball rolling once you came up with the idea?
Arpad: I teamed up with fellow entrepreneurs who shared my passion and set out to create Startup Calgary. During this time, Startup Edmonton had just recently launched in the spring. Having watched their success, I reached out to the founders of Startup Edmonton for advice and support. We based Startup Calgary on similar goals and objectives but with some fine tuning to meet the needs of the Calgary ecosystem.

DP: What’s the core mission of Startup Calgary?

Arpad: It’s core mission is to foster a stronger ICT startup community. It is an association run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. While reaching out to the extended community for support and partnerships, at its core, its focus is on the startup entrepreneurs.

DP:  Can you talk about some of the challenges Canadian entrepreneurs face?

Arpad: Startup entrepreneurs in Canada definitely are facing a number of challenges. A primary challenge across the country is access to seed capital. Another is access to mentors and advisors who are experienced in the tech space who can provide guidance and direction for startups to make smart decisions.  Startup Calgary will help address these challenges by raising the profile of the tech startup community, and by being the chosen forum for entrepreneurs to connect with each other and to others who can help such as  A100, C100, and investors.

DP: You just launched a company this week. Tell us a little bit about Mobizou.

Arpad: Mobizou is a SaaS service that enables merchants to easily create offers and surveys and seamlessly distribute content across multiple channels – including mobile, Twitter, Facebook and the Web. Merchants can now engage their customers in a targeted way, driving foot traffic to their stores and decreasing their marketing budgets with better results. The market opportunity is significant. As Smartphone adoption rates amongst consumers continue to grow, more and more brands are shifting significant marketing resources to reach these users. Mobizou is well-positioned to ride this growth.
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