11 May, 2016
by Jake
Comments Off on VIATEC Awards Finalist: Creative Excellence…

VIATEC Awards Finalist: Creative Excellence…

Thank you to VIATEC for selecting Island Circus Space as a finalist in the creative excellence category.  We are striving to make Victoria, BC an even more exciting and vibrant city.

We performed at the show and had such a good time connecting with the incredible entrepreneurs…

Viatec Awards 2016 from Riptide Studios on Vimeo.

VIATEC 1

VIATEC 3

VIATEC 4

VIATEC 5

2016AwardsLogoFinalist

9 May, 2016
by Jake
Comments Off on What I have learned starting up Island Circus Space…

What I have learned starting up Island Circus Space…

ICS Logo Black Background

Just over a year ago, Island Circus Space emerged.  Initially, it stemmed from an idea I had about gathering all of the high level, professional circus artists from Victoria, BC.  The team that has assembled has tremendous talent.  It is an honor to be working with such dedicated circus artists.

The spark that started it all was a night out on the town, getting down, to Maceo Parker.  There were 2 incredible, ex-Cirque dancers in Victoria called Tentacle Tribe doing a movement workshop that I attended (learned lots!).  At Maceo, their friend, Lisa Eckert (a professional circus artist), was also in town.  They had all been working on Cirque Eloize’s show, “Id”.

Lisa:

IMG_1760It occurred to me that there must be a few others like Lisa, who are traveling the world working for big shows and are from Victoria.  I figured that at some point, they are going to want to come home, but they can’t as there is absolutely nothing here for them to come back to.  To me, this was a real shame as Victoria would be missing a tremendous opportunity to develop a cultural and educational asset.  I love this little city so much and it needs and deserves a world class circus scene.

From there, Lisa put me in touch with Kaelyn Schmitt (another professional circus artist).

Kaelyn:

ICS_Kaelyn-289x300She enthusiastically signed on.  Kaelyn and I worked super hard this winter teaching workshops, performing for TEDx, and pitching investors.  Lisa finished a contract in Berlin and came back to help create our first production, “CATALYST”, that happened Apr. 2/3 at the Metro Theater – sold out and standing Os.

Many more artists have joined us.  In my biased opinion, we have a very, very talented and diverse team.

We are currently working in the lean start up model developing our mvp (minimal viable product).  At first, we will partner with a Rec center to offer classes and build a following.  The number one lesson that I have learned starting up the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry is that it is absolutely critical to build capacity right from the start.  It is crucial to avoid being bogged down by the day to day as that limits the entrepreneurs ability to push the vision forward and ensure the health of the organization.

It has been an excellent entrepreneurial learning experience already that is pushing me just outside of my knowledge range allowing me to accelerate.

A few entrepreneurial lessons that have been reinforced:

1. Team and partners are everything.

While cliche, it is absolutely true.  Getting this one right is critical.  It has been fascinating to put together this circus team.  The goal of a true leader is to make other leaders.

I haven’t just learned this lesson here as I have been developing other startups,but now, I feel that over the course of many years and lots of mistakes, I have steadily improved my communication and listening skills.  They are being put to the test and expanded as I continue to learn how to facilitate teams.

2. Just go for it.  Learn as you go

Pull the trigger.  It is impossible to know everything.  You have to trust that your preparations will serve you as things change rapidly on the fly.

Be a learning machine.  That is the only way forward now.  I believe that every organization is going to need to have a Chief Learning Officer as the world’s knowledge is growing exponentially.  I have dozens of ideas on how to accelerate an organization’s learning capacity and would be happy to help you with this (just give me a call).

3. Hustle

I have never hustled harder in my life trying to sell our first production “CATALYST”.  I bit off a large chunk and had to sell over 700 seats for the weekend of shows.  I did absolutely everything in my power to get bums in seats: radio, print, TV, handbills, social media, and praying that it was going to come together.  This is while working a crazy day job trying to change education in BC (call me if you want to know how to change an entire province’s education system).

I am happy to say that it was successful; 3 shows were sold out and the last one was 80% full.  I truly believe that my salesmanship has reached another level and I feel confident that my hustle can make pretty much anything happen.

I must also give full credit to my wife.  When she asked how much we could potentially lose, and I said a relatively large number, she was out there selling the very next day and hustled just as hard as me for weeks to make it a success – what a champion!

4. Closely related to hustle – Get in front of as many important as people as possible

The help and advice that I have received this year from experienced, seasoned entrepreneurs has been priceless. Peter Elkins has been a big help.  Indeed, he got us in front of 80 accredited investors in February from all over North America. It gave us big time visibility and credibility as the companies who applied to pitch where stringently vetted.

At the pitch, it was us and 9 tech companies.  Kaelyn and I did a two-high, made everyone laugh, and delivered the most enthusiastic pitch of the evening (we are performers after all!).  From this, we found another very big helper, our lawyer, Carli van Maurik.

5. Build community

For us, it is so easy.  Circus is such a deep passion for people. We have already gathered a strong, supportive, and talented community.  It is not like we are starting up a dry cleaning business.  The people want circus!  They want to get fit, have fun, and be creative.  We are fortunate to have such a great base to grow from.

Our goal is to open a high level circus school.  Ultimately, open a K – 12 circus school.  To my knowledge, this doesn’t exist on Earth.  With the right sales and marketing team, it could be an international sensation.

9 May, 2016
by Jake
Comments Off on The best endorsement I have ever received…

The best endorsement I have ever received…

This is from a learner of mine that I have been closely working with.  He graduates in 6 weeks and has become my lifelong friend:

“Jake West has been my teacher and mentor for the final 3 years of my high school life. It is high time that I show some appreciation and explain what I have learned from him. I have seen how a power house mobilizes to get shit done. No matter how hopeless or how little motivation a student has, this man never gives up on someone or on something. Last but not least, he has dreams and goals that he actively works to achieve.

10:00am, 10:15, 10:30… Meeting after meeting, student after student, this is the day to day for Jake. How does he do it? Well that my friends, is one of life’s greatest mysteries; he doesn’t drink coffee. Unless he is using caffeine patches so that we do not see them, the only possible conclusion I can come to is that he is some kind of superhuman.

The teenage spirit; energetic, moving forward or lazy without interest in anything in the world. This is the age all people dread to deal with, they tend to be very sassy and think they know everything.

Lack of motivation can be much harder to deal with than an idiot because motivating someone who does not care is well, near impossible. But despite all of this, Jake makes them pass through endless pushing and encouragement.

Jake is a well traveled man and it shows. He has countless stories and life lessons, enough that he could write quite the interesting book. He is a one of a kind man that inspires those around him to achieve what they want to do in life and to not follow the beaten path and to instead bring out the machete and make your own.

Jake is a machine, well oiled and always gassed up with the goal of moving others towards success while moving himself forward to achieve his own goals. So is Jake superhuman? Well no, but he is one of the closest things you can find”.

24 Apr, 2016
by Jake
Comments Off on Teaching Improv

Teaching Improv

improv

It has been quite the journey coaching improv at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry.  This year, we decided to compete in the Canadian Improv Games (CIG).

My experience and ideas of improv differed from CIG expectations.  From my experience as a street performer and clown, improv means that you cannot prepare.  Obviously, you can prepare in terms of practicing over and over  – developing a repertoire and being able to pull out certain jokes, voices, etc when the moment calls for it.  What I did not expect, was that teams could actually structure their events and then just plug in a suggestion from the audience.  This rattled the team during the exhibition round and they threw everything they knew out the window and did not perform to the best of their abilities.

After a debriefing, we decided to continue with not preparing and focus on really being spontaneous and in the moment.  During the next competition, they did much better.

We made it to the semi finals and the team did a mighty job of entertaining the audience getting the largest laughs of the evening.  The judges did not like us all that much, but the crowd was 100% behind our improv. Indeed, one of the moms there was calling one of the kids her spirit animal.   The crowd was chanting P-S-I-I, P-S-I-I…

What truly matters is that this team went through an intense bonding and learning experience.  I can see noticeable improvement in all of them as they had to move beyond their comfort zones and rise to the occasion.  As a producer, I love seeing a team collaborate together and build original work that people thoroughly enjoy.  In the process, I too have learned much more on how to coach performance art.

I believe that improv is a skill that crosses all occupations and industries.  I cannot think of better chops to leave high school with than being able to think on the spot, persuade people, listen to others, and create original ideas.

25 Nov, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on TEDxVictoria

TEDxVictoria

cameron-TEDxVictoria-56

The Island Circus Space team had so much fun performing at TEDxVictoria.  I was not overly happy with my performance.  I dropped it a few times in weird places and missed my final whip catch cartwheel which I can usually do in my sleep.  I am not sure what was going on there.

Overall though, we put on an awesome show and we got excellent feedback.  We are looking forward to translating this experience into further work for the Island Circus Space artists.

 

24 Nov, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on Island Circus Space’s first workshop was a success!

Island Circus Space’s first workshop was a success!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our first workshop.  We had so much fun teaching aerials, hand to hand, acrobatics and juggling.  Victoria has some dedicated circus artists.  Everyone is stoked to get something going on a regular basis.  We are working on it and will keep you posted.

(Photos by Jasmine Wong)

ICS Workshop 3

Continue Reading →

12 Oct, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on School as Incubator

School as Incubator

Nothing fascinates me more than developing talent.  At the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII), I help to co-create and facilitate people’s passions.  It is so rewarding.

I am able to connect dots for our learners and get them to focus their efforts as a team on accomplishing a shared passion.  I firmly believe that the way forward for any organization is for the entire team to become phenomenal learners.

Currently, I work in a bunch of different teams.  I am the force that keeps the vision together and moving forward.  Everyone on the team has complete autonomy to contribute the best way that they can.  It is amazing to see the mastery that develops when you allow people to learn what they really want to learn.

School then becomes just a large incubator of people developing their passions with expert guidance to assist in team decisions and skill building processes.  There are some incredible things being built.

For example…

A smart tech team has formed and we are working with the Director of Limbic Media, Manjinder Bening, to develop proprietary software.  We are working in Scrum methodology and they are all making important contributions to the project.  As scrum master, I have already seen noticeable team enhancement through everyone committing to improving 1000% together over the course of the year.

Last month, I launched Island Circus Space.  A team at PSII has formed to help.  The kids are learning business through actually doing business.  They have been building web sites, creating content, sending out press releases and newsletters and networking at events as well as researching cutting edge business practices in use today (Lean Startup, Seth Godin, etc).

I work in many more teams, but just these two examples alone have the capacity to develop our high school kids into entrepreneurially savvy, smart creatives who can produce Startups, jobs, and ideas to help sustain our economy.

Again, when you give people the autonomy and freedom to learn what they want to learn, you begin to see it applied in exceptionally creative ways that you could not have possibly prescribed.

I would like to highlight one individual who is an incredible example of what happens when school is an incubator.  This guy is very intelligent and articulate, as well as tech savvy and creative.  Over the last two years, he has learned how to use the entire Adobe suite, and combined with a very entrepreneurial attitude and skill set, has landed him work with many local companies in town.  Recently, he has been developing video for Silk Road Teas.

The lessons that he learns from his solo freelance gigs in turn gets filtered back into the teams that he is working with.  He is part of the two teams above and both teams are benefiting tremendously from his experience and knowledge base that he is continuously growing.  Indeed, he is the one who built the Island Circus Space website.

That is what he has been able to accomplish in school, because school for him has been an incubator of his passions.

 

29 Jun, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on Developing a Startup in High School – My Year as Scrummaster, Manager and Impressario

Developing a Startup in High School – My Year as Scrummaster, Manager and Impressario

Developing a startup is a monumental task. I cannot think of a more relevant learning experience for the age we live in. It sure feels good to ship a piece of hardware that will be used for years to come.

Last year, a scrappy group of blossoming student engineers and programmers got together and began forging ahead.  I honestly cannot remember how I became their go to guy.  Perhaps it was my passion for technology and entrepreneurship?  Or maybe it was my impressario skills.

Whatever the case, last year, we began to do interesting hardware work for VIATEC and Limbic Media that you can see here and here.  This year, we continued to strengthen that relationship doing more work for both organizations.

For Limbic Media, we focused primarily on building a water level sensor with a web component for the aquaponics system at Mason Street Farm.   You can see it here.  This was a very complex project that had many moving parts.  It required sensors that sent information to a server and a web page that updates constantly.  From a technical standpoint alone, the team learned a lot about sensors (which are the future in my opinion!), hardware in adverse conditions (water is so tricky!), server deployment, website heartbeats and much more.

Mason Street

As Manjinder Benning, Director at Limbic Media, says in the video link (see above!) – it really does come back to making important connections that are beyond just the tech sector; for example: global food security.  The world is facing many difficult problems and these high school learners are beginning to help develop solutions.  It does not get much better than that for school.

Mason JankManjinder Benning by the way is an awesome guy. I can’t say enough good things about him and Limbic Media. They are very community oriented and while this may be a bit biased, I think they are doing some of the coolest tech stuff in Canada.  Keep your eye on Manj and the team at Limbic.

For VIATEC, the team began developing a cube prototype to pitch to Dan Gunn, the Executive Director. The idea was that it would be audio-reactive and respond to different environments.  VIATEC are big supporters of many different cool events in the area and we wanted to make something that would stand out and accentuate their vital role in the tech sector of Victoria.  It was super janky at the start, but after a few months of experimentation and design, we had ourselves a prototype. Check it out:

Dan pitch

Dan dug it and gave us $3000 – 1000% more than I was expecting.  It just goes to show you that you might as well think big.  Dan gave us a budget to get creative.  Thank you Dan!

Dan Gunn by the way, gave us a lot of support and help over the last 2 years.  He is such an important figure in the startup scene of Victoria helping build it to a $4 billion industry.  We can’t thank him enough for the commitment to our little school.

With that budget, Dan was excited to see what the team could do. And did we ever get creative…

The team sourced components from all over the place.  Liam, a rising star (more on him in a moment), designed the boards that we then got built in China (among other components that came from there). It is truly amazing what can be done now.  Major disruptions are coming from a couple of guys in their garage designing things that add tremendous value to people’s lives (think YouTube).

We then wrangled a connection with Camosun College’s Enterprise Point  – an amazing, under cover team building awesome things for the world.  Matt Zeleny, Applied Research Specialist, graciously gave us his time helping us laser cut and etch the acrylic panels.  He saved us a lot of money and we are very grateful.  The etching was such a time consuming process and we simply could not take up anymore of Matt’s incredibly valuable time, so we got them engraved elsewhere.

engraved cube

All of the joints for the cubes were 3D printed from Liam’s design which demonstrated innovation and creativity.  Another student, Hugh, designed and printed the stands and when assembled, looked very, very cool:  cube stands

So cool in fact, that they were chosen to be center stage at the 2015 VIATEC Awards and I earned myself my second Tectorian of the Week.  They really popped in the ballroom:

cubes at VIATEC

And because they showed PSII’s committment to supporting the tech industry of Victoria, we were nominated for a Creative Excellence award this year.

Developing both of these projects was such a crazy process – as anyone who has ever built a piece of hardware knows, we ran into many problems that required lateral-thinking solutions.  And as anyone who has ever built something that needs to be shipped, we ran right up to the deadline with the engineers still wanting to makes changes at the very last minute.  Of course, they felt that they could have done and offered so much more.  More can always be done, but at some point, you just have to ship!

We learned a lot this year.  I would argue that we learned way more about how to and how not to work as a team more than any of the technical complications.  We worked in Scrum methodology.  It makes way more sense than the old waterfall style of project management. If you do not know about Scrum, I highly recommend you read this and get going on it.

They learned team work.  And Leadership.  They understand the importance of working together.  But, they sucked. The entire thing broke down many times.  However, in the end, there were some clutch moments and the team pulled through.  Stressful and exciting.

I learned that we must stick with the agile process the entire way.  The process can evolve – for example – we moved from the classic scrum board on the wall to Trello – which is a fantastic tool.  I learned that I will need to bring doughnuts to the end of sprint retrospective meetings to ensure a good turn out (I still owe the team pie).

We all learned a lot about how to develop a startup.

That is one of my main M.O’s. I am hellbent on developing local talent and making teams succeed.  This is most important to me because I strongly believe that we are in an age of exponential creation and it will require strong teams that can be super nimble and learn incredibly fast.

Einstein famously remarked that, “I don’t teach anyone, I just provide the environment in which they can learn.” That is what I have tried to do.  In that environment, it really is up to the learner to make the most of it.  Some take the bull by the horns, others…require guidance…

One learner who embraced his learning freedom was Liam.  Absolutely none of this would have happened without him as lead engineer.  He held everything together stepping up and doing work for everyone on the team.  He is an excellent speech giver, dancer, musician, sailor, and of course…engineer.  He is also now my close friend.  Because that is how you really get to know someone – by doing and building things together.  He has earned himself a spot on the mayor’s Economic Development Council, landed a job with Limbic Media straight out of high school, has a scholarship to the University of Victoria for Engineering, and knows how to build a startup and lead a team.  He has also connected a deal between the City of Victoria and Limbic Media for a project worth $180,000.  He has learned to be an entrepreneur.

Everyone talks about what learning should look like in this century.   A lot of talk.  I am doing it. Vive le Revolucion!