Welcome to the Valley: How Joanne Fedeyko built a company around making connections to help others succeed
As the founder and CEO of Connection Silicon Valley, Joanne Fedeyko is focused on bringing together her extensive network across Canada’s startup scene and her influential network in the Valley. Her aim? To help Canadian businesses succeed on a global scale.
By Marie Moore
If you ask Joanne Fedeyko what she loves most about Silicon Valley, she points to how collaborative the culture is. “Everybody is trying to win and win big” she explains, “but everybody is there to help each other. When you meet with somebody, often the person will say, ‘How can I help you?’”
It’s a question she herself asks often. As the founder and CEO of Connection Silicon Valley, Joanne helps Canadian organizations navigate the ecosystem of innovators and investors in the world-renowned technology hub. She’s also passionate about supporting women in tech, and has formed a network of Canadian women in the Valley to advise female founders, as well as help other women in technology establish the deep connections that are invaluable to their success in the industry.
That she’s built her company and career on the caliber of introductions she’s capable of making points to her insider status in Silicon Valley — impressive, considering where her journey began.
Growing up near the 59th parallel in a Northern Albertan town of a few thousand, Joanne never considered she’d end up where she is today. “I didn’t map it out, that’s for sure,” she says. “I actually didn’t know the world was that big when I lived in High Level.”
She had already relocated to Calgary by the time she made her 1999 move to the San Francisco Bay area, but that did little to make her feel prepared for the scale of her new environment. “I was scared stiff,” admits Joanne. “I didn’t know anything about living in a big city.”
Working with Deloitte as a consultant, Joanne was able to arrange a transfer within the company. The job gave her a quick introduction to the rapid pace in the Valley. Accustomed to a yearlong process for implementing enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions for her Deloitte clients up North, Joanne found that at her new office, the expectation was to complete the process in three months. It was an overnight, drastic change, but being immersed in a new mindset enabled her to adapt quickly.
“You don’t have any time to think about what it is that you’re doing, because you are put into the middle of this pace,” she explains. “And everybody around you is doing the same thing, and thinking it is normal.”
In the near twenty years that she’s lived in the San Francisco Bay area, Joanne says she has never once thought about moving back — although she is a self-described patriotic Canadian. Her love for her original home and native land is evident in her recent career choices. Prior to launching her own business a year ago, Joanne was the Executive Director of C100, a non-profit association of Canadian thought leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area committed to supporting and accelerating the innovation economy in Canada.
“At C100, I feel like I was really democratizing access in Silicon Valley for Canadians, and I loved it,” says Joanne. “Because of the privilege I had to run C100 and get exposed to the Canadian techie ecosystem, I saw what I thought was amazing opportunities from every stage and every province and every sector in Canada, from early startups to corporate to government.”
During her near two years in the role of Executive Director, Joanne built up an extensive network across Canada’s startup ecosystem, as well as an influential network in the Valley. It’s what enabled her to branch out on her own with Connection Silicon Valley, where she’s continued to create access and drive innovation strategy for Canadian companies, from all sectors and all stages. As Joanne sees it, exposing them to the passion, urgency, and collaborative big thinking that’s the norm in her new home can be critical to their success on a global stage.
“Because of my passion for Canada, I love coming back and being here. There is amazing technology, amazing people, and I think we really have a chance to play a more significant role — but it takes coming out of your comfort zone and thinking bigger,” says Joanne. “My fear for companies in Canada, even big corporations, is they aren’t thinking outside of their four walls. They’re not going to a place like Silicon Valley and getting a sense of urgency from seeing that people had their idea four years ahead of them and have $100 million in funding. They’re not looking enough to see who are the disruptors coming three, five or ten years down the line.”
“My fear for companies in Canada, even big corporations, is they aren’t thinking outside of their four walls. They’re not going to a place like Silicon Valley and getting a sense of urgency from seeing that people had their idea four years ahead of them and have $100 million in funding.”
While she’s quick to note that there are definitely some visionary thinkers in our tech scene, it will take industry-wide growth in both inspiration and aspiration for Canada to become a major player, competing at the level of Silicon Valley.
And that’s not to say that The Valley doesn’t have it’s own challenges. It’s impossible to ignore the many headlines that point to a boy’s club and issues with “bro culture.” She’s never let it stop her, but Joanne admits she has experienced sexist behaviour in the past, and she sees a long and challenging road ahead towards ensuring no woman is left wondering, would I have been treated differently if I were a man?
One of the efforts she’s championing to help bring about that change is TheBoardlist, an online curated marketplace that connects qualified female candidates with board opportunities. Founded in the US by fellow Canadian and Silicon Valley success story, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, Joanne recalls being immediately impressed with the concept. “She launched TheBoardlist when I was still at the C100, and I thought, wow, that is such a cool idea.”
The expansion North of the border came after Joanne asked if the Canadian companies she was working with through Connection Silicon Valley could participate. With Sukhinder’s blessing, she spent a few months bringing it into the conversations she was having with local businesses, to understand what people’s reactions would be. She also looked into what was happening in Canada already, to figure out where this new initiative would fit in. “We are very collaborative in the Valley,” explains Joanne, “so TheBoardlist was here to get along and be a part of a solution, not the only solution.”
There was no denying the interest existed, from startups to corporate, and so Joanne helped lead the introduction of TheBoardlist to Canada. Since launching in April, almost 200 candidates have been nominated onto the platform by over 100 endorsers across Canada, and the next goal is to see that companies looking for female board members leverage TheBoardlist’s almost 2,000 candidates. It’s a success story that Joanne can certainly be proud of.
So what’s next for the girl from High Level, Alberta? She’s continuing to grow her business and focusing on her passions — helping Canadian companies succeed, helping women advance, and doing it all from her favourite place, Silicon Valley.
“There is no other place on the planet that is like the San Francisco Bay area. The pace that exists, the urgency, the dreaming big, thinking global, just the number of opportunities that are in front of you all of the time in different parts of tech — I admit it is a bubble that we live in, and the rest of the world doesn’t operate like we do, but it is magic what can happen out of it.”