Successful startup communities require champions who are egoless, relentless and motivated by something other than themselves. Changemaker and creator Kayla Zawiski is so humble about her promotion of Waterloo Region that even her friends are unaware she is the founder of The Local Advocate.
“It started with just a social media account and a ‘future’ website. I launched the website featuring local events, food articles and promoting local businesses and entrepreneurs. In the last few months, it’s really taken off and people are reaching out to The Local Advocate not even knowing that it’s me, which is pretty cool.”
The young expounder is part of the growing movement in the post-information era, where she challenges her readers to go beyond simply using technology to foster experiences and actually get back to a grassroots approach where people get out there to taste, touch, smell, hear and feel.
She is a tour guide for everything local in Waterloo Region and her modus operandi is accessibility and inclusivity. She is willing to collaborate with anyone, from #girlboss meetups at Arabella Park to #nojudgement slipper parties at the trendy Kaufman Lofts, on the condition that as you suit up your feet, check your ego at the door. It should also be noted that this interview was conducted at the Kaufman Lofts, the first large-scale industrial-apartment revitalization of its kind in downtown Kitchener. You can see Google right from the window – a detail Kayla was sure to point out – never a missed opportunity.
When not directing people where to find the best espresso, this consummate collaborator is studying for her Masters in Digital Experience Innovation at the University of Waterloo, Stratford campus, and acts as a business consultant who specializes in real estate, social media and brand experiences.
For me, it’s all about the people.
“Meeting like-minded people who aren’t pretentious, who aren’t really seeking anything from a transaction and willing to give back and make big changes in the community.”
Brad Feld, the godfather of building successful startup cities and author of Startup Communities, is the genius co-founder and venture capitalist behind Techstars, Foundry Group and the tech pioneer who helped put Boulder, Colorado, at the centre of the global startup map. He advocates that successful startup communities need more people willing to simply give without expecting something directly in return – people like Kayla.
Feld says, “One of my deeply held beliefs to the secret of success in life is to give before you get. In this approach, I am always willing to try to be helpful to anyone, without having a clear expectation of what is in it for me. By investing time and energy up front without a specifically defined outcome, I have found that, over time, the rewards that come back to me exceed my wildest expectations.”
His give-before-you-get philosophy is essential to preserving the grassroots appeal of Waterloo Region and why Kayla’s vision for The Local Advocate is gaining such great traction. She is helping foster a community where the ‘what’s in it for me?’ mentality is being replaced by like-minded people who want to help the region partner, build and grow.
“I really just want to keep building content and keep giving back. I don’t really expect anything back in return. I really just want to build a great community.”
Waterloo Region is experiencing explosive growth and is poised to become the fastest growing startup community in the world. By the end of February 2019, the city of Kitchener expects to issue building permits worth $1.2 billion for 20 new property developments in the city core.
A report in November by CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, showed that between 2011 and 2016, Waterloo exploded as Canada’s fastest growing tech talent market with a 65.6% increase in tech jobs and is currently the second fastest in North America behind Charlotte, North Carolina at 77.1%.
When asked how she’d like to see Waterloo manage its growth over the next decade, she shares, “the tech sector is going to grow, and I’d love to see it expand, but I don’t want to see us become the Silicon Valley of the North, although we do have that title right now. I’d like to make sure that we’re growing but we really keep our own identity. We’re different from Toronto and just make sure it’s very inclusive.”
Kayla has lived abroad and travelled the world but decided to lay roots in Waterloo because she loves the region’s potential. “If you’re a young professional looking to move somewhere, Waterloo Region is such a good place because it’s internationally recognized, both in tech and entrepreneurship. You have such opportunities here to build a strong business, the ability to buy a decent home and really get settled and belong.”
Join Kayla’s adventure of finding the regions best morning espresso, hot afternoon ramen on a cold day or the best after-work speakeasy bars. Let The Local Advocate guide you around the hippest parts of Waterloo, experience something authentic, learn something new and meet exciting people you wouldn’t have otherwise. Just don’t make it all about yourself.