home June 23, 2020

Startup & Innovation Research, Strategy & Education

My passion for startups and tech innovation dates back to childhood, when I worked summers for my uncle Rob, who took a gamble on a new technology to found Sim Video out of his basement with a single Ikegami “Handy Look” tube video camera. Over the next few decades he treated me to a behind-the-scenes account of growing Sim Video into Sim International, with over 500 employees on three continents. Sim provided camera, lighting, grip, post production, studios and technical support for film and television, from experimenting with James Cameron in the early days of digital cinema to servicing high-end productions like GAME OF THRONES out of Sim’s flagship facilities in the former Kodak building in Hollywood, to a $622 million M&A deal with Panavision – that fell through, followed by hard times during the pandemic shortly thereafter, to the bitter-sweet sale of all divisions of the company by 2023.  

Another professor in the business school of life was Gerard Vroomen, pioneering co-founder of  Cervélo Cycles’, makers of the fastest and most innovative racing bikes at that time. Together with Gerard, my creative partner Joe Finkleman and I created three seasons of the first of its kind pro-cycling web series BEYOND THE PELOTON (BTP), a behind the scenes look at the Cervélo TestTeam’s historic Tour de France-winning run in the late 2000s (and all video content, including Cervélo’s hit documentary style Tour de France commercials and brand docs about Cervélo’s product development in wind tunnels and testing labs). Joe and I reported directly to Gerard, an engineer who shared what it’s like to find product market fit as a fledgling tech startup with tremendous growth, and run a pro-cycling team, which for a time was the highest rated in the world. I had the pleasure of watching Gerard and his team build Cervélo into a world-class brand with exponential growth in a few short years (thanks in part to BTP and our supporting transmedia content strategy), until its acquisition by bike conglomerate Pon.

As Vroomen puts it: “Booker with the rest of the crew of BEYOND THE PELOTON […] made a small piece of history together with the Cervélo TestTeam. The documentary series was the first of its kind […] and fans and riders loved it. Nowadays, many teams have documentary series, but the brilliance of the original has never been matched.” It’s also not lost on fans that BTP paved the way for Netflix’s TOUR DE FRANCE: UNCHAINED series, with the two sharing narrative conventions – and even a few characters. During that golden age, we were also approached by a BEYOND THE PELOTON fan at Tesla about creating a BTP-style series following Elon on his startup and innovation story, much as we had done with Vroomen. But by 2010, as Joe and I were winding down season three of BTP (with the Cervélo TestTeam having morphed into Team Garmin Cervélo and Cervélo was acquired by Pon), I had just received financing for my own tech startup. 

The company was a music-tech startup Legitmix. I used the startup and tech innovation storytelling skills learned at Cervélo to support serial entrepreneur and computer scientist Omid McDonald secured 8-figure financing from the Purple Angels, early Shopify investors from Ottawa who brought a Shopify founder onto our advisory board – followed by an additional $1.2 million from Canada’s MaRS startup accelerator.  With funding in place, I made use of my New York hip-hop scene connections to put together a team of music industry vanguards, including leading PR agent Kathryn Frazier of Biz3 (best known for helping break Bieber and current work with the Weeknd) and legendary music journalist and ego trip co-founder Sacha Jenkins to release test projects with music industry leaders like Mad Decent, Fools Gold, Giant Step, The Turntable Lab and Mass Appeal, featuring artists like Diplo, El-p, Danny Brown, Dave Nada and Pusha-T. I expanded on what I learned from Sim, Cervélo, the Purple Angels and my co-founder Omid, with lean startup methodology, having led problem space research, user testing, early adopter artist onboarding, value proposition messaging and buzz-worthy PR launches covered by Billboard, Pitchfork, Complex, Bloomberg, The Village Voice, The Toronto Star, The Chicago Reader, The Fader, The Verge, MTV, Quartz, the MIT Technology Review, and called one of the “coolest startups in NYC” by Time Out New York, and caught the interest of Carlos Slim Jr. and Scooter Braun. 

While Omid McDonald and I defined a problem space music creators, fans, investors, engineers and journalists were clearly fascinated with, because of the shift to streaming business models like Spotify we failed to find product market fit with our proposed solution.

With one hit with Cervélo and a miss with Legitmix, one thing was clear: I knew my sweet spot was the nexus of innovation, storytelling and culture. So in 2014, I joined leading digital studio Jam3, creating innovative interactive content and experiences about innovation for Success Academy, Google ZOO, the CBC, Snoop Dogg, Mozilla and Microsoft, as well as Webby, Canadian Screen Award, D&AD and Cannes Lion-winning interactive documentaries SONS OF GALLIPOLI, CHANGE GOUT and NUCLEAR DISSENT. Not to mention telling Jam3’s inspiring startup story from BEAR 71 onwards through award submissions and case study videos for a slew of other interactive winners I did not lead, like the NFB’s Bear 71 VR, along with supporting internal and client R&D and production.

Recent work in the innovation storytelling space includes a founder education series for startup incubator MaRS (who co-funded Legitmix), strategy and content for Detroit-based cannabis startup Common Citizen, and carbon-neutral vodka distillery and DRAGONS DEN winner Vodkow, founded by my Legitmix co-founder Omid McDonald. Together with leading cultural strategist Doug Cameron, founder of DCX.NYC Ad Age Agency of the Year, I’m currently supporting Omid on his initiative to build a $50 million facility to transform the bulk of Michigan’s dairy waste into aviation fuel with a fraction of the carbon emissions of conventional fuel, which caught the attention of the Biden administration.

In 2023 I combined my documentary skills and UX knowledge to cast, write, direct and produce a brand doc series for Superf.ly about Microsoft users on three continents, adding to my extensive user-centric work for Microsoft at Jam3, having spent weeks embedded in Microsoft’s Redmond campus amongst product managers and their internal studio.

That same year, I joined fandom startup Biom.studio to provide culture, tech and market research and strategy in support of the company’s founders, two former Jam3 colleagues and head of digital gaming studio ZeMind, builders of the Biom platform, which provides an elegant solution to web3’s UX/UI problem. I also serve on Biom’s advisory board with Jam3 co-founder Mark McQuillan.

Concurrently with Biom, I provide strategy and production for premier ZeMind client work, like an app for the Unit9-produced 2023 launch of Meta’s Quest 3 VR headset with the WALKING DEAD franchise and a case study video that helped a human trafficking awareness VR game receive 2024 Webby and Canadian Screen Award nods.

My passion for culture and innovation, travel and work in over 40 countries as a documentary filmmaker, experience in the news rooms of Canada’s premier current affairs programs W5 and The National and continuously building on a rigorous philosophy education all contribute to my ever-evolving research and strategy methodology. All of which came together for a Seneca Polytechnic class I started teaching in 2020, about the future of non-fiction storytelling, transmedia and co-creation at the nexus of emerging technologies like Generative AI, Unreal Engine and (proto-metaverse) XR and spatial computing, complementing film and media theory, the philosophy of technology with behind-the-scenes praxis from former colleagues with whom I co-created award-winning interactive documentaries with at Jam3. 

I shared my hybrid transdisciplinary approach in an article about my insights on Natural Intelligence learned while field producing OUR LIVING WORLD. This Netflix’s 2024 Cate Blanchett-narrated nature series about the “living network that connects everything on Earth,” was shot in 24 countries over 3 years and hit the Netflix “Top 10” in nearly 50 countries. I now include nature (or rather co-creating with Natural Intelligence) alongside any discussions of tech, innovation, storytelling and culture.



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