Canada’s Startup Communities: Shining brighter than the California sun

Posted in Company News
By Laura Leslie on November 7, 2014

leafs bloom

Silicon Valley may be the first place that comes to mind when you think of tech startups, but when considering resources, financial support, and a welcoming atmosphere, Canada has been steadily putting itself on the map. The startup communities in cities such as Vancouver, Waterloo, Toronto,  Calgary and Montreal have proven to be a sought after home for some of the world’s most notable tech  innovations of the last few years.

The list of successful startups in Canada is rapidly growing and garnering some well-deserved national and international attention. Vancouver’s Hootsuite continues to put Canada on the radar globally as the world’s most used social relationship platform. Having recently closed a $60million financing round, even financiers from Silicon Valley Bank wanted in.

People around the world have been talking about Toronto’s Bionym which has gained warranted notoriety with “Nymi,” its revolutionary heartbeat authentication technology. Wattpad, a writing app also from Toronto, has seen notable success as well, having closed a $46million funding round this year alone.

Kitchener’s Desire2Learn warrants mention having raised a Series B financing round of $85million this past year putting some much needed spot light on Kitchener’s tech community.

Frank & Oak from Montreal started with eight employees and grew to an impressive eighty-five in a little over a year. Freshbooks went from basement dwelling to a customer base of over 5 million customers. These are just a small few of the hundreds of Canadian startups experiencing unprecedented growth. You have to wonder, what are the ingredients in our recipe for success?

The Base:

Canada’s startup support system begins with a strong foundation. There is support and resources available not only to the prospective business owner, but to curious children who could be the next generation of entrepreneurs.

As early as in elementary school Canadian students are encouraged to explore their entrepreneurial spirit with things like the “Entrepreneurial Adventure Awards” put on by the BMO Financial Group National Student Innovation Awards and the Learning Partnership.  The “A Business of Our Own” program gives young students an opportunity to develop a business plan and become the CEO of their own mock company.

In high school the support continues as adolescents are required to begin planning their paths to post-secondary education.  Programs like the OCE’s “Young Entrepreneurs Make Your Pitch” competition, are designed to help students set themselves apart as they become more serious about entrepreneurship.

“The Young Entrepreneurs, Make Your Pitch competition is a great way for high school students to experience what it means to be an entrepreneur in Ontario. The competition includes a number of opportunities for students in Grades 9-12 to develop valuable skills and knowledge in entrepreneurship.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

   Tom Corr, President and CEO, Ontario Centres of Excellence 

Helping Canadian youth learn and understand the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur is essential to building a strong foundation for our startup communities. By the time students have graduated high school, they have been given a number of opportunities to determine if starting their own business is a feasible pursuit.

Many Canadian colleges and universities have outstanding incubator programs. A local example, theDigital Media Zone at Ryerson, has housed success stories like Soapbox and 500px.  The University of Toronto has several incubators, including The Hatchery and UTEST (University of Toronto Early Stage Technology) which teamed up with MaRS Innovation and MaRs Discovery District to offer students workspace, startup funds, and mentoring.

The support doesn’t stop with school though. Canada is jam packed with programs and initiatives that cater to business owners and entrepreneurs of any age/stage of business. There are dozens of resources available to help find accelerators, incubators, venture funding, crowd funding, angel investors, and plenty of non-profit and government-funded programs as well.

The Pursuit of Appiness:

Hungry to be the home of  the next Instagram or Facebook, Canada continues to raise the stakes. Last April the federal government pledged to invest $300million in digital companies over the next four years. They’ve also increased access to high-speed broadband in hopes of continuing success and global notoriety.

Ensuring longevity in Canada’s startup success will rely on more than just a strong foundation. As Canadians we can pride ourselves on the startup communities we have built in our major cities . People say it takes a village to raise a child, and in the same sense it takes a community to build a business. Our strong network of Meetup groups, open-houses, government-funded programs and a plethora of startup-focused programs and awards, Canada’s sense of community is as strong as its support system.

If we build it, will they come?

It’s no question that Canada is a great place to start a tech company. Outside of the resources and tax benefits, we’re just a bunch of really nice people! But what about talent? The Valley is seemingly winning the race for talent attraction,  but with the focus shifting more and more to our major cities it’s a necessity that we become a contender.

In part two I will take a deeper look at the reasons we are facing challenges with talent attraction,  and what we can do to stop it!