June 12, 2016

Toronto Startup Ecosystem Jumps into the Spotlight….Finally


As someone who has been involved with Toronto’s startup community for the past 15 years, it’s always frustrating to read articles about the world’s leading startup ecosystems….and not see Toronto on the list.
Cities in every continent are mentioned, particularly U.S. cities (including places such as St. Louis), but not Toronto. Maybe it was because Toronto is a Canadian city. Maybe it was because Toronto has not done a good enough job of waving the flag about the startup community (although this is starting to slowly and thankfully change).
Whatever the reason, it seemed like everyone was missing out on an exciting story.
So it was a pleasant surprise to see TechCrunch declare that Toronto is poised to be the “next great producer of tech startups”. The author, Josh Guttman, talks about the engineering talent, government support, world-class schools and affordable health care. I will take issue, however, with Josh’s comment about our “delightfully efficient transport”.


Toronto’s emergence as a world-class startup ecosystem has been a long time coming but it’s not surprising. It wasn’t that long ago (six or seven years) that Toronto entrepreneurs talked about startups but didn’t walk the walk. They dutifully went to industry events and discussed what was happening in Silicon Valley but the will to launch a startup wasn’t there.
These were people who I described as “digital hobos”, who aimlessly wandered around but never did anything.
This inertia has disappeared. There is a new and growing wave of entrepreneurs who are passionate and, as important, committed to launching startups. They have ideas, energy and enthusiasm, and an appetite for risk. This is despite the fact there’s still not enough capital to properly fuel idea development and growth.
I look at startups such as Shoelace where the three co-founders decided to leave a fast-moving startup (Hubba) to do their own thing, even though they didn’t exactly know what their new thing was going to be. Instead, they had confidence in their skills and ability to discover and develop a compelling idea.
I look at all the entrepreneurs at The DMZ and Ryerson Futures where I have been consulting for the past five months. It is a place teeming with startups. Some of them have potential, while others are, at best, long shots. But it is awesome to see so many entrepreneurs taking a shot, rather than playing it safe and working in a cubicle with a regular paycheck.
I see enthusiasm and inspiration at TechTO, which attracts more than 500 people to monthly meetings. It started as a modest event but has grown by leaps and bounds, fueled by growing interest in startups and entrepreneurship.
It’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur or someone involved in the startup community. It’s about time that Toronto is recognized as leading players in the global startup ecosystem.
This is not to suggest that everything is peaches and cream. Toronto (the city) needs to be even more aggressive and pro-active in promoting the startup community, there should be more incentives for startups and entrepreneurs to set up shop in Toronto, and, of course, more capital is always a good thing.
All in all, however, Toronto’s startup community is ascending….and the world appears to finally be taking notice.

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