In the world of professional sports, the Toronto Blue Jays of the MLB, and the Toronto Raptors of the NBA proudly embrace the city they represent with the rallying cry: “We The North
And in the entertainment industry, Drake is putting Toronto on the global map
with songs painting a vivid picture of a city (“The Six”) that has finally found its voice.
But it’s not just athletes and celebrities that are shining the spotlight on Toronto as a world-class city.
As President Trump’s strict immigration policies and H-1B visa restrictions begin to isolate the United States, Toronto has emerged as a beacon of cultural inclusion, economic prosperity, and political stability. The fourth largest city in North America, Toronto is the driving force behind Canada’s distinction as the second best country to live in on the planet.
Combined, all of these factors have culminated in an exploding tech scene in Toronto. And as Executive Vice President of Venture Services at the world’s leading innovation hub, I’ve seen firsthand why more tech talent and more startups are choosing to move “north of the border.”
After working for several years in Silicon Valley, I knew that in order to truly grow my career, I needed to return home and grow my roots in Toronto. Why? Its unparalleled mixture of top-tier talent, a diverse community, strong governmental support, and access to funding makes Toronto not only the best place in the world to live and work, but the city best equipped to become the next epicentre of innovation. And after selling my first startup, I knew wanted to be a part of it.
Here are four key reasons why I moved to Toronto, and why you should move your startup north, too:
Draw From a Deep Pool of Top Talent
Moving to Toronto will provide your startup with instant access to some of the world’s best and brightest innovators. Recently named one of the world’s most innovative cities
, Toronto is home to between 2,500 and 4,100
active tech startups, as well as the world’s largest innovation hub
(covering 1.5 million square feet).
Gone are the days of future entrepreneurs, engineers and developers moving west to pursue their careers — boasting cheaper tuition, and the top-ranked institutions in the world, Toronto’s unparalleled academic institutions are growing the next wave of tech innovators and entrepreneurs.
With over 150,000 full-time students enrolled in universities in the Greater Toronto area, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, especially in the wake of Trump’s election, schools like the University of Toronto are currently seeing a massive surge in American applicants.
So watch out, Berkeley, Cal, Stanford, and the rest of the Silicon Valley pipeline — the next wave of top tech talent is heading north.
Recruit from the Most Diverse City in the World
Moving your startup to Toronto quite literally means that you’ll have a more diverse pool of talent to draw from. Recently named most diverse city in the world
, Toronto is a cultural haven for foreign entrepreneurs and their startups to pursue truly innovative and disruptive ideas.
Unlike Silicon Valley, which is stifled by a homogeneous, male-dominated culture, Toronto knows that diversity both fosters innovation and is good for business.
Toronto is also one of the “best cities in the world” for female entrepreneurs — 12.5% of partners at venture capital firms in Canada are women, which stands at more than double the rate in the U.S., which hovers at a meager 6%.
If you want your startup to have sustainable success, come here to hire a broad range of talent from a variety of backgrounds.
Access Strong Government Support
Toronto also has better social policies and services when compared to cities in the U.S. This empowers founders to leave “safe jobs” with lots of benefits and take the entrepreneurial leap without the risk of losing access to healthcare for them or their family, thanks to Canada’s universal healthcare system.
And while the U.S. remains divided over the government’s direct role in supporting the research and development and the tech industry more generally, Canada is setting the model for public-private partnerships in tech.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made active efforts to support the technology sector, committing $US900m in 2015 to support high-tech innovation and innovation hubs, which directly benefits the bustling startup community in Toronto. Plus, there are robust tax incentives for companies investing in R&D. For example, for every dollar spent on engineering, companies can access approximately one-third of the cost back via government incentive programs.
Secure Top-Level VC Investment
Securing the right funding is make-or-break for a startup, and Toronto certainly isn’t lacking in access to venture capital.
Before the days of Trump, Canadian startups — many of which are based in Toronto — were already generating tons of investment. VC hit a 15-year high in 2016, with $US2.75 billion invested, a 36% increase over 2015, and that number is only expected to rise.
U.S. VC firms like Union Square Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Horizon Venture Partners, Azure Capital, Felicis Ventures, Sequoia Capital have all invested in Toronto-based companies, and every day I speak with more investors looking to cash in on Toronto’s hottest ventures. As America tightens its borders and retreats inward, it’s understandable why more American VCs are investing in Toronto-based companies with global scale.
Tech heavyweights like Slack, Shopify, and Kik all got their start in Canada; the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s first big acquisition was a health startup called Meta and more successes are on the horizon. Over the years, I’ve seen many companies go through significant exits and investments, recently including BlueCat ($US400M exit, Madison Dearborn), Bitstrips ($US100M exit, Snapchat), and WealthSimple ($US50M Growth Round), to name a few.
VCs are looking to invest outside of Silicon Valley, and have their eye on Toronto as the next big hit, especially because so many Canadian startups are focused on solving big global challenges that have the potential for enormous scale and returns.
Boasting a deep, diverse talent pool, powerful government initiatives, and a steady flow of VC investment, there’s never been a better time to uproot your startup from the Valley and head north — “The Six” is waiting.
Salim Teja is Executive Vice President of Ventures at MaRS, a Toronto venture program that is home to over 1,000 startups.
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