Take it from a Silicon Valley emissary: Canada isn’t good at celebrating the entrepreneurial successes that occur within its borders. “We don’t do this enough in Canada,” Google Canada managing director Sam Sebastian told the crowd at the tech giant’s GoNorth conference in Toronto last month. “I’m American—we do it too much in the U.S.”
Watching the parade of government ministers talking up the country’s innovation potential or reading the reams of articles about the next billion-dollar Waterloo or Vancouver startup, observers may be inclined to disagree. But whatever the appropriate amount of celebration, it’s clear that the Canadian tech sector is in fine form—as Sebastian noted, the Toronto-Waterloo corridor has the highest concentration of startups in the world bar the Valley. Whereas the natural course of events a decade ago might have been to start on this side of the border and then jump across it, today’s founders are choosing to stay at home.
That’s in part a reflection of the maturity of Canada’s startup ecosystem. When Michele Romanow graduated from university, there were no incubators or accelerators, she recalled during a GoNorth panel. These days, a network of support programs and startup spaces host hundreds of ventures between them each year. “It’s now okay to go directly from undergrad to starting a company,” she says.
With the ecosystem’s growth is coming a desire to preserve what differentiates it from other tech hubs. “I don’t want to become Silicon Valley North up here,” said Shopify COO Harley Finkelstein, listing off quality of life and employee loyalty as distinct Canadian advantages. “We have a community that cares about each other [and] we’re very collaborative.” (The Valley has it’s own strengths—Romanow told the audience to go there to “recharge your big ambition batteries.”)
It’s not just entrepreneurs who have achieved a big exit who are optimistic either. “I refuse to believe we can’t build a strong company here in Canada,” says Nanoleaf CEO Gimmy Chu. “We’ve been here for over two years now, and it’s been great.”
At GoNorth, we got eight founders to pitch us their businesses and explain the unique challenges of the spaces and sectors they’re trying to conquer. Watch the videos by clicking below.