Thinking about launching a new company? Canada might just be the place for you. Last June, I talked about what the country is doing for the AI scene. Now I’m going to share the secret sauce behind Toronto’s—and, more broadly, Ontario’s—innovation growth.
Recently, I attended an “Open Mic” session for startups just outside of Toronto. A groups of entrepreneurs, private investors, business leaders and others involved in the startup scene were brought together by the Haltech Innovation Center for some networking and pizza. The pièce de résistance of the evening was the showcase of talented entrepreneurs pitching their companies.
Though that may sound pretty standard for a startup networking event, what really set it apart was the personal involvement of Haltech President and CEO, Rina Carlini and Senior Manager of Business Innovation Services, Kevin Ming. The two spent the evening acting a match-makers, introducing companies to potential investors and partners. This personal touch fueled some serious relationship building.
This type of support and enthusiasm for the local startup community can be felt and seen all across Ontario. For example, Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE), created by the government, supports more than 130 not-for-profit organizations (including Haltech) across Ontario to help innovations. Its mission is to support businesses at all stages of growth, from researchers with promising new ideas to companies launching their products. Just like Carlini and Ming at the “Open Mic” event, the ONE partners help match startups with the resources they need to succeed—and there are some pretty incredible resources in the region.
The province of Ontario has 49 incubators and accelerators, all connected through the ONE. That includes 18 regional innovation centers (RICs), such as Haltech, MaRS, Communitech and Invest Ottawa, that are all staffed with advisors and mentors who help startups commercialize their ideas. According to a fall 2017 report on the ONE, the network has helped more than 5,600 Ontario entrepreneurs open new businesses. Very impressive!
For entrepreneurs needing support on the R&D front, the news from Toronto is really good. In addition to a significantly lower cost of R&D than in other major startup hubs in North America, such as Silicon Valley, New York or Boston, the Canadian government provides refunds on R&D investments. This refund can be as much as 65% of the R&D cost. That’s a huge benefit for startups.
Beyond that, the presence of other major technology companies in the region breeds opportunity for young companies. Google, FaceBook, Shopify, Research in Motion and more have all set up offices in the Toronto/Waterloo/Hamilton tech corridor.
The idea for a company can come from anywhere, but the resources to turn that idea into a real company are not always so easy to come by. That’s the main value of a community coming together to support new businesses. I’ve seen many great ideas fail because an entrepreneur doesn’t know how to create a true business plan and understand the market. I’ve also seen business-oriented entrepreneurs fail because they don’t have the wherewithal to research and develop their product.
Toronto has the support and resources for startups, and much of it is thanks to the ONE. The ONE members are not only focused on supporting new businesses. They believe that there is a bigger value in developing an entrepreneurial culture and fostering innovation skills among the youth. There’s also a value in connecting “newbies” with those who have done it before. Individual startups may or may not succeed, but the spirit of entrepreneurship will last for a long time if truly fostered.
Toronto, and the broader in Canada, have laid the groundwork for their 20-year plan to drive innovation . They are strategically implementing this plan through strong support for entrepreneurs and the startup community. I believe their hard work is going to pay off—and it makes the country worth looking at for a launching place for your new company. So, if you’re pondering that great new idea and you want to be surrounded by startup resources, head north. You’ll get a big Canadian welcome and lots of support.