Toronto: North America’s Fastest Growing Tech Hub
- Toronto has been growing as a global tech hub, boasting one of the highest rates of job creation in the tech field.
- Canada has benefitted greatly from its ability to bring in skilled workers from around the world, and these visa programs will need to be further supported as the need for talent grows.
- Toronto’s reputation as a liveable and diverse city, coupled with the government’s investment in research and development, is attracting tech investors and talent.
Toronto has a host of advantages right now making it one of the hottest venues for tech investment and innovation. The city, province, and federal government will need to seize these opportunities and capitalize appropriately while the time is ripe.
Why did Collision decide to move from the US to Toronto?
There are at least three good reasons. One is growth, the second is diversity, and the third is that it is a very welcoming city. Toronto is North America’s fastest growing tech hub. There is a number of reports at this point confirming this. That was not as evident two or three years ago, but it is very clear now. In terms of diversity, Collision runs a global event and more than 50% of Toronto’s population is from elsewhere in the world. If you look at all of the studies done on the welcoming cities of the world, it is unfair to just pick Toronto, but Canadians are basically afflicted with being known as being overly polite wherever they go in the world. They are the nice North Americans. Those reasons alone make Toronto incredibly attractive.
Collision runs a global event and more than 50% of Toronto’s population is from elsewhere in the world.
The fourth reason is the talent pool. All of Canada, not just Toronto, has many world-leading universities from the University of Waterloo to the University of Toronto. There are tons of great universities, and that makes it very attractive for tech companies coming from Silicon Valley, Europe, and Asia to Toronto because it gives them a double reason to be there. Companies come to Toronto for its global events but they stay because is a wonderful place to open an office.
What are the main ingredients of a strong tech hub and how do Canadian cities rank internationally in that respect?
In my view, and this might be disagreeable to some people, it is government support and people. What do I mean by government support? Government support means considerable investment in education, the dividends of which get paid literally 25 years later. It is not just investing in primary and secondary education, it is also ensuring that there are world-class universities and research programs. The Canadian government is underwriting audacious and research and development efforts that would not take place internally in companies. If you think of the history of Silicon Valley, it is first and foremost a government-led R&D lab. Decades after government money started being funnelled in, very interesting private companies began to emerge.
The Canadian government is underwriting audacious and research and development efforts that would not take place internally in companies.
Related to that is tech talent. You need a city and country that is not just producing local talent, but is also somewhere that is livable so that people will move there from around the world. Over the last four or five years, one of the push factors out of the US was its environment with regard to welcoming talent from around the world, and the single biggest beneficiary of that was Canada. Canada said, “Hey, shucks, just come on over the border to us—we are really nice.” We have seen a huge change over the last number of years and it comes down to government support and tech talent.
What could Canada be doing better to attract more investment?
First of all, there is no such thing as Canadian culture. There are many cultures within Canada but if there is to be a common thread, it is that Canadians tend to be very understated. If there is one criticism, it is that we need more positivity. Politeness and diplomacy get Canada and Canadians an awful long way around the world. You never hear of anybody in the world saying they do not like Canadians or that Canadians are rude.
I watched pitching competitions at Collision in 2019 and I saw San Franciscan and American startups go on stage saying, “We are going to be a unicorn in the next six months.” Then I would see these amazing Canadian women go on stage with four PhDs saying they have a modest proposal and that they hope it all works out, it has been going well so far, and they have been very fortunate, but we need more belief. It is important to be humble but Canadian entrepreneurs can stand to back themselves a little more.
What makes Toronto and Canada attractive to tech investors?
At the cutting-edge of the economy, where the smartest people are getting paid the highest salaries and in a world where the internet exists, people can increasingly choose to live and work from anywhere. This is very clear and it is not a radical statement, certainly not in 2021. In Europe, a number of cities have really exploded in popularity. Berlin and Lisbon are probably the two most notable ones as of now. Part of the reason is that these are spectacular cities to live in.
People like to live in great cities. Canada has great cities with a great quality of life that makes it attractive for key talent to want to live here. If you move back a hundred years and go back to Europe, really smart people gravitated towards Paris or Vienna. Why? These were nice cities to live in at the time. People can choose where they want to live when they have skills in high demand, and they will gravitate to the nicest places to live. That ended up having a cluster effect and those cities benefited richly for a period of time. San Francisco and Silicon Valley have been those kinds of places for a long time but the city and counties have been mismanaged. San Francisco has become prohibitively expensive and slightly dysfunctional as a city, and they are losing a lot of talent. Toronto is a net beneficiary of that and I am sure other Canadian cities are as well.
Canada has great cities with a great quality of life that makes it attractive for key talent to want to live here.
The opportunity for Canada is the provincial system is great. There are multiple cities where this is already happening. The effect of Shopify in Ottawa is great and they opened a big office in Toronto. The effect of Shopify becoming the largest global competitor to Amazon, being a Canadian company, is incredible. It is not just the case that Shopify is going to continue to do incredibly well, it is that so many companies are going to be founded by Shopify alumni with deep expertise in e-commerce, so e-commerce will thrive.
What is the quality and availability of talent in Canada like?
I read a report in 2018 and at the time, the second highest number of engineers being hired by quarter in North America was in Toronto. It only lagged behind San Francisco. Toronto is the place in North America where more engineering jobs are being created than anywhere else. After a number of years, you are going to exhaust the pool of local talent, and the challenge in Canada is ensuring that the visa system for bringing world-class engineers into Canada is probably under strain. It is already brilliant compared to the US.
Toronto is the place in North America where more engineering jobs are being created than anywhere else.
How do I characterize the talent? That report alone tells you that the talent in Canada is deep and incredible. These companies do not mess around. They would not be opening offices in Canada and Shopify would not be hiring as aggressively inside Canada unless the talent is there. The talent is there, but the problem is it is beginning to be exhausted. This is great for engineers because it means they are now commanding incredible salaries. The challenge for the economy at a macro level is ensuring that more relevant talent is trained up or brought into the country.
What has your personal experience been having lived in Canada for three years?
Public transport actually works. I should not beat up on the US but public transport in California is a joke.
I have had a wonderful experience. The first time I stayed in a hotel in Toronto, I went down in the morning to the gym and this big guy was stretching on the ground with his back turned to me. He looked like an athlete. I was down on the floor stretching and he stood up in front of me and waved at me and I realized it was Milos Raonic. It was unbelievable, and he could not be a nicer guy; he was so lovely. I told him what Collision was doing and said, “That is so amazing. You are so welcome to Canada. Let me know if I can do anything.” Positive personal experiences with Canadians speak volumes for the country as a whole. I have had nothing but a positive experience here.
We have an office in Toronto and countries and cities have their moments in the sun at different times, and clearly, something is happening in Canada, not just in Toronto, and the challenge for the federal government is maintaining Toronto’s upward trajectory. Truth be told, many cities have had their moments in the sun and they have wasted it or eventually fell into disrepair. You do not have to go far from Toronto to Detroit, which was effectively a wasteland for several decades. Canada has its moment in the sun and the big challenge for policymakers, startups, the tech community, and the business community is how we manage the opportunity that has befallen us in Canada.
What are the dates of Collision this year?
It is from the April 20to April 22.
What will make this Collision different from the previous one?
The software makes the experience. The software that we built from the start is focused on networking. The speakers speak for themselves; we have never had a better lineup of speakers for any event that we have ever run.
Who are you most excited about?
I am totally biased and I am not going to say a tech person because somebody will complain that I am picking favourites, so I will say Ryan Reynolds because I love Marvel and superhero movies.