Toronto’s Thriving Talent-Rich Tech Ecosystem
- Toronto’s tech ecosystem has a number of innovative incubators and accelerators which are surrounded by large tech companies and funders.
- Canadians, businesses and investors should take an intersectional approach to furthering the advancement of women-identifying groups in tech.
- Toronto’s talent base has the benefit of learning and growing in a robust tech ecosystem thereby increasing its capability.
Canadians should welcome outside investment and do better at telling our story as an investment destination that provides investors with opportunities to succeed, grow, live, work, develop and contribute.
What are the main factors that make Toronto attractive for tech investors?
There are a couple of pieces. I have increasingly heard stories of many very talented individuals who want to come to Canada and Toronto—particularly to the innovation space—because of their disappointment in the leadership of the United States, especially in light of the pandemic. In some ways it has made Canada and Toronto even more attractive to witness some of the tragic leadership that has been happening in the United States.
Toronto is still a thriving ecosystem, and part of that is because of our incredible tech talent; the incredible educational institutions that we have; and having real thought leaders globally in artificial intelligence emanating out of Toronto and driving forward the industry—which is becoming increasingly important with the necessity of AI to predicting the future of the pandemic.
We have talent and lots of very large technology companies investing in Toronto, which promotes and enables the development of the ecosystem. Toronto also has extremely strong technology and innovation incubators, from Communitech outside of the city, to MaRS, the DMZ, the Creative Destruction Lab and other organizations and funders around those accelerators.
We still have that ecosystem, but the fact that we are no longer in person impacts the ability for human connection, networking, and the collisions that happen in ecosystems. That is a challenge that we have to overcome, but our infrastructure and talent is still here.
“The fact that we are no longer in person impacts the ability for human connection, networking, and the collisions that happen in ecosystems. That is a challenge that we have to overcome.”
We also have the Mayor of Toronto who is deeply committed to the technology sector. I remember at the outset of the pandemic he spoke to many different leaders in the tech community to understand specifically what the innovation community needs in terms of government and support to enable scaling companies to survive. There were a lot of changes at the municipal and federal level to reflect that.
Toronto still has this incredibly strong fabric that plenty of companies will want to invest in, and even though we are living in a pandemic that will dramatically change our lives—and some people in a very direct way, in a mental health way, in losing their companies—but it does not change what we have here and what will ensue once we get through the worst of this and can resume our new normal.
Are there specific sectors that you are most excited about in Canada? What do you see evolving in those sectors in the next five to 10 years?
I am really excited about the overall technology and innovation space. We are on the cusp of some major developments in artificial intelligence and how we can use it, particularly as it applies to healthcare. I would not be surprised to see significant innovation coming out of Canada in the healthcare space, both from a tech and science perspective. Canada has some incredible organizations and I see us being able to lead in health globally.
“We are on the cusp of some major developments in artificial intelligence and how we can use it, particularly as it applies to healthcare.”
Canada is also in a position to see tremendous innovation with our financial markets as well, especially when you see what companies like Wealthsimple can do, making investing in the future of finance easy. There is a huge opportunity to continue to proliferate in the market between companies in the tech space and major banks, including TD. They are innovating, digitizing and really responding in a meaningful way to what we need for the future of work and the direction the world is going in. I am really excited for what we can do and how we can drive forward the way we do finance in Canada.
What are we doing right and what should we be doing differently to increase the position of women in tech and in positions of influence in general?
We have done a lot of dial moving as a community and we have come quite a long way in our inclusion journey since #movethedial was born in 2017. At the same time, we have a very far way to go and there is much we still need to do.
We are starting to see a lot of companies recognize the need to invest more significantly in the development and advancement of their women-identifying talent as well as the engagement of those talents.
“We cannot only look through a general lens anymore, and there has been a major shift in the last few years as we have gotten further along in our journey to take a very intentional and intersectional approach.”
We really need to start taking a much more intersectional approach. We have seen, in light of what transpired through the Black Lives Matter Movement, which really awakened our society, is that we need to be much more intentional—specifically with how we engage Black folks—and meaningfully take steps to advance the Black community, the Indigenous community, and other communities that do not get much attention and investment. We cannot only look through a general lens anymore, and there has been a major shift in the last few years as we have gotten further along in our journey to take a very intentional and intersectional approach.
Recently, Canadian tech and innovation leaders came together in response to the recent anti-racism movement that arose in light of the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. They formed a coalition aiming to bring the entire community together in meaningfully advancing our Black community members and friends. The coalition was specifically looking at how our tech community can come together and execute in light of what is happening in the world. It is being led by Claudette McGowan, who is the head of cybersecurity at TD, but it is made up of really important leaders in our community. That is one example of looking at the priorities as we move forward: youth skills development, job opportunities, venture and founder support, funding and community leadership. This group is specifically focused on talent, but that is one example.
What would be your pitch to foreign investors on the advantages and values of investing in Toronto?
We have incredible people in Toronto and we also have an incredibly diverse base of talent. That is one of our strongest competitive advantages. Foreign investors would have access to a very strong talent pool of people who bring different lived experiences to the table, and you get very strong candidates at every level. Talent is one of the strongest and most compelling reasons to invest in Canada.
I love Toronto, I would make a commercial about Toronto. When companies are trying to sell executives on moving from the US to Toronto, I always say it is an incredible place to live, you are joining an incredibly community that is warm, rich and offers culture, food and nature right the city, as well as opportunities for growth.
“Talent is one of the strongest and most compelling reasons to invest in Canada.”
That is one of the things I love about Toronto: it is a rich ecosystem that is thriving at the moment, because if one is to come, invest and live in Toronto there are endless opportunities for growth and impact, as well as huge opportunities to succeed. Toronto might be a small market, but it is mighty.
Any final thoughts for Canadians on the value of investing in Canada?
It has been an incredible signal to see some of the large global and US companies investing in Canada, and that should make us very proud and excited about what is to come.
“Canadians should open our doors, welcome our neighbours and tell our story.”
When the larger companies invest in Canada, we might be afraid that they will steal our talent, but on the other hand, those investments are saying that Canada is worth investing in and they are going to invest in the development and growth of our talent. That is one thing about ecosystems: talent has the opportunity to move around, gain experience and give back and contribute for the next generation.
Canadians should open our doors, welcome our neighbours and tell our story. It is really important that we collectively get out the message that we are proud to be Canadian, we do great business here, and that it is an incredible place to live, work, grow, develop and contribute. We all have a role in doing that.
If you are going to invest in Canada, do it because we have incredible people here and many amazing opportunities for your company to grow and thrive.