Supporting Waterloo’s Innovators
- The connectivity among individuals and businesses in Waterloo facilitates innovation and the success of entrepreneurship.
- The quality of life in Waterloo is a great attractor not only for talent, but also for foreign investment.
- There is a wide variety of industries and technological innovations currently happening in Waterloo.
Waterloo is a prime location for investment and innovation, not least because of the great connectivity and business culture that exists within the local ecosystem. With strong social infrastructure, it is easy for new investors or entrepreneurs to get the connections and contacts they need in order to both start and scale their businesses.
What are Waterloo’s competitive advantages for attracting foreign direct investment?
One of the biggest advantages of the Waterloo region’s economic system is the diversity and wide variety of industries that we have. Waterloo region has long had a history of reinventing itself and we have a strong manufacturing, agriculture, finance and insurance, post-secondary education, and technology sectors. They all coexist in a very nice, diverse mix within the local economy. As far as advantages go, certainly the strength of the talent pool is one of our strongest advantages—that is thanks to a great group of post-secondary institutions locally.
“The strength of the talent pool is one of our strongest advantages—that is thanks to a great group of post-secondary institutions locally.”
Things where we could improve: certainly transportation infrastructure is something that is always top of mind for us in the Waterloo region. We are improving our own local transportation infrastructure but connectivity to other parts of Southern Ontario is something we are working on.
In which sectors does Waterloo excel and which will define its future?
The Waterloo region has had this tradition of reinventing itself and so over the years, new industries have emerged. We have a very strong financial services sector and insurance sector in particular. Many of Canada’s leading insurance firms are headquartered in the Waterloo region. More recently, the technology sector has certainly begun to emerge as a major piece of our local economy, and technology has increasingly become a driver of economic activity in other parts of our economy as well. We have a strong manufacturing history and tradition in the region that is now increasingly becoming much more technologically advanced and focused on advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0.
How would you describe Waterloo’s innovation ecosystem?
The Waterloo region is a small city—there are fewer than a million people who live in our community, but we have a really strong technology ecosystem considering the size that we are. The makeup of the technology ecosystem is pretty diverse. We have about 1,400 technology firms in the region—small, medium, and large-sized enterprises. There is a diversity of types of technology as well. There is a lot of enterprise software and business-to-business technology, and increasingly we are seeing more consumer tech, cleantech, and healthtech. The variety is starting to emerge.
Waterloo region has the second highest startup density in the world per capita, second to Silicon Valley, and we have a very strong and diverse set of startup companies. They in turn attract talent and capital to the region. They are also an important source of new innovation and new ideas for the ecosystem and they are joined by scaling firms and large enterprises in the broader ecosystem.
What are Waterloo’s strengths as a mid-sized city?
One of our competitive advantages certainly is that we are a mid-sized city. The community is relatively well-connected in terms of business relationships, talent relationships, and so on. We also have that diversity of different kinds of tech that are being developed. Some of that technology emerges from the post-secondary institutions, from existing companies and the individuals that work in those companies, or as result of serial entrepreneurship—individuals who are very experienced in scaling or starting a business, and then taking that knowledge and experience and applying it to a new product or industry.
What role does Communitech play in this ecosystem?
One of the roles that Communitech plays in the local ecosystem is that of connector and convenor. Right now, that connecting and convening is happening largely virtually, but that has long been one of the things that Communitech has really focused on—creating those opportunities for different kinds of businesses to come together and innovate, perhaps build a new partnership, customer relationship, research and development (R&D) relationships, and the opportunity to convene like minds in the community. For example, we run 35 to 40 monthly peer roundtables with individuals who have similar roles within a tech company locally. They will get together and help one another solve problems. We have long played that role of community connector.
What services does Communitech offer to foreign investors?
We do facilitate that kind of investment attraction for the tech sector. We rely on our partnership with Waterloo Economic Development Corporation to play that role in other sectors of the economy. For tech specifically, we often think about the three big problems that tech companies in our community are always trying to solve: access to the right kind of talent, access to the right kind of capital, and access to the right kinds of customers or markets. Part of our role is to try and facilitate that kind of connection.
“Three big problems that tech companies in our community are always trying to solve: access to the right kind of talent, access to the right kind of capital, and access to the right kinds of customers or markets.”
Often, international investors are coming to look at the quality of companies that they are seeing emerge in the region. They are a source of great connectivity in terms of potential new partnerships and markets. We are often trying to facilitate that connection in that way.
What advice would you give to foreign investors to the Waterloo region?
For international organizations or investors who are looking at the region, the things that I would point to would be that Waterloo region has a really good set of that connective tissue and social infrastructure that I mentioned. It has the advantage of being a mid-sized city and so there is less friction in reaching out and finding the right connection at the right time. It is also a very open business culture, so it is very easy for someone to reach out to me for example and say, “I am looking for a contact in this industry to have a conversation about doing business with this type of partner or this kind of market.” We can readily, all of us, make those kinds of introductions because we are still a small enough community where a lot of that individual connectivity facilitates the business connectivity.
What is the quality of life in Waterloo?
Waterloo, because of the nature of the community and where we are situated, has a lot of advantages for quality of life. We are a mid-sized city but we are surrounded by some of Ontario’s best agriculture and farmland. It is a very green place and there is a lot of opportunity to get outside and enjoy our trail system and parks. It is also a community that is very much focused on helping one another. It is part of our roots, if you will, and it is quite a welcoming community and a wonderful place to live.