Big news this week for Southern Ontario’s startup scene: the New York Times referred to the Waterloo corridor as “Canada’s Silicon Valley” in a DealBook article about how Canada is becoming increasingly attractive for American businesses due to its pool of relatively affordable talent and its weaker currency in relation to the U.S. dollar. It’s a common comparison (the Globe and Mail published an excellent article comparing the two areas last year) but it’s an exciting one to hear when it comes from DealBook’s popular Morning Agenda newsletter.
One big difference between the Silicon Valley scene and our Canadian tech startup hubs is that the Southern Ontario startup scene is urban – it’s clustered in downtown areas. The Toronto Star recently published an article co-authored by Meric Gertler, a prominent scholar of economic geography and the current President of the University of Toronto, and Ilse Treurnicht, the CEO of the MaRS Discovery District, that speaks to the changing “geography of innovation.”
Compared to the suburban feel of the Silicon Valley startup scene (think low-rise buildings with huge parking lots in Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose), the trend in Canada is for startups to cluster in eclectic downtown areas. Ontario startups, say Gertler and Treurnicht, are heavily urbanized. Smart municipal policymakers are capitalizing on this (like Toronto, who used their vibrant downtown to successfully pitch Slack on moving to the city, as recently covered in Startupsource).
Scholars like Gertler say that the urbanization of startups helps fuel innovation. Successful founders know that success is driven by interactions between people from different disciplines, backgrounds and skill sets. An entrepreneur is much more likely to find a new team member, meet a prospective investor or find a retail partner if he or she is out and about in a bustling, dynamic neighbourhood.
And, without a doubt, downtown is where the next generation of knowledge workers want to live and work, with incubators and hubs like MaRS and Ryerson’s DMZ leading the way. So DealBook’s got a point – the Toronto-Waterloo corridor feels like Silicon Valley in some ways – but as the California tech companies moving into downtown San Francisco and Oakland can attest, the urban experience makes a difference.