Toronto is having a moment.

Ryan Murphy
June 14, 2019

Our Toronto Raptors have won the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. All of Canada is beyond excited.

But beyond our own exuberance, winning on this stage is once again bringing both Toronto and Canada into the public consciousness of our giant neighbour down south. We’re more than America’s hat – we’re the scrappy up-and-comers, ready to compete with established dynasties. We’re pretty proud of how far we’ve come. We may never be their brand of juggernaut, but we’ve met them and bested the Warriors at their level.

The finals aren’t the only factor making the moment that “The 6ix” is having, though. The other stage upon which we are making our mark and being compared with giants? Tech.

Some are trying to call the Toronto-Waterloo corridor “Silicon Valley North.” This is more a clever branding exercise than a direct comparison; most people immersed in the industry know that it would be almost impossible to recreate SF’s tech hub.

People who know better say that the “next silicon valley” will always be silicon valley – a dynasty befitting of their basketball team. BUT – like our Raps – Toronto has carved out and reached international standing through years of quiet hard work, eager investment, and an expansive innovation ecosystem that all of Ontario (and Canada) contributes to.

Toronto is in the news regularly these days for the investments that have poured in from big tech. Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs project is turning 12 acres of our waterfront into an IoT community of the future. Uber has moved a big chunk of their driverless car labs to TO, investing $200 million and creating 500 jobs. Intel and Microsoft have headquarters in neighbouring Mississauga. We were shortlisted for Amazon’s HQ2. And thanks to strong education and immigration, we boast the 4th best talent pool for tech in North America. The key to Toronto’s tech success so far comes from having eager capital investment, more than the incubation infrastructure. But we’re getting there, too.

How did Toronto get here?

History: It’s easy to see the success Toronto is having right now as a sudden shift – in basketball AND tech – when it was anything but. In fact, both the Raptors and Toronto’s innovation ecosystem have been in the works for about the same amount of time: around 25 years and counting. Between The Atlas Group (now Communitech) and the University of Waterloo in KW, and MaRS and the University of Toronto here in the city, loosely affiliated groups came together to fill a gap in technology investment. Creative technologies have always been here and trying to take off, but these groups stepped in with the capital to get them off the ground.

This is how RP1Cloud was born, in fact. We are closely affiliated with Globalive Capital, one of the investment firms on the lookout for promising up-and-coming technologies. They recognized the potential in cloud conferencing (and had their views more than validated when Zoom recently went public to the tune of $15 billion). Also in their portfolio right now: blockchain, AI, app development and more.

More recently, provincial and federal governments have contributed to varying degrees (tax breaks, incentives, taking credit). In fact, the federal government has stepped in with $13.5 billion for their Innovation Supercluster Initiative to help further link start-ups to the capital and infrastructure they need to be successful.

All this to say – there is no shortage of private and public investment being made in the fastest growing tech market in North America. “Toronto is becoming globally recognized as a tech hub, people don’t realize how quickly we are growing. Last year, we added more tech jobs in Toronto than the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C., combined,” says Salim Teja, President of Venture Services at MaRS. “If we weren’t investing in the science and technology industries, then we wouldn’t have the jobs of tomorrow.”

Beyond Capital Investment: The Human Factor

Beyond the investment and the big guys lending a helping hand, we have another leg-up in North America – our merit-based immigration policies, and the fact that at this moment Toronto is the fastest-growing city in North America – and last year grew three times faster than the second fastest growing. We added 77,000 new residents – an almost unheard of growth rate. And our surrounding metro area is growing at the second-highest rate, adding 1.25 million last year.

This is fuelled by a number of factors, of course. We were proud to take in thousands of Syrian refugee families, for one. Two – the promise of high-paying tech sector jobs sees people from all over Canada moving to southwestern Ontario. And third, Toronto is trying its utmost to woo highly skilled foreign workers. To this end, Canada’s immigration and employment authorities launched a Global Skills Strategy in June 2017. The goal: making it easier for employers to bring in highly skilled foreign workers.

Among its promises was that work permits for such individuals (and their families) would be processed within two weeks, subject to police and medical checks. Within little more than a year, more than 12,000 people had applied, and 95 percent were accepted.

These trends are unlikely to slow down, too. Canada has been dependant on natural resources to fuel its economy, but we’re eager toward a cleaner and more sustainable portfolio. This is a step that will safeguard our economy into the tech-driven future. We have every reason to invest in becoming and remaining a global leader in the technologies of the future.

In the meantime, Toronto is enjoying (and capitalizing on) its time in the sun. Our very important neighbour to the south is taking serious note, and even hoping to emulate some aspects of our MO.

And at this point, that goes for both our tech sector and our one and only NBA team. Because We the North.

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