On Tech, Business, Society.

Category: Ecosystem Page 1 of 2

You Don't Need a Perfect Tech Ecosystem, but You Need Many Parts to be Excellent

dfs_xerces_andrew-holder1There is an ongoing debate on what constitutes a great tech startup ecosystem outside of Silicon Valley, as other cities and regions try to export, copy, emulate, or learn from what makes Silicon Valley the model that it is.

Brad Feld, who wrote the book on Startup Communities recently discussed whether Silicon Valley is like religion. Fred Wilson asked if the NYC Tech Community could have another name than the default moniker it often gets, as Silicon Alley.

Some others want to minimize Silicon Valley’s impact on the rest of us, but I don’t believe you can do that.

My perspective on Silicon Valley and its impact on other such ecosystems is tainted by two personal perspectives: a) having worked at Hewlett-Packard for 14 years, I started working with and visiting Silicon Valley since the early 80’s, b) being part of the Toronto-Waterloo tech ecosystem, a region that is trying hard to earn its reputation and place in the “world of tech ecosystems”.

I have two conclusions that I’ll summarize here, and will expand on each later:

  1. Silicon Valley is the only region that has been producing industry giants for each successive waves of technological innovation cycles, decade after decade.

  2. No ecosystem in the world is perfect, including the one in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Produces Giant Companies for each Wave

Silicon Valley is not only still the largest ecosystem that produces tech companies, but its history is made-up of a succession of giant companies that emerged out of each successive technology cycles. Almost each decade is defined by a handful of representative companies who symbolize a particular era:

  • Pre 80’s, Semiconductors and Aerospace: Intel, Fairchild, Lockheed Martin, Hewlett-Packard.
  • 80’s, Computers and Software: Sun Microsystems, Oracle, HP, Apple.
  • 90’s, Networking and Internet I: Netscape, Cisco, Yahoo!, eBay.
  • 2000’s: Internet II and Cloud Computing: Google, Apple 2.0, Salesforce, Netflix, VMware.
  • 2010’s: Social and Tech Energy: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, UBER, Dropbox, Tesla, SolarCity.
  • 2020’s: ??

Silicon Valley is an amazing epicenter of energy and activity in tech innovation. Keeping it in the back of your mind provides an incredible mental model for any other tech ecosystem.

No Ecosystem is Perfect

In my own backyard, the Waterloo-Toronto ecosystem is on top of my mind, as it gets frequently self-introspected by its participants because it’s not so perfect, as it tries hard to be recognized as a top global tech startup region.

But no ecosystem is perfect, and none will ever be.

Even Silicon Valley has its own flaws and imperfections, despite its appearance to be the “model”: office rents are high, real estate is expensive, employees are less loyal, traffic is bad, salaries are higher, it has some arrogance, it suffers from a superiority complex, it’s hyped, etc.

What sets an ecosystem apart and on the path of success is not the degree in which it tries to copy Silicon Valley, but in how it develops its own uniqueness. And if there are ecosystems to be copied, the better lessons come from places like New York, Austin or Boulder who created and evolved their own ecosystem, with their own identity and uniqueness, without being obsessed by replicating Silicon Valley.

Any tech ecosystem needs to work with what they have, make it its own, and work with it to make it better, piece by piece.

Truth is, you don’t need a perfect ecosystem, but you need many of your ecosystem parts to be excellent.

Despite the intent to “copy” or “emulate”, you can never make a perfect copy of something as complex as an ecosystem. You can only take lessons and apply them in your own way. Using a cooking analogy, you can follow a recipe, but because you will source most of the ingredients locally, the expected results will be different. The flavors will not be the same. And the rituals, stories, companies, actors and landmarks of an ecosystem will be different from region to region.

Maintaining an ecosystem is also like living in a city you like- if you find a pothole, you avoid it, but you also would do good if you report it.

In the Toronto-Waterloo ecosystem, we’re still growing to be that ecosystem that stands tall on its own two feet (literally). We probably have the best of both works in terms of underlying cultural underpinnings: a Silicon Valley culture mentality (Waterloo), coupled by a New York City drive intensity (Toronto).

What really matters to the success of a tech ecosystem is:

  • Entrepreneurs that do
  • Mentors with experience that give
  • Capital owners that fund

For Toronto-Waterloo, we should make sure we continue to improve our ecosystem in the right direction. The visible signs will be manifested as:

  • Experienced entrepreneurs helping each other at the peer level, without being prompted or rehearsed.
  • Exited entrepreneurs re-investing in the ecosystem that fed them.
  • Ex-employees of companies starting other startups after gaining experience in previous ones.
  • Venture capitalists, funds and angel investors taking risks with local startups.
  • Startups attracting capital and mentors from outside the region.
  • The region producing (via universities) or attracting (from outside) enough of the right human talent to fuel the growth demands.
  • Anyone else supporting the ecosystem following the needs of the above players, and not leading them.

At the end of the day, a tech ecosystem is like nature’s ecosystem. It is full of interdependencies where each organism contributes, interacts with or links to another one. Its members feed from one another, and gradually, the ecosystem becomes stronger and stronger by virtue of its stability via the symbiotic dependencies.

When you have excellent parts, just as when you have excellent ingredients, it becomes more difficult to ruin a bad meal, as it becomes easier to build a great ecosystem.]]>

Where are Toronto’s Tech Startups Co-working Spaces?

shutterstock_218271955 via shutterstock[/caption] I’m often asked by startups that are growing where they can find office space that isn’t too expensive.

So, I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of co-working spaces in the Greater Toronto Area. While doing that, I was pleasantly surprised about the variety of choices that exist. There were 37 facilities, with a total capacity of 4,253 people, and spread over 432,350 square feet of office space. That’s a pretty impressive inventory, and it surpasses what’s available in New York City (about 21 centers).

Co-working spaces are part of the fabric of a startup ecosystem. With an increasing number of startups in the system, this means they need to find office space somewhere. The flurry of growth and a variety of flavors in co-working spaces in Toronto is a good healthy sign.

The spaces could be categorized according to the following segments:


To make this collection browsable, I’ve used Silk, a data publishing platform that lets you easily explore and visualize data sets (I’m a fan of Silk, and plan on publishing an update to my Global Unicorns list in a few days, on that same platform).

To drill into the details for each entry, you really need to click on Explore, and you’ll be able to perform some interesting manipulations and filtering on the data. You may even Share (or embed) this set anywhere you’d like.

Note that I didn’t include other tech startup related centers that don’t seem to have working spaces, but that still offer acceleration and mentoring services, e.g. the Creative Destruction LabKinetic Cafe and the York Entrepreneurship Development Institute.

If you’re a startup and looking for new or expansion space, use the Contact Email that’s part of this collection to get in touch with these spaces. I know that many of them have unused capacity.

If there are errors or omissions in this data set, please email me wmougayar@gmail.com or leave a comment.  

Unpacking Toronto’s Tech Startup Events

Too Many Tech Startup Events in Toronto? Hell Yeah!events image

Since mid October of this year, there has been an incredible amount of tech startup related events in Toronto, and the frenzy continues until mid-December. That’s more than I ever remembered in the past 7 years that I’ve been involved in this community.

What’s happening? Let’s deconstruct what’s going on, and list the constellations that are responsible for this flurry of activity.

If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, suddenly, it feels like we went from a handful of events per week to several, and often overlapping events “per day”! I think it’s good thing for the Toronto Tech Startup ecosystem (and I’m not counting the dozens of regular Meetups that continue to occur). I am focused on the more significant events with at least 75 attendees.

There is a good variety of events across several topics and angles, and this is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. The events I’m seeing cover the gamut of topics:

  • Software

  • Creative

  • Venture Capital

  • Women in tech

  • Marketing

  • Bitcoin

  • SaaS

  • Sales

  • Hackathons

  • Wearables

  • Portfolio companies related

  • Lawyer-clients related

  • Product management

  • Ones with out of town experts

  • Etc.

An interesting fact about these events is they are totally decentralized. No one entity or organizer controls, manages or hosts a majority of them. And no one ever will.

I’m also seeing new types of events, such as in the areas of Wearables, Product Hunt, Bitcoin, Women in tech; and there are some new cool event spaces such as at Bitmaker Labs, OneEleven, Pivotal Labs, MakeWorks and Shopify.

How you learn about these upcoming events has always been a challenge, but it’s getting better. Here’s a quick list of the key constellations that you need to keep an eye on:

The Toronto Startup Digest has been doing a great job with their Monday morning email, but despite their comprehensiveness, additional events seem to pop-up here and there. In addition to the weekly email, their Web Calendar view offers a quick way to glance at a whole month of activity on one page. There are some significant upcoming events such as:  AccelerateTO, Startup Open House, HohoTO, MeshMarketing, AndroidTO, MakerFaire, CIX.

The Startup North Facebook Page has taken a life of its own as a collective contribution of news, events and opinions surrounding the entire Canadian tech startup space. New events are often announced there.

The Startup North Events page has a comprehensive listing of events as well, and it goes beyond Toronto, covering all of Canada.

Tom Emrich and the Wearables machine. Tom has been a driving force in the Toronto tech Wearables space (and globally too). He has been spearheading the always-packed, always-waitlisted Toronto We are Wearables monthly meetup,  just ran a world-class WEST conference, and has more events up his tech sleeves, such as  SmartWeek Toronto: October 24-26, Sports Hack Weekend: November 14-16, and FITC Wearables: November 13.

Decentral is Toronto’s center for everything Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Their popular weekly Wednesday Meetup often gets 100+ attendees, among the movers, shakers and wannabees of the Bitcoin space. Pssst, their next guest speaker on Oct 29th is Andreas Antonopoulos, world renowned Bitcoin expert.

Bitmaker Labs recently kicked off their Think Thursday series of monthly interviews in their new 8,000 sq ft King Street West offices. Led by Craig Hunter, this series of events has been well received by the community.

OneEleven, a new 15,000 sqft cool space has been seeing a good share of quality events, some of them organized by OneEleven, and others run by select external partners. OneEleven is also home to my events, and it is where I ran the first event there in October 2013.

Pivotal Labs in Toronto. Their Google-sque new event space is one of Toronto’s latest. It opened a few months ago, and has hosted a variety of developers and startup related events.

Startup Grind. Michael Cayley, the dynamo Director behind the Toronto Chapter keeps grinding and bringing impressive speakers from the US and Canada.

HighLine (the merger of Extreme Startups and Vancouver’s GrowLab) has been on a roll, hosting a number of lunch and evening events of an extremely good quality. You can subscribe to get notified via their Meetup group.

Shopify has a new really hip event space that can host 200 attendees, and they have been hosting and organizing selected events that benefit the Toronto community. Satish Kanwar is the Shopify Toronto ring leader.

The MaRS events page has a pretty good listing that includes their own events and others in Toronto. They also have an event submission page, if you’d like to see your event listed there.

Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone is always bustling with activity, and they are hosts to a number of startup related events. The next event they are hosting is no less than the famous AccelerateTO.

MakeWorks is a new 10,000 sqft space that used to be an old shoe factory, now reincarnated as an attractive co-working space / shared R&D labs for everything related to the makers segment, and includes an event space.

The Working Group is a strategy, design and development firm that has been hosting a number of interesting events in their office. The most recent one was with the authors of the Value Proposition Design book.

BNOTIONS  is also an active instigator and sponsor to a number of local events, some of them are listed on The YMC site.

If you’re a developer or designer, there a number of key events in that space, such as DevTO, HackerNest, GirlGeeksToronto, Rails Pub Nite (link includes Unspace events too), and TorontoUX.

Adding Your Event

If you would like to add a new event to Startup Digest, email Josh Sookman or Will Lam, and/or post your event directly on the StartupNorth Events page. While you’re at it, announce it on the StartupNorth Facebook page. And when you tweet it, how about adding the hashtag #TOtechevent so others can find these events easily?

See you at the events! A good entrepreneur is a networked entrepreneur!

ps- If I missed any significant tech event organizers or constellations in the GTA, please point them in the comments space.

pps- Are you happy with how you’re keeping track of these events based on the above information? If you have any suggestions or ideas, let’s hear it.

ppps- The goal of this post was not to list all events, but rather to point people to where they can look to find out about events that interest them. So, my apologies if I didn’t list your event specifically.


Stroll on the East side of Toronto, with TinEye, Hailo and Vanhawks

Hailo, TinEye and Vanhawks, three companies within 2 blocks of each other. When it comes to finding the hotspots for tech startups in Toronto, we already know that several companies have been expanding into the Spadina to Bathurst area, along Queen and King St. But, I wondered if going east is now part of a new trend?

photo 2 (2)

TinEye (also known as Idee) is an old-timer in this part of town. It was founded by veteran entrepreneur Leila Boujnane and her co-founder Paul Bloore in 2008, and was mostly bootstrapped via Leila’s funding. TinEye’s main product is a reverse image search service, and they are today a staple in the Toronto ecosystem. TinEye’s list of clients is impressive, and includes Adobe, AFP, Corbis, Kayak, iStockphoto, Groupon, and Zoosk among several others. One of my favorite segments of the TinEye business is wine apps. Delectable, Drync and Snooth use TinEye’s technology to identify wine bottles by their label. Leila is also a prominent “giver” to the Toronto ecosystem. Her latest volunteering project is co-founding the famous Toronto Maker Faire where she heads the sponsorships initiatives. If you are a tech enthusiast, crafter, maker, scientist, or garage tinkerer, mark your calendar for the Maker Faire week-end extravaganza on November 22-23 at the Toronto Reference Library.

photo 1 (3)

Literally next door to TinEye is Hailo. I really enjoyed walking out of one meeting at 2:44pm, and into the next one 1 min later. Justin Raymond is the local Hailo senior executive. Actually, his job is not that local. Justin is Co-President of Hailo North America, and he oversees Toronto, Chicago, Montreal and Boston, straight from Toronto. I had no idea about that, and thought it was great to see a Canadian manage a part of the US. The back of Hailo’s office opens into a private parking space (which they share with TinEye), and that’s where they on-board new taxi drivers. I also learned about some of their innovative promotion and marketing programs targeting the hospitality and events industries, but I can’t reveal details due to the very competitive nature of their business. Justin slipped me the fact that Hailo is hiring Operational Analysts and Community Managers in Toronto, Montreal and Chicago, so if you’re in the market, please contact him. It was a funny coincidence that a week later, I was in Boston for the day. At the end of  my meetings, I opened the Hailo App from the Techstars office where I was, and dispatched a cab. Within 4 minutes, by the time I made it to the street, the driver arrived, and I was on my way back to the airport. It was a really pleasant and seamless experience, and I had a kick out of telling the taxi driver that I knew the regional Hailo boss, and will give him a personal report about my good experience.

Then I walked two blocks to visit Vanhawks, down from the corner of Sherbourne and Queen, on Princess Street where they had just moved in. Vanhawks is co-founded by two brothers: Ali (age 20) and Sohaib Zahid (age 30), and they were still beaming from a successful crowdfunding campaign, the highest grossing Kickstarter project in Canada. Ali is a proud drop-out from Queens University, after they were accepted at the Founder Fuel Montreal accelerator earlier in the year. Vanhawks is re-imagining the urban bicycle by making it smarter and safer, while loading it with technology sensors and communications capabilities. The Valour Vanhawks bike also has a smartphone companion App, creating an intelligent mesh network of riders and smart feedback loops for its users. Not only is the Valour bike full of technological innovations, its founders have totally understood the value of marketing, and done a super job at communicating their story and the value of their product across the media. This has gained them a hard earned visibility, as they were written-up in dozens of publications. I have no doubt that their brand is destined to become a household name. I spent some time talking to them about marketing and venture capital fund raising. Ali and Sohaib are building a kick-ass team, and getting ready to conquer world markets, right from Toronto. [caption id="attachment_42437" align="aligncenter" width="300"]photo (5) The Valour bike is made of carbon fiber frames.
It is so light, I was able to easily lift it with one finger.[/caption]

I completed these 3 meetings in less than 3 hours, and wanted to highlight these 3 companies to illustrate the diversity and vibrancy that exist today within the Toronto tech ecosystem.

What’s interesting to note is that each of these companies are at a different type and stage in their growth and evolution, but together, they are a good microcosm of what’s happening in Toronto.


Global Startups Should Build a Bridge to the U.S. market

Build a Bridge activity outside the U.S. Although the U.S. ecosystem is still the model, and you can take extrapolations and derivatives from the Silicon Valley ecosystem, or the booming New York one, it has become a lot easier to start a technology company outside the U.S., and every region around the world is now talking about their own tech ecosystems. But if you weren’t born in the U.S. market, how do you go-to-market efficiently to surmount your handicap and turn it into an advantage?

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén