Tech and finance are starting to intertwine in Canada. A few short hours after Shopify opened trading at the Toronto Stock Exchange, HIGHLINE hosted an event in partnership with the TSX and TSX Venture Exchange Tuesday, aimed at exploring the current tech startup landscape in Canada while putting a spotlight on next generation of Canadian tech companies.
Success in Canada goes deeper than Shopify: 50 new tech companies went public on the TSX or TSX Ventures in 2014.
The Canadian Technology Start-up Showcase kicked off with Michael Kousaie, Business Development Head at TSX, who stressed that tech “really, really matters” in Canada, and endorsed a hashtag he saw a colleague use regarding the recent success of Shopify: #TechIsBack. But Kousaie was quick to point out that tech’s financial success in Canada goes “deeper” than Shopify, stating that 50 new tech companies went public on the TSX or TSX Ventures in 2014.
Before moving on to showcase six up-and-coming startups from across Canada, Paul Singh, Managing Director of 1776, took the stage to deliver the keynote address. Singh, who previous to 1776 was a partner at 500 Startups, dispersed frank, invaluable inside information on VC-thinking and the business of technology.
Singh stated that “technology will be the fundamental driver of growth in the industrialized world.” But because building a tech company has become even easier and cheaper than before, he sees the key to success avoiding “a small viewpoint of the world” by only serving North America to gain traction. Singh went so far as to say that he believes “traction is the new intellectual property.”
“You are up against a lot of people who have dreams,” explained Singh. “If you could just separate yourself from the rest by showing that you can do what you can do, that will go a long way.”
In a time when startups are earning billion dollar valuations, Singh stated it isn’t a VC’s job to find a unicorn. “Our business is not about predicting who the next unicorn will be,” he explained. “My industry is what is the least-worst company that I see. The business of investing is about choosing the least-worst opportunity.” But Singh was quick to point out how difficult it is for startups to find a VC. “In many ways its harder to get funding from well known VCs than to get into an Ivy league school because of the number of entrepreneurs”. He warned startups of VCs and Angel investors that they find at networking events, “if you are not fighting your way as a founder to get in with a well known VC, take a pause.”
“Our business is not about predicting who the next unicorn will be.”
– Paul Singh
Singh was followed by a showcase of six Canadian tech companies: Sciencescape, BitLit, Sensibill, Aislelabs, Wealthsimple and Granify. Each of these companies were selected because of their demonstrated traction. Granify was particularly notable for its recent $9 million Series A round of funding, led by Valar Ventures and iNovia.
The event closed with a fireside chat between Harley Finkelstein, Chief Platform Officer of Shopify, and HIGHLINE co-founder and CEO, Marcus Daniels. Having just opened the TSX that morning, Finkelstein was filled with energy and enthusiasm for the Canadian tech space, embodying the new sense of self-confidence he sees Canadian tech startups having today. Finkelstein told Daniels he believes this new confidence, a desire to collaborate, and access to funding as key ingredients driving the Canadian tech renaissance.
But Finkelstein also noted that he worries being a tech entrepreneur has been overly glamorized. He told the audience he wants those thinking about creating a company to know that “it’s a grind,” telling Daniels that “people don’t appreciate the tenacity to see the a company from inception to taking it to the TSX.”
Finkelstein also advised startups to “hustle,” “be more aggressive,” and realize that “raising money and going public is not the end goal” but rather milestones that expedite and invest in the growth of your business. But perhaps his biggest piece of advice for Canadian startups was to not sell out early.
“We can build massive global companies here.”
Disclosure: BetaKit’s East and West Coast offices are housed in HIGHLINE’s Vancouver and Toronto co-working spaces.