Canadian founders aren’t shy about expressing the fact that Canada is a great place to grow a business; with business support programs like the SR&ED tax credit and cheaper operation costs in comparison to the US, Canada’s startup community has grown immensely both in size and influence over just a few years.
“If you look at the here and now, network of funders and entrepreneurs, of first-time founders, of support infrastructure and teams, here and now is dramatic.”
However, there’s no denying the issue of brain drain, as Canada’s startup ecosystem competes with powerhouses like Silicon Valley, which has had decades to build itself up and provides attractive opportunities for young grads looking for higher pay in US dollars. At an event hosted by Canadian Club Toronto, three tech leaders — Wattpad CEO Allen Lau, Globalive CEO Tony Lacavera, and Nudge and Eloqua founder Steve Woods — sat with journalist Amber Mac to find out what it took for them to build companies in Canada.
Woods said that, compared to 15 years ago, the climate for building businesses in Canada today is astonishing. “If you look at the here and now, the network of funders, entrepreneurs, and first-time founders, and support infrastructure and teams, here and now is dramatic,” said Woods.
Lau, who just today announced the launch of Wattpad Studios, talked about the benefits of scaling in a city like Toronto, and the reasons why Toronto’s talent pool is particularly unique. “Number one is diversity. Fifty-one percent of the population in Toronto is born outside Toronto,” said Lau. “If you want to build a global business, I can’t find a better place to do it. and the other thing that we have is that this is a great place to live. Consistently, we rank high among other cities around the world.”
Continuing to speak on a more national level, Lacavera highlighted key areas where Canada is making gains. While Canadian cities may not have had as much time as the Valley to mature as startups ecosystems, up-and-coming technologies like virtual reality provide an opportunity for Canada to be leaders.
“I’m hugely excited about the quantum computer,” Lacavera said, citing the Vancouver-based D-Wave Systems as an example of a Canadian company leading in this space. “This is a Canadian company that I think will change the world, and I think Canada is 10 years ahead in quantum computing. We have to now invest heavily and maintain that.”
Lacavera continued, “I don’t think there’s one area where we’re leaders, but I think it’s useful to talk about what our strengths are. I think it can apply to a range of companies, and I don’t think we need to be number one. But quantum computing would be nice.”
But to make that happen, the panel agreed that the government, incubators, and accelerators need to continue supporting the momentum that’s currently happening with startups.
“I think the one way we can continue to build on the ecosystem is by allowing young entrepreneurs to really take a shot, and giving young entrepreneurs a platform,” said Lacavera. “When we started, there was no such environment or support system here. That doesn’t mean everyone will do something useful, there’s still going to be just as many failures, but we have to invest in that ecosystem.”