Toronto’s startup scene reveals itself at my first Startup Open House

Startup Open House Toronto

While I’ve always known that Toronto has a budding tech startup community, I wasn’t aware of how large, strong, and influential the city’s tech startup culture and community actually is until yesterday. On Sept. 22, for Startup Open House Toronto, several innovative and tech-related companies opened their doors to curious people like me, to peek behind the curtains and see the inner workings of our city’s most innovative tech-related companies.

People who are new to the tech scene – whether they want to work for a startup, learn about what startups do, or in my case, write about startups – were able to visit the offices of companies Shopify, Vantage, 500 Canada, Figure 1, and several others to learn about what the companies do, what their office culture is like, and engage and network with a range of talented individuals in the Toronto’s ecosystem.

Startup Open House gave me the impression that Toronto’s tech community has a unique culture that is bound by strong relationships and passion for the work that goes into them.

I visited a number of companies including 500 Canada (in the same building as Sampler and The Working Group), Shopify, Wattpad, Vantage, Figure 1, OneEleven, and Influitive. Visiting these companies’ offices gave me the impression that Toronto’s tech community has a unique culture that is bound by strong relationships and passion for the work that goes into them. Ranging from hammocks in the foyer at Influitive to private work pods at Shopify to rows of computers for software and app developers in almost every office, the companies have created comfortable and customized environments to give employees the best experience.

But what these companies share in common is their love and appreciation for Toronto as a growing startup hub for innovation.

At Vantage, president and co-founder Aran Hamilton and his team were wearing and distributing “I <3 TO” t-shirts and asking visitors to share what they learned and enjoyed about the startups they visited in support of the city and Startup Open House. “We have a lot of talent here, incredible diversity, and great strengths in both the developer and the finance community and there’s a lot that we can be offering to the rest of the world,” said Hamilton.

By visiting companies that are different stages of growth and development, I saw Toronto’s startups for what they represent: creativity, diversity, and innovative ideas that can turn Toronto into more than just a national hub for innovation. I can see how powerful the term “disruptive” is in the tech world, seeing that these companies are developing innovative and extraordinary platforms and solutions for major industries like healthcare, entertainment, and FinTech. While 500 Canada is investing in early stage companies like Sampler that want to scale quickly, the well-established storytelling platform company Wattpad is committed to disrupting the global entertainment industry from right here in Toronto. Trying out Shopify’s virtual reality demo, which may revolutionize the way people do online shopping was an experience that reinforced the idea that Toronto, and Canada at large, has an upper-hand in innovation.

While many Toronto-based companies are growing and becoming more successful, they share a common belief that companies that start in Toronto need to continue working hard to grow beyond North American borders. 500 Canada’s office and community manager Emily Dagneau said that investors and accelerators play an important role in helping companies do this.

With startups not always having access to funding and mentorship from the government, organizations like OneEleven and 500 Startups are there to step in and help companies work and scale. Dagneau says 500 Canada is trying to “fill a gap for funding between angel investors and pre-seed startups” by investing in companies fast so they can scale quickly.

Visiting companies with a broad range of innovative ideas and talent during Startup Open House has shed light on the strength of Toronto’s startup community and culture. For me, participating in Startup Open House in Toronto was a way for me to gain a better understanding of Toronto’s most innovative tech companies and to see that Toronto has the tools and resources to be a global innovation hub. For others, especially aspiring entrepreneurs and students, Startup Open House was not only a way for people to see what startups do, but also seek opportunities for employment and inspiration to develop their own businesses. Along with letting people tour and hangout in different companies’ offices with tasty snacks and beverages, Startup Open House has not only created a way for people new to the tech community to learn about and network with startups in a non-traditional way, but it has also created a way for Toronto’s startup community to get closer and celebrate the diversity and richness of Canada’s ecosystem together.

Feature image courtesy Satish Kanwar.

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi is a staff writer and content creator at BetaKit with a strong interest in Canadian startup, business, and legal tech news. In her free time, Amira indulges in baking desserts, working out, and watching legal shows.