Startup “ecosystems” in Canada are doing well but…

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Waterloo, Wellington, Halton, Brant, and Hamilton Regions at night

The Startup Genome released another report mapping top startup cities but this time a bit more specific than it’s heat map from April of this year. Canada did well depending on how you interpret it with Toronto at #8, Vancouver at #9, and Waterloo at #16. In its previous report, Startup Genome ranked Toronto at #4, Vancouver at #16, and Montreal made the list at #25. Oddly Waterloo wasn’t listed in the previous ranking but made it into the top 20 in the new report while Montreal remained outside of it.

Focusing on my Ontario centric nitpick – the separation of the Toronto and Waterloo “ecosystems” when they are anything but separate is not going to give an accurate picture of Canada’s awesome startup communities. They are unique communities but their strength comes from how they work together in the same ecosystem. The emotional energy (and money) burned in defining how they are different is holding Canada back from an even better and sustainable growth curve. A symptom of that energy is in the report.

In Toronto’s profile:

“Toronto competes for startups with regional competitors such as NYC, Boston and nearby Waterloo.”

Then in the Waterloo profile:

“In the near future, it will be interesting to see whether Waterloo is able to hold on to its talent base or whether it will be sucked into Toronto.”

Would you say that about Palo Alto sucking talent to San Francisco and vice versa? No. It’s the valley. A huge area that is far more developed but very similar to Toronto – Hamilton – Waterloo. The problem, I think, is that at some point in the past when local economic development groups were competing on a similar scale for tax dollars (and manufacturing plants) they narrowly defined regions (Golden Triangle, Golden Horseshoe, etc) where everything above the escarpment is barbarians and the urban modern folk live below next to the cold blue lake.

There can be (and there are) healthy communities inside the larger Toronto – Hamilton – Waterloo ecosystem. Every success in the larger ecosystem helps the entire ecosystem and they also share the same problems.

The reported big problem the ecosystem faces (in Toronto):

Startups in Toronto receive 71% less funding than SV startups. The capital deficiency exists both before and after product market fit. Toronto startups receive 70% less capital in Stage 2 (Validation) and 65% in Stage 4 (Scale).

The ecosystem most likely lacks a sufficient quantity of all kinds of startup capital sources: angels, super angels, accelerators, micro VCs, VCs etc. As a result Toronto startups rely more on self-funding, or rounds from family/friends.

The reported other big problem (in Waterloo):

Waterloo has a funding gap (96% less in the second stage) for early stage startups before product market fit, probably due to a lack of super angels and micro VCs. There are high numbers of accelerators and much lower numbers of super angels and VCs than SV.

Solving the funding problem in Toronto also solves the problem in Waterloo. The more companies that are able to find the money and the talent to scale in either or both communities helps both or am I missing something?

Building a strong economy, community, and ecosystem isn’t a zero sum game.