I magine somebody asked you to guess the city they were thinking of by just giving you hints – could you do it? Probably, if the hints were good enough. What would you think of if that friend started hinting that the city in question creates some of the world’s most innovative technology and high-tech companies? Most would probably begin to think about San Francisco, the Bay Area or the Silicon Valley corridor connecting the two. Would you be surprised then when that friend tells you you’re wrong because the city in their mind isn’t even in the United States? It’s in Canada – and it’s not even Toronto. Really? Yes really, it’s Kitchener-Waterloo!
Kitchener-Waterloo: Silicon Valley North
This city might only be medium-sized in comparison to other Canadian cities like Toronto or Vancouver but it’s presence on the global tech scene is nothing short of gigantic. Home to globally recognized tech companies, Kitchener-Waterloo has a proven track record for producing homegrown tech powerhouses and top notch talent.
Not only does it house multiple global tech powerhouses like Google, Shopify and OpenText, but its also Ground Zero for dozens of startups beginning to make a name for themselves in North America and abroad. In fact, the region is regarded as one of the best places to create, build, and operate a tech company to the point where international companies have begun to notice and individual entrepreneurs dream about coming here.
Many even refer to the corridor formed between Waterloo and Toronto 'Silicon Valley North' as Waterloo continues to grow closer to being able to keep pace with San Francisco and the Bay area.Conrad Egusa & Victoria Stunt // Tech Crunch
The Waterloo region has become home to Canada's fastest growing tech scene and the second fastest in all of North America.Scoring Canadian Tech Talent Report// CBRE 2017
In terms of Canadian statistics though, Waterloo region has already begun to make noticeable and remarkable impacts on Ontario and Canada as a whole. As of 2016, the region was cited as the home to 21,200 tech-talent related jobs accounting for 2.7% of Canada’s entire tech workforce – something fairly impressive considering the region’s population of only around 524,000 people. When viewed on a national scale, this statistic remains just as impressive by representing 8.6% of Canada’s whole tech workforce.
Home to Giants, Startups, and…GOATS?
Helping make up these statistics is a long list of impressive, successful, and recognizable tech brands used by clients all around North America and abroad. Some of these most notable companies include Google, Descartes, Desire2Learn, Miovision, BlackBerry, OpenText, and Shopify among numerous other giants. Although Google and Shopify didn’t necessarily start in Kitchener-Waterloo, it says a lot about the region to why both have chosen to construct massive campuses here in search of tapping into the vibrant culture and world-class talent.
At the same time, a bustling, well-connected, and formidable startup community also exists in the region collaborating with each other and the tech titans in town alike. Companies like Axonify, Vidyard, Bridgit, SSIMWAVE Inc., Thalmic Labs, Kik Interactive, Suncayr, ClearPath Robotics, and Aeryon Labs as all examples of the top notch companies emerging out of the region and leading innovation in multiple different industries around the world. Waterloo isn’t only somewhere that offers cheap development and low rent costs – it’s also a great place to come together with like-minded individuals to make the impossible into reality. Psst, Map Your City calls Kitchener-Waterloo home too with our office in downtown Kitchener!
Together, these companies and dozens more represent what the region has affectionately coined GOATS. Although a known abbreviation of ‘Greatest of All Time’ – GOATS are those nimble startup businesses going up and down those mountains seemingly effortlessly as mountain goats do (contrary to those large legacy “hippo-like” companies that lost that important nimble innovation trait with time).
But where does all this success and resolve come from? How does a place so small in comparison to much larger cities like Toronto, New York, and Boston become a contender for Silicon Valley and begin shaping the world’s tech scene?
A Community Stronger, Smarter, and Successful Together
There’s a number of reasons and forces at play but the key link between them all is that they’ve been designed to work together as seamlessly as possible. For starters (literally!) KW is home to a number of organizations whose main mandates are partnering with and seeing that startup tech companies succeed. For instance, Kitchener’s Communitech is a private non-for-profit dedicated to aggregating and counciling startups while providing them with services like office space, data infrastructure, financial consulting and much more.
In relation, the region’s Velocity Accelerator is namely that, an accelerator that not only helps entrepreneurs and dreamers make their ideas into reality but into sound businesses that have a chance at long-term success. By linking subjects like financial planning and governance with business and high-tech, the Velocity Accelerator rises above its competitors helping entrepreneurs take a ‘big picture’ approach rather than only concentrating on one aspect of their ideas and businesses. It’s also baked into the region’s premier University of Waterloo to encourage the next generation to take what they’ve learned in the classroom, combine it with what they’re passionate about, and build something amazing.
Catalyst137 is also a powerful new development aiming to help more ideas and startups succeed through collaboration and coaching in the region. By placing its focus on serving the region’s leading innovators in the Internet of Things (IoT), this development aims to be a makerspace and somewhere devoted to pushing the envelope with IoT wearables, devices, and software. By the time it’s completed, it’s projected to be almost 1 million sq ft large!
A Head-start from the Beginning
All these services also get boosted by the region’s super-strength that has placed it on the map provincially and internationally alike. Namely, Kitchener-Waterloo is home to Canada’s version of MIT – the University of Waterloo – alongside it’s sister institution, Wilfred Laurier University. Between these two universities, the sheer amount of highly educated talent produced yearly far exceeds many other places when it comes to graduates looking to work in tech specifically.
By combining world-class education with a culture that promotes entrepreneurship, exploration, and being creative, the region has figured out how to produce a steady stream of some of the world’s brightest minds in tech and get them to give turning their ideas into companies a shot at home. Although UW grads are the second-most-frequently hired graduates in Silicon Valley second only the University of California Berkley, many graduates also stay loyal to the region by sticking around when beginning to toil with ideas. To many, that’s a testament to how pivotal working in and positioning one’s tech company in Kitchener-Waterloo has become.
Even after the fall of BlackBerry, once Waterloo Region’s top tech employers, the region continues to benefit from a clustering of high-tech industry.Paul Morassutti // Globe & Mail
We invented the smartphone here, …we invented the touchscreen display here, we were at the forefront of wearables hereIain Klugman (CEO of Communitech) // Globe & Mail
Access to Capital & Incentives
At the same time, a paradigm has begun to shift in Canada concerning the reception towards investing in tech startups. Traditionally, the closest thing to tech that received substantial investment was always related to mining and mineral technologies due to the nation’s heightened natural resource riches and the propensity to make money with such types of investment. Through Kitchener-Waterloo’s rise to fame though, traditional investing has begun to warm up to the tech scene in Canada.
Canadian entrepreneurs admittedly have less access to capital than American ones do if they are located in Silicon Valley, but times are changing with things like the country’s Venture Capital Action Plan (VCAP) encouraging private investors to consider Canadian-grown early-stage startups. By matching an investor’s every $2 spent on tech startups with a government-provided $1, the government has begun to do its part in trying to shift how Canadian investors approach the tech startup industry. Performing research and development within a company has also become incentivized by Canadian tax codes making it easier for home-based companies to spend the capital there and attractive to foreign companies eyeing the country for somewhere to move into.
All these things considered, who wouldn’t want to tap into this environment and culture of entrepreneurship, collaboration, and revolving attempt at achieving greatness?
Whether you’re a dreamer, an entrepreneur, someone who has what it takes to make the next GOAT, or just anybody(!), we know you’ll love exploring the Kitchener-Waterloo region and getting involved with its awesome community. Using Map Your City helps you get connected to people, places, and spaces giving you the ability to explore things that interest you and discover what makes your city awesome.