Hard to believe that it has been 21 months since I wrote Don’t Panic: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Toronto Startup Ecosystem. There are parts of this post that are a little dated but it generally holds up as a meaningful introduction to the Toronto/Waterloo startup scene. The goal is to provide a curated list, it will not be comprehensive.
If I’ve missed anything, add a comment or ping me directly @davidcrow and I’ll make updates on the fly.
People & Companies
There are so many people and companies, it is hard to know what is important to whom. I will do a separate posting with the companies and founders that I’ve been following. The challenge is that this is a long, long list and there are a lot of amazing companies in Toronto.
- Ameet Shah @ameetshah
- Greg Wolfond, Blue Sky Capital
- Daniel Debow, @ddebow
- Jevon MacDonald, @jevon
- Jonas Brandon @jonasbrandon
- Ben Yoskovitz, @byosko
- David Ossip, @dossip
- David Stein @dstein
- Dennis Bennie, XDL Capital
- Mark Skapinker @markskapinker, BrightSpark
- Nick Koudas @koudas
- Anand Agarwala @anandx
- Alkarim Nasser @alkarim
- Derek Szeto @derekszeto
- Alex Black @WaterlooAlex
- Fahd Ananta @fahdananta
- Randall Howard @randallh
- Jesse Rasch, Hedgewood
- Dominic Bortolussi @dombort
- Chris Eben @ceben
- Tom Williams @tomwilliams
- William Mougayar @wmougayar
- Hussien Fazal @hussein_fazal
- Ken Nickerson, iBinary @kcnickerson
- Chris Ye @cye
- Mike Serbinis @mserbinis
- Dennis Kavelman @dkavelman
- Andrew D’Souza @andrewdsouza
- Jennifer Lum @lum
- Nigel Stokes @MindAngler
- Chris Erickson
- Marzio Pozzuloi @MarzioPozzuoli1
- Mark Ruddock @MarkRuddock
- Chris Carder @KineticCafe
- Larry Innanen Linkedin
- Mike Stork
- Bruce MacLellan
- Todd Finch @toddmfinch
- Two Small Fish Ventures: Allen Lau @allenlau & Eva Lau @MrsEvaLau
- Albert Lai @albertsupdates
- Brian Sharwood @bsharwood
There are a lot institutional investors that are active in Toronto. Entrepreneurs need to do a little diligence on their investors. You should be trying to figure out what type of companies do they typically invest in? How big is their fund? How much is unallocated? Who else have they invested in?
- OMERS Ventures
- Version One Ventures @versiononeVC
- Relay Ventures
- Rho Ventures
- Golden Venture Partners
- iNovia Capital
- Georgiean Partners
- Real Ventures
- Tandem Expansion Fund
- Klass Capital
- IAF – seed stage for Ontario based companies
- Wellington Fund – venture debt
- Mantella Ventures – early stage investment, get involved as temporary executives
- Impression Ventures – not sure if the fund is raised, but it should be close
- McRock Capital – focused on M2M, IIOT and industrial internet
- Gibraltar Ventures
- Plazacorp Ventures
Foreign Institutional Investors
- Felicis Ventures – Investors in Shopify, InteraXon, Top Hat Monocle, etc.
- Foundation Capital – Investors in kik, Visier, etc.
- GrandBanks Capital – Investors in ClearFit, Achievers, xkoto and others
- Spark Capital – investors in Thalmic Labs and Kik
- Social+Capital – Investors in Wave Apps
- Matrix Partners – Investors in TribeHR
- Union Square Ventures – investors in Wattpad, Kik
- Khosla Ventures – Investors in Wattpad
- Lightspeed Venture Partners – Investors in Influitive
- SoftTech Capital – investors in Tulip Retail
- Atlas Venture Partners – investors in Hopper
- General Catalyst – investors in Hopper
- Horizons Ventures – investors in InteraXon, Fixmo, Bitstrips
- ffvc – investors in InteraXon, 500px
- Mohr Davidow investors in BuildDirect
- Hummer Winblad investors in Influitive
- Altos Ventures investors in Kontagent
- Formation 8
- RRE Ventures investors in
- Greycroft Ventures in Adenyo
- August Capital investors in Wattpad
- Raine Ventures investors in Wattpad
- AME Cloud Ventures investors in Wattpad
- KPCB investors in Fixmo
- AndreessenHorowitz investors in 500px
- Sequoia Capital investors in Achievers
- Harrison Metal investors in 500px
- Rugged Ventures investors in 500px
- Garibaldi Capital - Investment Banking, Transactions and M&A
- CIBC Wood Gundy – Private Banking, financial planning and wealth management
- Espresso Capital – SR&ED, Revenue and alternative program financing
- Q1 Capital Partners – Investment Banking, Transactions and M&A
- Difference Capital – publicly traded merchant bank
- Scalability Inc. / Hockeystick
- Wave Apps – Payroll / Invoicing
Legal Firms & Lawyers
- Cognition LLP
- Laberge Weinstein
- Hyndman Law
- Venture Law Associates
- PCK IP Law @PCKIP – simply the best IP firm I’ve seen for early stage companies/founders
I think the biggest piece of advice is that generally the “we’re a startup and we launched” it just a shitty pitch to any journalist. You need to spend some time building a better message understanding who these journalists are, why their audience might possibly care about your story. This is a list of journalists that write about emerging technology companies. But you should also seek out journalists in your vertical or segment, this might might include moms, marketers or anything.
- National Post
- Globe & Mail
- GigaOM @gigaom
- Grossman Dorland – Bruce Dorland @brucedorland is the best recruiter I’ve worked with.
- Stonewood Group – Sal Rocco is does great work, particularly at the executive layer.
- GuruLink – Drew Lindsay is laser focused on tech recruiting, working with his crew is a pleasure.
We all need office space. I have spent hours looking at listings on Craigslist, Kijiji and other sources.
Maker spaces are very different than flexible lease office space.
- Toronto Tool Library
- Maker Kids
- MakeWorks / The Shop
- Site3 CoLaboratory
- ThinkTank Lab
- Interacess Media Arts Centre
- HackerYou / Learning Labs
- Bitmaker Labs
- Founder Institute
- Software Carpentry -more of an education/scientific focus but Greg Wilson does amazing work
Application Development Shops
- Pivotal Labs
- OK Grow!
- Isle of Code
- The Working Group
- EndLoop Studios
- People & Code
- Functional Imperative
- Metaware Labs
- Pilot Interactive
- Filament Lab
- Say Yeah!
- TailoredUX – less of an agency more of a commune of like-minded designers
PR & Marcomm Agencies
These are the Toronto-based PR Agencies that I’ve worked with or seen their work first hand. I probably need to add a section for other international PR firms particularly NYC , SF and the UK. This can be a very expensive and very difficult for founders that have not found product/market fit.
- Echo Communications
- 88 Creative
- North Strategic
- High Road Communications
Coworking/Flexible Lease Office Space/Accelubators
We can call it what you want. Incubators, accelerators, cyclotrons. It doesn’t matter. The activities range from education to local economic development to flexible leasing to coworking. They are a necessary part of the ecosystem. But it feels like at times rather than starting a “real company”, that many have decided that the path of rent some real estate and attract others with a few programatic offerings is a better business model (at least there is a defined market with a key pain that can be monetized). Let’s call it what is is, it is office space with benefits or office space ++ (office space # for you Microsoft peeps). The benefits range from flexible leases to access to advisors to educational programs to investment capital. Do your research. Focus on the outputs, i.e., the companies that have graduated from each.
- Creative Destruction Lab
- One Eleven
- Project OWL
- MaRS Commons
- DCentral – focused on Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies
- Coworking Toronto
- Ryerson DMZ
- The Next 36
- Extreme Startups
- IN Cubes
- The Fueling Station
There are a limited number of Canadian events that matter. There are the big events. They are big, they are busy, and not a lot of business happens at the event. But you can be guaranteed that most of the major players above will attend and you can reduce the number of trips to connect with people. You should be going to events that your potential customers attend. I am pretty sure unless you are an investor, service provider looking to service the startup industry that you shouldn’t be focused on these events. They are interesting social opportunities to connect with these groups in a concentrated fashion. You should also be actively looking for those same opportunities in SF, NYC, Boston, UK and around the globe.
If you’re going to travel and you want to stay in Canada there are 3 events where you can bump into most startups, founders and investors including some from outside Canada. These events are worth traveling for, but you need to have significant motivation/reason, like you are speaking or you have arranged a meeting with a specific individual.
The rest of the conferences are regional in nature but they should be considered mandatory if you are looking to connect in one shot. These events include most of the local ecosystems, i.e., Montreal, Ottawa, Alberta, Waterloo, etc.
- Any of the C100 Accelerate events (AccelerateTO, AccelerateOTT, AccelerateMTL, AccelerateAB, etc.)
- FounderFuel Demo Day
- Atlantic Venture Forum
- CAMP Festival (more creative technology less entrepreneur focused)
- FITC Web Unleashed (less entrepreneur focused, more front-end development focused)
There are smaller local events that happen more regularly. But I am not an expert at these events anymore. I recommend just subscribing to StartupDigest for a great weekly calendar email (you can also check out our Events page). Where are people finding really great opportunities to connect?