Don’t Panic: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Toronto Startup Ecosystem

Rob Go published his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Boston Tech Community, and it got me thinking about how much of the Toronto Tech scene has changed over the years. This is a my view of the players and contributors in the Toronto Startup Ecosystem. It is not a comprehensive list. It’s designed to be an overview. If you want more detail, seek it out.

The first rule of this community is:

” Create more value than you capture.” – Tim O’Reilly

If you can’t figure out how to add value, then you are doing it wrong. It probably means that you’re ruining the experience for someone else.

Monthly/Semi-Regular Events

  • Mentor Mondays – hosted by Howard Gwin of OMERS Ventures. Probably the best networking event for funded and looking to get funded startups. Includes Howard’s network of CEOs, founders, consultants and other crazies that can provide real world advice. This is the best CEO event in the city if you can get an invite.
  • Founders & Funders – An invite only event hosted semi-regularly by use here at StartupNorth. It’s designed to bring together the people the start high potential growth companies and the people that fund them. It is invite only, requirements vary if you are a founder or a funder. For funders, we like to see 2 investments of >$100k in the past 12 months, and we try to vette founders to be fundable (and we’re often wrong)
  • SproutUpTO – Hosted by Jon Spencely and the Sprouter crew. Roughly monthly meetup that follows the startup demos and a big name keynote speaker. Event is approximately $12 to attend. Has hosted big names like: Daniel Burka, Tony Conrad, Matt Meeker, Sean Ellis, and others. Many of the keynote speakers and the startups are “high potential growth technology companies” but I find that  the audience and the networking is mixed.
  • TechTalksTO - Great semi-regular series of talks by technologists for technologists.
  • StartupGrind TO – Semi-regular access to startup speakers including Paul Singh, Eric Migicovsky, and others
  • Ladies Learning Code - focused on teaching development skills to newbies (of all genders).
  • DevTO – monthly developer educational events. Broad focus on industry trends and specific development environments.
  • Creative Mornings TO – Monthly breakfast series for creative types. Tends to aim more agency side but a great show.
  • Pecha Kucha TO – Pecha Kucha is the format that started it all. 20 slides x 20 seconds. It’s another event that tends to be aimed more at designers and agency folks. Presentations are always interesting.
  • Third Tuesday Toronto – Primarily for communications professionals (think PR and media types) with a focus on digital media and emerging best practices.
  • DemoCamp - I have hosted DemoCamps since 2005. They started as a way for entrepreneurs, developers and designers to get together and share what they’ve been working on. They grew to >500 person networking events. There are currently no plans to host anymore.

Smaller Events & Meetups

  • Toronto Ruby Brigade - Great learning series primarily aimed at beginners, but becoming more advanced, includes book club series, hack nights at Influitive, and lessons/lectures about specifics of building and craft in Ruby.
  • Rails Pub Nite - Totally a social event. It’s a great way to figure out who is hiring in the Ruby scene and to meet others using Ruby. Hosted by the Unspace crew at the Rhino on Queen Street West.
  • Django/Python Toronto - This is a set of crazy Python devs. It is also not for the “recruiters” or bullshit artists. Go if you are using or considering Python on a project and you want to talk to the best. And don’t be a douchebag.
  • HTML5 Web App Developers - This is an educational event. It is broadly HTML5 and web app technologies. But the sessions are well put together and cover the craft. Good beginner through advanced.
  • Hacks/Hackers Toronto – The intersection of journalists and technologists. This is a very strong community. But it is really focused on the intersection of journalism and new tech.
  • StartupDrinks Toronto – A monthly social for entrepreneurs. Most recently hosted at Hotel Ocho on Spadina between Queen & Dundas. It’s noisy. I cofounded the event, though I don’t attend very often anymore. I don’t find that I benefit from the networking. And if I really wanted to drink with friends, well I do that.
  • NerdLearn – I have never been. It is hosted by The Working Group and Dessy Daskalov who I think is amazing. I’m still bummed out that she turned down my job offer.
  • TiE Toronto – Interesting with Haroon Mirza as part of the organization committee. Great mentoring group with startups like Cognovision and Verold participating the in the recent past.
  • MobileStartupsTO
  • LeanCoffeeTO - These happen regularly, every Tuesday at 8am. I don’t find a lot of value in the discussions. So maybe I’m doing it wrong. If you are new to the lean methodology, or you just want to talk with other entrepreneurs that are using lean.
  • Hadoop User Group  – Relatively new event. People look awesome. Focused on Hadoop, Map/Reduce and data science. I think it’s going to be good.
  • GeekGirlsToronto - Great networking group aimed at connected geek girls, tech savvy women in the GTA. Events cover everything from women founders to Arduino.

Annual Events & Conferences

  • Canadian Innovation eXchange (CIX) – This i An event hosted by Achilles Media, has proved to be a launching ground for some of Toronto’s best acquisitions.
  • HoHoTO – Annual holiday party. It is a must attend event.
  • TiE Quest – hosted annually. $50k non-dilutive prize. Hosted at MaRS. Previous winners include Cognovision.
  • TEDxToronto – Annual event using the TEDx. Great community production.
  • Mesh – Could be described as the grand daddy of Toronto 2.0 events. Usually happens in the spring. Mesh is a 2 day event that focuses on how the web is evolving and affecting every part of our lives: government, policy, marketing, entertainment, etc. Produced by Mark Evans, Rob Hyndman, Stuart MacDonald, Mathew Ingram and Michael McDermett.
  • OCE Discovery – Event aimed at government support of local innovation. I have paid for a ticket in the past, particularly when they’ve had keynote speakers I wanted to hear. But generally this is an event for those connected with OCE. Next one will be May 27 & 28, 2013. Strong focus on companies that have been supported by OCE with strong manufacturing, ICT, and healthcare showing.
  • ThroneOfJS – was the latest in a series on Ruby and Javascript events hosted by the Unspace crew. Prior to Throne of JS, the Unspace crew hosted Future Ruby. These are great local events with world class talent.
  • AccelerateTO – hosted by the C100. Great social event. Keynote at the last one was from Google Canada, interesting but not stellar.
  • AndroidTO – hosted by the BNOTIONS crew. 3rd year. Focused on education around mobile development.

Online Resources and Newsletters

Recruiting Resources

University, Government & Not-for-Profit Resources

Coworking Spaces and Accelerators

Entrepreneurial Design & Development Firms

Canadian Investors

Places to Hang

  • Sense Appeal - Great coffee. Lots of folks from Mozilla Toronto, ChickAdvisor, Nascent Digital and others.
  • Dark Horse on Spadina – It’s downstairs from the Centre for Social Innovation. Lots of
  • Jimmy’s Coffee – Very likely to run in to Rocketr, Jet Cooper, EndLoop Studios, Guardly or Massive Damage.
  • HackLab.to – great hacker space in Kennsington Market, and you’ll see something that will blow your mind, guaranteed. More anarchist hacker than startup entrepreneur. But its an amazing collective of people.

Journalists and News

Looking for Offices Space?

  • I used Jay Littlejohn at Cushman & Wakefield. He helped Influitive and others.
  • Centre for Social Innovation with 215 Spadina and the Annex has great brick and beam space.
  • BNOTIONS has a large space in St. Lawrence Market. They are actively looking for sublet tenants.
  • Companies are located all around Toronto.
    • Wave Accounting is near Queen & Carlaw
    • Wattpad is near Yonge & Sheppard
    • Top Hat Monocle is near Yonge & College
    • There is a big cluster near Queen & Spadina: Influitive, Guardly, Extreme Startups, Endloop Studios, Jet Cooper, Rocketr, Unspace, BuzzData, Big Bang Technology, The Working Group, and more.
    • Facebook Canada is near Yonge & Eglinton
    • Dayforce is located near Yonge & York Mills
    • Xtreme Labs is near Yonge & King St.

Scaling Companies to Watch (probably hiring)

Some to Follow

Entrepreneurs, Thought Leaders, Gadflys and Others

  • April Dunford  - April is probably the best marketer in Canada. If you are a startup and you are marketing, thinking about marketing or just want to learn about marketing go read her stuff. She’s the BEST.
  • John Philip Green  - John is an EiR at Hedgewood. In the past he was the CTO at CommunityLend/FinanceIt.ca. He was also the founder of LearnHub. His style is second to none.
  • Zak Homuth  - Founder of YC alumni Upverter.
  • Farhan Thawar  - VP Engineering at Xtreme Labs. Absolutely amazing. I think he’s Hot Shit.
  • Jonas Brandon  - My friend and cofounder of StartupNorth. He’s been in at least 2 deals I wish I listened to him on.
  • Amar Varma  - Founder of Xtreme Labs, Extreme Venture Partners, hustler extraordinaire.
  • John Ruffolo  - Runs OMERS Ventures, previously at Deloitte & Touche. Connected at all levels.
  • Howard Gwin  - I’ve referred to Howard as the best VC in Canada. He has the midas touch.
  • Matt Golden  - New fund. Making waves. He’s going to go far.
  • Mark Organ  - Founder of Influitive. Just raised a massive round. Previously founder of Eloqua.
  • Mike Beltzner  - Director of Product at Wattpad. Previous ran Firefox at Mozilla.
  • Mark Surman  - Director of Mozilla Foundation. Unbelievably forward thinking in technology, community and family.
  • Scott Pelton  - I think Scott had the best IRR of any Canadian VC. He’s kicking off Round13. Someone to watch once the fund is closed.
  • Sandy Scott – Partner at Tandem Expansion Capital. Time in Boston and Silicon Valley. HBS. Very smart.
  • Sue McGill – Executive Director of JoltCo accelerator at MaRS.
  • Krista Jones – Practice Lead for ICT or ICE at MaRS
  • Andrew Peek – Founder of Rocketr, previously at Freshbooks.
  • Andy Yang  - Andy runs Extreme Startups. They had a small but amazing first class.
  • Satish Kanwar  - Founder at Jet Cooper. Founder at Lean Coffee TO.
  • Chris Eben  - Partner at The Working Group. Organizer of StartupWeekend.
  • Derek Smyth  - Partner at OMERS Ventures. Doing amazing deals. He’s the work horse.
  • Roger Chabra  - Partner at Rho Ventures. Dividing time between Montreal, Toronto, SF, NYC, and other places. New fund. Very stylish.
  • Sunil Sharma – Connector at Extreme Startups. Connected to more people than are in Canada.
  • Allen Lau  - Founder and CEO of Wattpad. Big vision. Just raised from Khosla Ventures, Union Square and GoldenVP.
  • Kirk Simpson  - Founder and CEO of Wave Accounting. Big raise from CRV, Social+Capital, and OMERS.
  • James Lochrie  - Product lead and founder at Wave Accounting.
  • Adam Goucher  - Principal at Element34. Focused on Q&A and testing. Wrote Beautiful Testing.
  • Greg Wilson  - Founder of Software Carpentry. Loves the Python. Former CS prof at UofT. Wrote Beautiful Code.
  • Heather Payne  - Founder of HackerYou and Ladies Learning Code.
  • Kunal Gupta  - Founder of Polar Mobile and Impact at UW.
  • Joseph Puopolo  - Founder of Printchomp. Previously at StickerYou
  • Mark McQueen  - President & CEO of Wellington Financial, Chair of the Toronto Port Authority. Great blog focused on Canadian growth captial.
  • Daniel Debow  - Founder of Rypple. Part of the Workbrain diaspora.
  • David Ossip  - Founder of Dayforce, Workbrain and other ventures.
  • Richard Reiner  - Angel investor and operator. Founded security firm Assurent. Sold eNomaly.
  • Saul Colt  - The Smartest Man in the World. A great PR/media hacker. Expert at word of mouth and social media.
  • Amber MacArthur  - Entrepreneur, television host, podcaster. Writes for Fast Company.
  • Leila Boujnane  - Founder of Idee and TinEye. Often host of DemoCamp, GeekGirlToronto and other events. Wickedly smart.
  • Jesse Rodgers – Founder of TribeHR, former director of UW Velocity, now running Rotman Venture Lab. Strong insights in to incubator metrics.
  • Dan Servos – CEO of Locationary. Previously sold SocialDeck to Google.
  • Rob Hyndman – Awesome startup lawyer. Founder of Mesh.
  • Mark Evans – Former/sometimes current journalist. Consultant focused on startup marketing and media communications. Founder of Mesh
  • Michael McDerment – CEO and Founder of Freshbooks. Founder of Mesh
  • Rick Segal – Founder of FixMo. Previously VC at JLA Ventures.
  • Ali Ghafour – Founder and CEO of ViaFoura
  • Suresh Bhat – Associate at ExtremeVP
  • Bram Sugarman – Associate at OMERS Ventures. Previously at Uken Games and Extreme Ventures.
  • Damien Steel Senior Associate at OMERS Ventures
  • Jennifer Lum – Cofounder Adelphic Mobile, previously at Quattro Wireless. Extreme Startups mentor.
  • Estelle Havva – Industrial Technology Advisor at IRAP. Been involved in this community since the beginning. Practical and can help you with IRAP
  • Ilse Treurnicht – CEO of MaRS. Big budget, big real estate, big salary and hopefully big impact.
  • Albert Lai – Working on Big Viking Games, previously Kontagent, Bubbleshare and others. Original cohost of DemoCamp with me.
  • Ali Asaria – Founder of Well.ca, creator of Brickbreaker. Just awesome.
  • Tonya Suman – Centre for Social Innovation. World leading thinker and doer on social innovation and community ecosystem. Based here in Toronto.
  • Pete Forde – Founder of BuzzData, Unspace and other things. Photog, audiophile, and all round great guy.
  • Jay Goldman – Jay has moved on to Klick Health. Jay founded Radiant Core, did the UI for Firefox 2.0, helped build ZeroFootprint. If you can get his time to talk social or product, it is worth it
  • Jon Arnold – Big in the telco and smart grid space.
  • William Mougayar – CEO of Engagio. Previously Equentia. The man and the product allows him to participate in comment conversations across the web. Responsible for helping bring Fred Wilson to Toronto.
  • Follow @heygosia – CEO and founder of LearnHub. Technical, product, leadership, growth. She’s amazing. Doesn’t get enough credit.
  • Jim deWilde – Teaches in B School. Wrote much of the policy on innovation, government fund of funds, key behind the scenes player. Plus he’s awesome.
  • Zach Aysan – Big data guy. Currently 500px. Previously Algo Anywhere and Rocketr.

Waterloo

Hot Sh!t List 2012

CC-BY-20  Some rights reserved by kyz
Attribution Some rights reserved by kyz

We have been tracking startups and people for a while. In 2011 was the first Hot Sh!t List, but it won’t be the last. There are a number of amazing individuals in the ecosystem like Mark MacLeod (LinkedIn, @startupcfo), Boris Wertz (LinkedIn, @bwertz), Dan Morel (LinkedIn, @dpmorel), Debbie Landa (LinkedIn, @deblanda), Chris Arsenault (LinkedIn, @chrisarsenault), Dan Martell (LinkedIn, @danmartell), Jesse Rodgers (LinkedIn, @jrodgers) and others. Over the past 7 years the community has grown, and connected, and continues to help each other.

But this list is different.

It’s not about the people who have raised the most money, or who have the biggest social graphs. It’s about who we expect to talk about over the next 12 months. Be it the ideas, the companies, the impact, etc. My goal was to find a mix of the unsung heroes, the founders, the developers, the doers, the troublemakers and the faces of different companies across Canada that we think are amazing/interesting. What do I mean by “interesting”? Well it depends. But these people are doing the stuff we’ll be talking about over the next 12 months.

The list is no particular order. But there is no denying it, these folks are the:

StartupNorth Hot Sh!t 2012 BadgeHot Sh!t List 2012

 

Engagio: A Canadian Startup Story and the future of the Social Web

Editor’s Note: William Mougayar is the CEO & founder of Engagio and previously founded Eqentia. He has 30 years of experience in the high-tech industry with large and small companies. He can be reached on Twitter at @wmougayar or by visiting his engagement profile at http://engag.io/wmougayar.

Since we were funded in early January 2012, and especially after we announced it in mid-February, I feel like I moved out of the basement and into the ground level of a building. Indeed, being part of the “Funded Club” suddenly gives you a kind of peer respect and credibility that changes the game.

We have been in the fast lane of Startup land. We produced a minimum viable product in 8 weeks and opened access to alpha users right away. 30 days later, we were funded with a $540K seed investment from 6 VC’s and Angels in the US and Canada. A month after that, we took down the alpha and beta status and opened the service totally. Four months after the first line of code was written, we’re starting to look like a mature startup with thousands of active users.

But this story wasn’t really an overnight success. It was 3 years in the making, and it sucked being in that basement during these 3 years. But they were the best preparation for the next 3 months that changed everything about me as a Canadian entrepreneur trying to be one of many others that can claim to have been funded by reputable investors.

I’ve been labeled as a tenacious individual. I’ve been called scrappy, and hard working. All true.

David Crow (@davidcrow) asked me to pen a few lessons. Take what you want, and discuss the rest in the Comment section. After all, we are entering a phase of greater social engagement, and comments are often more important that the blog post itself.

My start-up Engagio is pretty focused on one objective: letting users manage their online conversations across the fragmented Social Web and realizing relationships from these conversations.

There’s a story behind our evolution, and it’s tightly related to the future of the Social Web.

Start with Social Capital

It started in the fall of 2008 when I became inspired by Howard Lindzon (@howardlindzon), founder of StockTwits as I heard him speak at Startup Empire where he recounted how he met venture capitalist Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) a few years earlier just by commenting on his blog. Howard explained the value of Social Capital as a critical by-product of the Social Web.

The next day, I started commenting on Fred Wilson’s AVC.com blog, and gradually increased my participation because I was seeing increasing value from interacting with the other commenters. I firmly believed that every comment was an implicit linkage to a person and a potential relationship waiting to blossom.

Since that day, I have written about 3,400 comments on AVC.com, – that’s an average of 3 per day, received 1,800 Likes, and made dozens of real world relationships with other frequent commenters I met on that blog. This proved that if you invest in building relationships online, there are long-term benefits you can gain. That’s Social Capital at work.

Then in September of 2011, Fred nominated 2 members of his blog community as moderators, and I was one of them. The value of Social Capital became even clearer to me, as I was seeing the value of commenting and social engagement on the web working in my favor. But my social engagement was pretty scattered on the Social Web across other blogs and social networks, and I started to realize that this wasn’t manageable anymore.

I thought there must be a better way to manage the multiplicity of interactions across the social web. So I came up with the idea for Engagio. It was a deceptively simple idea, one based on the fact that we are entering a phase of fragmentation of the Social Web. And we needed better tools to manage this fragmentation of conversations. I ran the idea of developing an Inbox for social conversations by Fred Wilson who liked it and encouraged me to make it happen. The next day, I turned to my team and we developed the first version of Engagio 8 weeks later.

Lessons for Canadian Startups

Engagio is my second startup, so everything I learned, did or didn’t do in the first one is embedded in this second one. You can’t fake experience, and you can’t manufacture lessons. They are in the scars, the notches on your belt, the stars on your shoulder and they are who you are.

Here are a few lessons I’d like to share with the Startup North readers.

1. Don’t polish a bad idea

The simpler the starting point and the simpler you can articulate it, the better it is. If you’re spending too much time wordsmithing the positioning statement or messaging, maybe you need to change course. Polishing a bad idea won’t make it shine.

2. Relationships don’t matter

They don’t. You may have hundreds of relationships that aren’t giving you benefits. Few relationships bear fruit in terms of value offered. The relationship itself doesn’t matter, but the trust in it does, therefore trusted relationships do matter. I knew a lot of people, but few were really trusted enough that they would do something for me. With trust comes exceptions and a lot of doors open in front of you.

3. Beware of selling to the enterprise

Unless the enterprise user is behaving like a consumer, you’ll have a tough time selling to the enterprise unless you’re a large company already, or have raised a lot of money as a startup. As enticing as enterprise users are, selling them a solution that requires group approvals and long budget cycles will kill any startup, no matter how good their product is. The only way to penetrate the enterprise is by having a simple SaaS-based product that individual users can try and purchase on their own without asking anyone.

4. Keep all relationships open

Keep all your relationships on a cordial level, even with the jerk VC or fellow entrepreneur who didn’t respond to your email, or didn’t give you what you asked for, or was indifferent to your request, or ignored you intentionally. I’ve encountered each one of these situations, and it’s better to keep your head high and think they are the jerk, not you.

5. Don’t believe your own story

Let others believe in it. That’s more powerful. You need to step outside of what you are developing and believe in the reality checks that outsiders will give you. They will see things you don’t, especially if they are users.

6. Growth is what matters

Startup growth is measured in dog years, and you must have a sense of urgency about it. It’s the #1 priority of a startup. If you don’t grow daily, your chances of success diminish. A startup exists to make something out of nothing. You’re a creator, and you must start to occupy a space that didn’t exist before. Growth is a daily habit, not a quarterly goal.

7. Get out of Canada

The Lean Startup methodology advocates that the CEO must get out of the office. But in Canada, out of the office is not enough. You need to get out of Canada and go conquer the US market. The borders are so porous from a business perspective, it’s as if it wasn’t there. Use Canada as a base, but use the US as a springboard. Get a US address and act like a US company when you pursue clients, users, media attention, partnerships and capital. The barriers will suddenly appear lower.

8. Go help someone

If you’re having a good day and believe you’re making progress, go help someone that needs your help. You owe it to the ecosystem that made you where you are.

Next time you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or a blog, don’t just share, re-tweet or like that piece of content or comment. Rather, engage with the other person, debate them, disagree with them, and start a conversation. You never know where it will lead you.

Connect with me on Engagio.

Editor’s Note: William Mougayar is the CEO & founder of Engagio and previously founded Eqentia. He has 30 years of experience in the high-tech industry with large and small companies. He can be reached on Twitter at @wmougayar or by visiting his engagement profile at http://engag.io/wmougayar.