As Canada’s innovation capital, it comes as little surprise to know the popularity of entrepreneurial programs in Ontario is on the rise, spurred on in part by the success of Ontario born companies like Blackberry, Shopify, Shop.ca and Ecco Bee.
Ontario’s tech sector success has also caught the attention of the rest of the world. In 2013, Venturebeat named Ontario the world’s top technology hub, citing the startup facilitator the Kitchener- Waterloo area has become.
Aside from giving Ontario a strong foothold in the lucrative global tech industry, the development of the startup sector in southern Ontario has led to broader economic growth in the province.
A PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey from 2013 attributes more than 20,000 jobs to tech companies located in Kitchener-Waterloo. Meanwhile, the tech sector in the region located west of Toronto has been dubbed Canada’s Silicon Valley and is home to one of the country’s most successful technology companies to date, namely, Blackberry.
The community is also unique in that it is home to two of Canada’s largest universities. One of the biggest components of its success is the University of Waterloo, which accounts for $2.614 billion (Canadian) in annual “economic impact,” according to the PriceWaterhouseCoopers study. The university’s comprehensive co-op program churns out top entrepreneurs and engineers sought by Silicon Valley’s tech giants, while its incubator contributes to the success of startups like Kik and Vidyard.
As part of the province-wide commitment to entrepreneurship, in 2015 the Ontario government promised to invest up to $25 million in the establishment of a venture capital fund. A further $25 million in matching funds was also provided by private investors. The by-product of this investment will be an entrepreneur focused program called Scale Up. “This investment model, which pairs capital investment with high-level mentorship, makes Scale Up Ventures the first venture capital model of its kind in Canada,” notes the website.
“Ontario is home to a vast wealth of business knowledge and a robust startup ecosystem,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne. “By providing new sources of capital and pairing seasoned business leaders with ambitious entrepreneurs, our government is creating a dynamic business climate where new ventures have the opportunity to grow.”
The province’s many universities are also playing a key role in spurring on the spirit of innovation. In order to facilitate the interest in entrepreneurship that has been sparked across the province, Ontario established the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs and has been especially forward thinking in the creation and fostering of a strong entrepreneurial culture.
This also includes investing heavily in regional campus-based programs at universities and colleges that are aimed at encouraging students to acquire business skills and launch their own companies.
The scale and intensity of activity under the province’s Campus-Linked Accelerators and On-Campus Entrepreneurship Activities programs has been high, with students clamoring to participate in numbers beyond all expectations. In just over a year, close to 1,000 start-ups have received expert guidance and financial support.
“I think we’re experiencing an upswing (in entrepreneurship education) and I think that trend is here to stay for the foreseeable future. I don’t see it going away,” said Creso Sá, professor of higher education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.
Ontario-based venture capitalist and entrepreneur G Scott Paterson thinks the new shift toward entrepreneurial training is especially important as society continues to move towards a digital economy.
As G Scott Paterson also notes, Canada’s current efforts have become the envy of many countries, including Finland, a country that has begun implementing similar incubator and funding models.
Recognizing the potential Ontario’s vast startup culture has for the rest of the Canadian economy, Prime Minister Trudeau has vowed to work with startups to facilitate their long-term growth. By investing heavily in the skills that ensure innovators are able succeed, we are also financing the future of the province and the country.