What Toronto’s Startup Community Must do to Thrive

brad feldToronto’s startup community has come a long, long way over past two to three years. It has evolved from a place where many people talked about launching a startup to a place where a growing number of people are creating startups or working for a startup.

As important, Toronto’s startup community is maturing as many of the key pillars that will make it vibrant are being established. All in all, there are plenty of reasons to be encouraged and excited.

With this in mind, it was inspiring to hear Brad Feld do a “fireside chat” with Extreme Ventures’ Andy Yang yesterday. Feld, the co-founder of TechStars and the author of “Startup Communities”talked about the key ingredients that a startup up community needs to create a rock-solid foundation.

These include:

- Entrepreneurs (aka leaders) leading the charge, while lawyers, marketers, VCs, etc. (aka feeders) support the ecosystem.

- Making a long-term commitment. Feld originally placed this at 100 years but pulled it back to 20 years because it was an amount of people could get their heads around. Having a long-term perspective, he said, provides communities with the ability to deal with the cyclical ups and downs.

- Let anyone to get involved so they can support and nurture the community. This means  making it easy for people to connect in a way where there is no “friction”

- Have a constant flow of activity such as events, conferences, meetups, etc. that lets members of the community get together to exchange ideas, meet new people, etc.

In the wake of Feld’s insight, here are some things that Toronto’s startup community needs to continue its development.

1. More money. It’s the obvious need but the ability to provide entrepreneurs with the capital to develop ideas and drive growth is one of the highest priorities.

2. More people such as Chris Eben, David Crow and William Mougayar willing to make a personal commitment to support and nurture the ecosystem by organizing events and pulling in speakers such as Feld and Fred Wilson.

3. A directory for startups that they could tap into to find the services needed to establish themselves and drive growth. One of the most difficult things for any small business is finding the right kind of help at the right time, so a directory might be a way to make it easier.

4. Stronger and better ties with other startups communities such as Waterloo, Ottawa and Montreal. There are a lot of activity happening, and there are ways collectively we can support each other by sharing insight and best practices, and working together.

5. A kick-ass startup conference. Not to open the kimono too much but we’ve got some big plans for mesh ’13 to embrace the startup community after dipping our toes in the water last year.

6. More people like Feld to come to town to provide perspective and context about how we’re doing and how we stack up. One of the most interesting comments made by Feld is that “every community has unique characteristics, so the worst thing Toronto could do is try to be like Silicon Valley”.

7. More exits, which would do several things: get more entrepreneurs to take the startup plunge, encourage and reward investors for backing startups, and, hopefully, allow successful entrepreneurs to do more startups and/or invest in startups.

What else does Toronto’s startup community need to thrive?

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  • Mark MacLeod

    More big companies. Tech giants like Facebook, Google, etc create a gravitational pull that attracts talent, money, etc. We need some big companies here.

    • Mark Evans

      Agreed. In fact, I’d like to see startup entrepreneurs with a drive to become big companies as opposed to taking the money and run when a $20M or $30M offer rolls in from a strategic buyer.

      • Bruno Morency

        But taking the money from a strategic buyer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re also running! Neither does it mean you don’t have the drive to create a big company.

        Just like your point 7 says, it takes exits to create a self-sustaining ecosystem and what may seem like small or modest ones will go a long way. It creates entrepreneurs hungry for more and ready to take on the next step from a much stronger position.

  • Atlee Clark

    #4 is really key I think — finding a way to let people, ideas, learning etc. flow easily between cities means avoiding mistakes and accelerating successes across the board. collaboration not duplication

    • Mark Evans

      So how could we make that happen? Is it a matter of reaching out to key members in other communities to see if they would get involved in what we’re doing, and visa versa?

      Thanks for the comment. Mark

  • cdlingHQ

    Brad also mentioned the role of “Feeders” being important in his talk with StartupNorth. How do we get governments, banks, big telcos, etc to see buying from a startup as necessity. As in, if you are not buying from a startup, you are not embracing innovation. And if not, how can you claim to be trying to solve Canada’s productivity problem?

  • Andy Yang

    We ARE thriving!

    • Mark Evans

      We’re doing well and there are many positive signs but I think there’s more to do to get the local community into a healthy and sustainable place. Thanks for the invite to Brad’s talk.

    • ceben

      I agree. The changes over the last few years are immense across the board. With the exits and successes that we’ve seen from many startups, I expect this to help feed the startup ecosystem as second time entrepreneurs/angels (with money and experience!) will give back and/or start their next company.

  • William Mougayar

    Great points Mark, and this ecosystem includes also people like you that are prolific bloggers and regularly write about Toronto tech’s startups. So point #8 would be – having more bloggers including entrepreneurs.

    Re:#3 I really like that idea and was thinking the same while listening to Brad. It needs to be done. Maybe if you search for Toronto startups on Angel List that’s a starting point.

    • Mark Evans

      You’re right; I think more and in-depth coverage of Toronto startups would be a great way to highlight the exciting things going on.

      • William Mougayar

        Not just “coverage”, but entrepreneurs as bloggers that blog about the ecosystem, not just their companies is a powerful element. We don’t have enough of that, and I’m as guilty as others.

  • Abdallah Al-Hakim

    Good summary Mark. I like points 2 to 4. The point you make about ‘more money’ is an important one but Brad talks in his book about how every city complains about that and it should not be the focus. Also, I agree about the need to organize some ‘kick-ass’ conferences but I also think part of the reason that Boulder succeeds is the constant weekly meetings (inclusive in nature) that they have. I really think that is a big thing missing in Toronto which if it happens will tremendously improve communications across the ecosystem.

    • Mark Evans

      It is interesting that Brad encourages a lot of activity. To me, it seems there is a lot of events going on in Toronto. At mesh ’13, we’re going to expand our startup program – more details to follow on.

      • Abdallah Al-Hakim

        The Mesh conference was great this year and is well attended. I look forward to hearing more about the startup program!