Regardless of What You May Think, Canada Has Always Been a Tech Hub
Recently, there’s been a lot of media buzz regarding the notion that Canada has secretly become the next new "tech hub." The buzz, of course, is due -- in large part -- to the anxiety many are feeling concerning President Donald Tump’s executive order on H-1B visas for foreign workers.
Vanity Fair, in September, for instance, wrote that, "Highly skilled tech employees are absconding to Canada." Start-ups in the Canadian tech hub of Toronto say that they’ve been receiving “steady, double-digit increases” in job applications from the United States since the 2016 election, the article said.
But politics aside, I’d like to express a contrarian view and not only provide my thoughts on the matter, but more importantly, make two specific points abundantly clear: For one thing, there will always be a "Silicon Valley," in California, and it’s not going anywhere; and there's a "Silicon Valley of the North" in Canada (Do U.S. readers even know this?).
Which brings me to my second point: Canada has always been an innovative "tech hub" (and that’s no secret). The True North, in fact, has a long history of being technologically innovative.
O, Canada! The True North strong and free (and innovative)
Over the past decade or so, Canada has proven itself a leader in technology and innovation. One only needs to look at the success Canadian tech companies like Hootsuite, FreshBooks and Shopify have had to be reminded of that fact.
More importantly, Canada has a long history of individuals and companies who have demonstrated their ability to push the technological innovation barrier. From the invention of the radio, to that of the BlackBerry, to the recent advancements we've seen with blockchain (read: cryptocurrency) technology, one thing is certain: Canada has always been a place where innovation thrives.
Redefining the borders of the Silicon Valley of the North
Again, there will always be a Silicon Valley, but Canada is helping to grow and expand the geographical landscape of where companies and individuals can set up and operate their tech ventures.
In fact, I believe that the geographical borders of what currently defines the Silicon Valley of the North are also beginning to expand. In the province of Ontario, the Toronto-Waterloo Region Corridor (which is the basis for the "Valley" nickname) forms a 112-kilometer trail of tech innovation. This corridor even has its own website: theCorridor.ca, which is currently home to 15,000 tech companies, 200,000 tech workers and 5,200 tech startups.
However, the Corridor (or California's Silicon Valley for that matter) didn’t start out as a global center of talent, growth, innovation and discovery. It all started with a few companies that became successful, which then led others to say, “If they can build a successful tech company here, then why can’t we?”
For example, I started a software company in Niagara, which historically has been a blue-collar manufacturing community. But in the last five years, Clickback has grown like crazy and is currently ranked (in 2017) No. 32 in the software category on the 29th Annual Profit 500 Ranking, which is a list of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies put out by Canadian Business.
I don’t say this to impress anyone, just to illustrate how if a tech company located thousands of kilometers from Silicon Valley and 132 kilometers from Waterloo, can do it, others can too. That’s my hope. I believe that others can make the same impact in, say, Niagara as BlackBerry did in Waterloo, and work toward the goal of expanding the geographical borders of the Canadian "Corridor" to soon include the Niagara Region.
In an effort to realize this vision, I recently acquired a 40,000 square foot, six-story commercial building in the downtown core of St. Catharines, Ontario (the largest city in the Niagara Region). In addition to being a new home for my company, this site will also become the first private technology and innovation accelerator in the Niagara Region.
In the meantime, if a few U.S. tech workers happen to come knocking on our door, and they happen to share our vision, we’ll gladly invite them in. My two biggest takeaways for burgeoning tech entrepreneurs?
- Keep improving and innovating.
- Continue to challenge yourselves by attempting to solve big problems.