Something special is happening in the Toronto-Waterloo area

It has not been a great couple of weeks for the Toronto-Waterloo area as BlackBerry, the big anchor tech company of that region, is struggling with its turn-around and just put itself up for sale. But where a giant tech company struggles, one of the most exciting startup ecosystem in North-America has emerged over the past 5 years: 500px, Achievers, Desire to LearnFreshBooks, Kik, Thalmic Labs, Top Hat, Tulip Retail, Upverter, VidyardWattpad, and are just some of the thriving start-ups in that area.

Three years ago, I didn’t have a single investment in Toronto. Today, I have four: Top Hat, UpverterWattpad and one yet-to-be-announced. In fact, Toronto is now the most important geographical market for version one ventures.

Top tier U.S. funds are beginning to take notice of this area now too.  Whenever I talk to NYC- or Valley-based investors these days, they all want to discuss what’s happening in Toronto and most have made investments in a Toronto or Waterloo startup.

What’s driving all these activity in the area? It’s people. The Toronto-Waterloo cluster has an incredible talent pool. First, the University of Waterloo (ranked among the top 50 engineering schools worldwide) has been churning out talented engineers that have been highly prized in Silicon Valley and other tech hotbeds. The University is well known for embracing innovation, featuring cutting edge research in quantum physics and nanotechnology.

In addition to top notch engineers, the area has a great number of high tech senior marketing and sales professionals that can be recruited from larger tech players in the area like BlackBerry, Eloqua, and Kobo among others. The continued downsizing at BlackBerry has released a lot of talent into the local tech community.

It’s an exciting time to be participating in the area, whether as a startup or investor. Tech hubs like New York and Los Angeles may be getting most of the media coverage as alternatives to the Valley, but attention is starting to move northward. This is the time for Toronto startups.

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