Wired Different Magazine

Monthly Archives: December 2018

Wired Different

By YUNG WU (CEO, MaRS Discovery District), ABDULLAH SNOBAR (Executive Director, DMZ) and DEAN HOPKINS (Chief Growth Officer, OneEleven)

Canadians are wired differently. We embrace difference differently. We assimilate differently. We approach change differently.

This difference gives us an edge in a world that is being rewired. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the sharing economy are changing human existence and reshaping society as we know it. While geo-economic centres are being rewired around these transformative innovations, geo-political narratives are becoming more turbulent, with the rise of nationalism and threats to free-market values.

As disconcerting as these developments are, they are giving Canada – in particular the Toronto region – an advantage on the world stage. While others are turning inward, we have doubled down on our commitment to multiculturalism and diversity, creating fast-track visas for skilled tech workers.

It seems to be working. According to CBRE, Toronto is the fastest-growing tech market in North America. At a time when tech talenti s a more valuable commodity than any natural resource, this region has built an enormous competitive advantage – attracting workers from around the world looking to live in a vibrant community that embraces difference.

This growth tells a story that goes for beyond simple job metrics. Call it our diversity dividend: More than half our ventures have at least one foreign-born founder, and a larger proportion of our ventures are led by women than in Silicon Valley. This diversity is reflected in the faces of the entrepreneurs profiled throughout this magazine.

Multinationals are also being drawn here. In September alone, more than $1.4 billion of investments in Toronto’s tech sector were announced by companies including Microsoft, Uber, and Shopify. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

How to explain this tectonic tech shift? We’d argue that it’s due to our collaborative and inclusive culture. Toronto innovation hubs like MaRs, the DMZ, and OneEleven are working together to provide a fertile environment for young companies to grow. Hubs like these and others in the surrounding region offer prime real estate where entrepreneurs, business leaders and venture capitalists can co-locate,providing a natural networking platform that engages and empowers the community.

This magazine features more than 50 tech companies to watch in Toronto and the surrounding region. Many of these ventures are focused on socially beneficial verticals such as health, cleantech an d technologies impacting the future of work and commerce.

Toronto’s attraction – and unique value proposition – is its approach to responsible disruption. This means supporting companies that cam make an impact globally. And we have no shortage of them. Take, for instance, Wealthsimple, which is helping customers make the most of their money with an easy-to-use, low-cost investment platform. Founded four years ago, it already has $2 billion under management.

Spoonity has built a client engagement platform for restaurants and retailers that is rapidly gaining traction in South America, with almost with almost 17 million processed to date.

Meanwhile, companies like Opus One are bringing the era of clean energy closer. Its powerful software lets grid operators understand and manage the massive amounts of data needed to control a system powered by thousands of individual solar panels and wind turbines.

These and other ventures profiled in this magazine are just a small sample of Toronto’s burgeoning tech sector. As our ecosystem grows, so its impact will grow, too. That is good news for our region, for Canada and the world.


The fine art of the humble brag


To thrive in a competitive global marketplace, Toronto-based startups must embrace the humble-brag, says Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ, a world-leading, not-for-profit tech accelerator in downtown Toronto.

“Sales is the biggest segue to success” he explains. It’s going to help make a start-up a global enterprise down the road.”

But the sales pitch often doesn’t come naturally to tech startup founders, many of whom got into the game because they saw a consumer problem and had the know-how to build a technological solution.

“If you look at Canadian culture, we’re not known to be assertive,” he says. “So for entrepreneurs, it’s about embracing the humble brag. Not being arrogant, but being proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish.”

That’s why the DMZ launched a sales accelerator in 2016. Designed to help tech businesses become global enterprises, it helps companies grow from startup to scale-up.

Capital Follows Sales

The program focuses on developing an aggressive sales method, building a sales-oriented team, providing marketing support and equipping founders with the leadership skills they need to create global impact.

Throughout a four-month period, world-class mentors assess a startup’s needs and customize a growth strategy that encompasses all aspects of the business.

The capacity to create revenue is what startups need now, says Snobar. The program helps founders realize that capital follows sales.

“For us, this is a new narrative” he says. “Toronto has been in an episode where we’ve been helping a lot of early-stage companies come to life, become market ready…Now they need to acquire customers that can get them to scale.”

The DMZ ranked #1 in the world

Located at Yonge and Dundas Square, the DMZ at Ryerson University was ranked as the top university-based incubator worldwide by UBI Global in 2018.

It’s home to as many as 70 startup companies at any given time, providing open-concept spaces on six floors of an office tower that looks out over the square.

Each quarter, six startups are accepted into the sales program. They relocate their teams to set up shop in an environment that’s meant to create a sales mindset – complete with a gong to bang when a deal gets made.

Starting in 2019, the accelerator is expected to expand significantly, quadrupling the size of the quarterly cohorts.

Mentorship makes a difference

The DMZ’s sales program helped Casalova an online real estate marketplace that streamlines the processes of buying or renting a home, scale up in 2017.

The company now boasts a downtown headquarters and a staff that includes a team of independent sales agents. Thanks to a $2.5-million investment from Aviva Ventures, a U.K. – based fund, Casalova is on track for more growth in 2019.

“Our business wouldn’t be where it is today without the DMZ” says Ray Jaff. Casallove co-founder and CEO, pointing to the accelerator’s community of startups, accountability structures and introductions to investors as factors in the company’s success.

But what really helped Casalova crack the code of scaling was mentorship from the DMZ’s coaches, who were embedded in the business and helped the company refine day-to-day practices as well as leap large hurdles.

“It was helpful to have access to people who had been there, done that,” says Jaff. “I knew I could try to learn on my own, through trial and error, or I could have a 30-minute sit-down and save months and thousands of dollars in lost time.”

Exposure to a global marketplace

Participants in the accelerator program attend events with founders from across the region and intimate workshops with industry leaders. They also go on a two-week, multi-city road trip to key global markets such as New York and San Francisco for curated, one-on-one meeting with customers and investors.

The overarching goal is to create a competitive sales mindset so startups can reach their full potential. If they’re acquired, they can earn what they deserve.

“The mindset has changed,” says Snobar. “Whereas before it was a major milestone to be acquired for a million dollars, now the stakes are higher. Now we’re saying: Let’s become a sales behemoth.”