Why Toronto doesn’t have a unicorn, yet

Awareness. Unicorn. The Valley. Three words that turned up time and again, it was a topic that hit close to home as we explored Toronto’s changing tech landscape – where it’s at, and where it’s going. Our OPN (Open People Network) panelist came from a diverse range of backgrounds – Alex Norman of Tech Toronto and AngelList Canada; Chris Rickett of The City of Toronto; and Jessica Vomiero of Mobile Syrup – all sharing their different experiences and contributing to a very insightful conversation.

What with so much to share and say, below are some key takeaways that we think everyone should know about Toronto’s tech hub. To playback the full video, watch now.

What are others tech communities doing that Toronto can learn from?

Alex: Torontonians need to stop looking at “The Valley” and what we don’t have, and focus on what we do have. The Valley has a 50 year start, with a certain type of mentality. Alex suggests look to Seattle instead, if any.

Jessica: Toronto is missing an identity; we compare ourselves too much to other markets, and have all the tools that we need right here. We have a better quality of life, more affordable. Bit colder (lol), this is something we should definitely be playing up.

Chris: You don’t have to leave home to build a great tech company, or work for one – it’s all here!

What does Toronto’s tech sector need to get ahead globally?

Alex: We need to focus on awareness of the tech ecosystem as whole, both domestically and internationally, and tell our story – people need to hear that Toronto is a bustling tech market. There are, for example, more mission trips coming in, and we need amplify this – it’s our job to make sure the world knows what’s going on in Toronto. From an investment perspective, Canadian companies need to be asking for bigger funds.

Chris: Our government needs to double-down on what’s working in the tech sector, and “get away from the noise”. The province is making significant investments in accelerators like Ryerson’s DMZ, which is great. The next steps are how to scale, funding wise, and how to make it meaningful for these homegrown tech companies.

Jessica: Infuse more entrepreneurial education into post-secondary curriculum; early enough that students can dip their toes into entrepreneurship and see if they can make a career of building businesses, without straying too far from original studies. That, and be more confidence, start reaching for larger investments!

When will Toronto have its own “homegrown” unicorn?

Jessica: The city has all the foundation to produce a unicorn, but our ecosystem in still in the development stage. However, people haven’t traditionally looked at Toronto as a place where you can scale a business of that magnitude, so this is holding us back. But, that said, things are changing, and that’s seen in companies like League and Influitive who have garnered significant funding recently – Toronto will have a unicorn in the next two to three years.

Alex: Agreed – not if, but when. There is a pipeline of companies that can hit unicorn status, very soon. There is enough activity and talent here that it’s just a matter of time.

Chris: I concur. We see the talent everyday and the great companies doing everything in the ecosystem just coming down to time and we’ll see a lot of unicorns during that time.

Thank you to our panelists, I’m looking forward to watching the space change and grow in Toronto. I dont think any of us can wait to see who that unicorn company is, and when it all happens. Until then…

Written by Megan Vickell on behalf of Jeffery Potvin, Hardboot Communications Inc.