As North America's fourth-largest city, Toronto is one of the world's top startup ecosystems.
After spawning companies like Eventbrite and Crowdmark, Ontario's capital has attracted international talent that complements its homegrown population of entrepreneurs and technical talent.
Six investors we surveyed who work and live in the area said they believe Toronto will continue to thrive after the COVID-19 storm passes. Some of them focus exclusively on the region, while others invest elsewhere as well. As they explained, the city has a lot going for it: It's diverse, has access to locally trained engineering and business workers, and the area has already fostered many companies that are doing very well.
Investors expect Toronto to remain a fintech hub
Fintech is one of the city's top industries, and the investors in this survey expect this to continue. Stephanie Choo, head of investments at Portag3 Ventures, said “fintech continues to see massive tailwinds from the fallout from COVID-19 as incumbents struggle to fully digitize their offerings.”
Ameet Shah of Golden Ventures listed fintech as one of Toronto's key industries. Eva Lau of Two Small Fish Ventures agreed, adding that “blockchain has also been doing well because many blockchain-related technologies or companies were started in Toronto.”
Other investors point to fintech business leaders in Toronto like CEOs Mike Katchen of Wealthsimple, Daniel Eberhard of Koho, Andrew D’Souza and Michele Romanow of Clearbanc and Kirk Simpson of Wave Financial.
Diversity is one of Toronto's strengths
Nearly all of the surveyed investors cited diversity as a key reason to live and work in Toronto. Probal Lala, chairman of Maple Leaf Angels, says, “Beyond having a vibrant technology ecosystem, Toronto has one of the most diverse communities in North America and is not only a great place to find the intellectual horsepower and funding to build a great global startup, but also the mosaic of social communities that makes it a great place to live and raise a family.”
Choo said the United States' current battles over immigration could benefit Canada. “Small, nimble teams that need to move fast may still choose to co-locate in person — and many will still want access to amenities that only a large, vibrant and diverse city like Toronto can offer.”
She also pointed to Toronto's claim of being one of the most diverse cities in the world. “[This] not only makes the city interesting but also very welcoming for those who relocate from elsewhere; a strong startup and tech scene, and, lastly, a vibrant cultural and food scene, especially through the lens of cost-of-living compared to comparable major cities.”
Shopify's executives are key players in Toronto's ecosystem
Several VCs listed Shopify executives as local leaders, while others acknowledged the growing unicorn's impact. Ameet Shah of Golden Ventures says, “Toronto has traditionally been strong in fintech, B2B SaaS, crypto and AI. The explosion of Shopify should also benefit companies focused on e-commerce and supply chain solutions.”
Adam McNamara and Ameet Shah, when asked about local business leaders, both listed Satish Kanwar. Kanwar is GM and VP of Product at Shopify after the company purchased Jet Cooper, a startup co-founded by Kanwar. McNamara also points to Farhan Thawar, Shopify's VP of Engineering, as a local leader.
Who we spoke to:
- Probal Lala, chairman, Maple Leaf Angels Capital Corporation
- Stephanie Choo, head of investments, Portag3 Ventures
- Adam McNamara, founding partner, Ramen VC
- Ameet Shah, partner, Golden Ventures
- Matt Golden, founder and managing partner, mGolden Ventures
- Eva Lau, founding partner, Two Small Fish Ventures
Probal Lala, Maple Leaf Angels Capital Corporation
How much is local investing even a focus for you now? If you are investing remotely in general now, are you filtering for local founders?
Prior to COVID-19 hitting, a requirement for the majority of my investments was a face-to-face visit with the founding team. For the most part, this meant founders spending time in Toronto. As we primarily invest in seed and pre-seed, this usually meant local founders.
When the pandemic hit, we shifted our process to primarily Zoom meetings (including due diligence) and as a result the mix of founding teams has expanded beyond our typical catchment area (two-hour drive from the city) to a broader base. Investment cycles appear to have slowed a bit due to the remote approach but our reach to founding teams has expanded to a broader base of geographically distributed founding teams (Mostly Canadian although we have recently seen a number of international opportunities).