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Canada’s Startup Capital: Waterloo Region

Last week I had the privilege of attending Communitech’s Tech Leadership conference for Waterloo Region (Waterloo hereafter) where the atmosphere can only be described as vibrant and bubbling with tech startups.  Waterloo (for those that don’t know), is an area in Southern Ontario, Canada with a population of 500,000+.  Surrounded by farmland for the most part, it is home to some stellar academic institutions that rival MIT and Stanford and a startup community that is making some serious waves.  So how can such an area be Canada’s startup capital?  Here are 5 reasons courtesy of my conference participation: 

  1. According to Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech, there were 405 net new startups in the Waterloo region last year AND we’re looking to exceed this number for 2013 given current monthly net new startup rates.  Waterloo even showed up for the first time in the Startup Genome ranks last year.  Making this list is quite the accomplishment given Waterloo isn’t anywhere close in population size to any of the other heavy hitters.
  2. Thorsten Heinz, CEO of BlackBerry pointed out that it’s not where you live, it’s what you find where you live.  For BlackBerry, he has found a region of talent that continues to relentlessly push innovation and evolve smartphones into mobile computers.
  3. Patrick Pichette, SVP and CFO of Google Inc. explained that Google chose Waterloo to situate a key office because frankly they were running out of talent in Mountain View, California.  They purposely scouted locations that had the highest bar set for computer science and that fit culturally with Google.  Waterloo was a shoe-in.  Trivia note – did you know that Google’s gmail for iOS, Chrome’s touchscreen, and Google Fiber UI work is all being done out of Waterloo? 
  4. Perhaps the best current testament to our startup region is the BufferBox story.  BufferBox went from a University of Waterloo (uWaterloo) engineering project to a full-fledged startup to being bought by Google in 18 months.  Bootstrapped by pitch competitions, local Canadian government, and uWaterloo’s VeloCity program, BufferBox was incubated locally and then accelerated by Palo Alto startup program Y Combinator (that has seen the likes of Reddit, Dropbox, and Scribd just to name a few).  As Mike McCauley, co-founder of BufferBox highlighted, Waterloo has a solid reputation in Silicon Valley.  Of additional note – instead of staying in Silicon Valley, BufferBox chose to come back to Waterloo to work out of Google Waterloo’s office.
  5. BufferBox isn’t the only newest local startup hero.  Vidyard, Pebble, and ThalmicLabs have also popped up out of Waterloo.  Venture Capital firms like Sequoia Capital have also taken notice, and instead of waiting for our startups to go to California for seed money, they’re starting to come here. 

“Something is going on in Waterloo” Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator has been quoted as saying.  He’s not the only one that has noticed.  SAP held its first startup forum outside of Palo Alto here at its SAP Waterloo labs, turning to Canada’s most innovative startups and universities to take SAP HANA to its limits.  This Wednesday March 13th, SAP Waterloo Labs will be hosting Ontario’s first DKOM and co-innovation will be a central focus topic discussed.  I, for one, cannot think of a better source for co-innovation inspiration than all of this great startup activity happening in our own backyard!

Innovate On! Waterloo —   

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