A Tale of Two Startup Superclusters

A Tale of Two Startup Superclusters

Andrew Currier, P.Eng., BSEE, LBB & Damian Rolfe, B.A.Sc.

Why is it that worldwide rankings of startup hubs group together a handful of population centres in Silicon Valley amounting to almost 7.5 million people, but Waterloo and Toronto, with only 124,600 and 5.8 million people respectively, and with equally as much mixing of talent between them, are always ranked separately and pitted against each other as competitors? [1] It is true that the two Canadian startup hot spots have had a history of healthy competition between them for a time, but the time has come to recognize the 401 as the Innovation Highway that links – rather than divides – the regional innovation centre. Palo Alto is not pitted against San Jose. Waterloo should not be pitted against Toronto either. The two regions should take advantage of the opportunity to foster growth and collaboration between some of the best innovative minds in the country together for mutual benefit.

Despite some valiant efforts, the lingering sense of competition has been hard to shake. Toronto and Waterloo are ranked separately on every startup ranking that lists them.  Even the oft-cited Startup Genome Ecosystem Report of 2012, which ranks Toronto and Waterloo as being the 8th and 16th top startup hubs in the world respectively, could not help but play on the sense of competition between the two cities, citing the risk that Toronto might steal away Waterloo’s talent as one of its top concerns. [2] But leading minds in the startup space are ditching old feuds and coming to recognize the benefits to be gained by promoting collaboration over rivalry.

Startup incubators and investor groups alike are already embracing this shift. As Janet Bannister of the Montreal venture capital fund Real Ventures put it in a 2014 interview, Toronto and Waterloo “both have separate strengths; they’ll be stronger together.” [3] She was right – and the ties between the two cities have been growing ever since into a sort of startup supercluster. [4]

Kitchener-Waterloo’s startup hub Communitech, along with Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone and OneEleven, recently announced an agreement that would allow member companies access to one other’s facilities and services. [5] According to OMERS Ventures CEO John Ruffolo, the creator of the data-driven Toronto startup hub OneEleven, “the corridor between Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto accounts for 50-60% of all the innovation activity happening in this country.” In another interview, Chris Plunkett, director of external relations for Communitech commented on the growing partnership within the region. “Maybe at one point there was more of a competitive nature, now it’s more, ’hey look, we’re both taking on the world, how can we help each other do that better?’” [6] Funding of companies in both regions is becoming less segregated as well with many investors diversifying their portfolios in both the regions. Of all the startups that received funding from the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, 15 of the startups were headed in Kitchener-Waterloo.[7]

Toronto and Waterloo are producing some of the most innovative new companies of the future. Fostering talent in both regions and bringing great ideas and great minds together can only work to our mutual benefit and ability to tackle the world scene. Geography should be no object.



[1] Statistics reported from Startup Genome, Startup Ecosystem Report 2012, online: <http://www.investtoronto.ca/InvestAssets/PDF/Reports/Startup-Ecosystem-Report-2012.pdf >.

[2] Ibid at p 96.

[3] Samantha Clark, “Waterloo Region, Toronto Tech Come Together at Series 401” Communitech News (24 November 2014), online: Communitech <http://news.communitech.ca>.

[4] David Friend, “How Ontario’s tech sector is hoping to mimic Silicon Valley for growth” (5 May 2014), online: Financial Post <http://business.financialpost.com>.

[5] Techvibes NewsDesk, “Innovation Highway gets Stronger with Toronto-Waterloo Partnership” (21 January 2015), online: Techvibes <http://www.techvibes.com>.

[6] Jared Lindzon, “Communitech, Ryerson DMZ and OneEleven announce partnership” (22 January 2015), online: <http://www.theglobeandmail.com>.

[7] MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund Portfolio, online: <http://iaf.marsdd.com/portfolio>.


Andrew Currier is the co-founder of PCK (www.pckip.com; @pckip) a combined firm of patent and trademark agents and lawyers, and Andrew is the co-author of “Canadian Patent Law”, the leading legal text on patent law in Canada.

Damian Rolfe is a law student at the University of Toronto and is commencing his articles at PCK in 2015.