Lightning in a bottle | What True North means for Waterloo Region


ONE may not be a familiar acronym to many, explaining why the expert review panel suggests renaming it as Innovation Ontario. Here we explore the intersection of the strands of tech debate and activities in the Toronto-Kitchener-Waterloo corridor. There is a spirit of optimism with Toronto Health Innovation Week, True North and Velocity 10-year anniversary, yet both the Building Global Winners report and the poignant book How We Can Win point squarely to the paramount need to gain global reach.

Steven Woods, Senior Director Engineering at Google Canada described “What we have, up here in the North, is lightning in a bottle.” He said that Google “recognized there was something special happening up here – the entrepreneurialism, the quality of higher education and the loyalty of the talented engineers who just want to do good work.” In the 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem ranking the newly combined Toronto-Waterloo corridor entity ranked 16th. The Region of Waterloo tech sector employes 30,000 people.

“Culturally, startups are to this generation what rock bands were to baby boomers; a creative outlet with social cachet.”

True North


#TrueNorth18 is a ground-breaking international conference that will provide a forum for critical conversations about issues at the intersection of society and technology. It will focus on how to re-imagine and reaffirm tech as a force for good in the world. Some 2,000 guests and 40 international speakers are expected at the event hosted at Lot42 Global Flex Complex on May 29-31st.

“True North is Communitech’s next evolutionary step. We know that technology on its own doesn’t solve problems—passionate people do,” said Iain Klugman, CEO, Communitech. “This event will bring together hackers, hustlers, influencers and policymakers for crucial conversations about the future of tech being used for good in the world.”

True North powered by Communitech promises to be a festival and showcase of all that the Waterloo Region has to offer. It is a wonderful complement to the terrific Google Canada 2017 Go North publication, noted above. We love this True North video interviewing female entrepreneurs about diversity in tech. We agree that it helps fuel the conversation.


10 Years of Igniting the Entrepreneurial Spirit

True North, resonates, Waterloo Region, Velocity Garage, Communitech, Medtech, Opencity Inc., healthcare innovation

“Community is at the heart of Canada’s startup ecosystem. It is incredible to see such broad support among our entrepreneurs, who have a pure desire to solve big problems and build profitable businesses along the way.” described Jay Shah, Director of Velocity in the Go North publication.

All this coincides with the fantastic 10-year anniversary of Velocity Garage, which is noted as the world’s largest free startup incubator. Velocity provides the knowledge, tools, space and network that startups and entrepreneurs need for success. Read our original post Rise of Waterloo MedTech ecosystem. 

66% survival rate over 4 years (versus 48% average startup survival rate: source Kauffman Foundation.

Quote from Ryan Holmes, CEO & Co-founder of Hootsuite shown in Google Canada Go North publication

Building Global Winners – ONE report

The Expert Review Panel assessed the effectiveness and appropriateness of the strategy, governance and programs associated with the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE). Particular emphasis was focused on the Regional Innovation Centres such as Communitech and MaRS Discovery District.

“The report concludes that while the ONE has many positives, there is a need to modify its structure and approach to innovation in order to set the stage for continued growth. The key themes addressed include a need to focus on ‘global reach’ for Ontario technology firms, and on centralization and specialization of ONE members and their clients.”

  • Ontario companies lack global reach, with only a small fraction of small-and-medium-sized enterprises becoming strong exporters.
  • The percentage of small businesses that grow into mid-sized ones has continued to fall since 2001
  • Ontario startups have a poor record of graduating from incubators to stand alone in the marketplace

“The demand for the ONE’s services speaks to the emergence of a culture in the province that values business creativity and an appetite for risk that is vital to Ontario remaining an economic force in the 21stcentury.”

The Expert Panel made 10 recommendations centred around two themes.

Strategic focus on going global

  • Recommendation 1 – Focus the network’s strategic goal on going global.
  • Recommendation 2 – Develop greater international reach by creating new programs that connect Ontario entrepreneurs to the nexus of global knowledge and markets from the earliest stages of their development.
  • Recommendation 3 – Increase government spending, while targeting a greater weight of those resources on sectors where Ontario has a competitive advantage.
  • Recommendation 4 – Ensure firms can get expertise from the best mentors and business leaders wherever they are in the province.
  • Recommendation 5 – Improve the assessment mechanism of new and existing programs and clients – and we willing to let go of those not meetings expectations off the network.

Centralize & Specialize

  • Recommendation 6 – The network needs central direction and management from inside the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science to ensure resources are focused on priority sectors and technologies.
  • Recommendation 7 – The ONE brand should be renamed (perhaps as innovation Ontario) to increase its profile and improve clarity among clients about its mission and the services it offers.
  • Recommendation 8 – An advisory body should be established to offer expert advice to the Minister on the network’s innovation priorities.
  • Recommendation 9 – Address the shortfall of investment capital through action on the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund.
  • Recommendation 10 – The RICs should be grouped (and some renamed) in three categories based on roles and responsibilities.

How We Can Win

A spot-on read. Highly relevant, timely and insightful.

“To rebrand Canada as a place where innovation and entrepreneurship thrive, we need to be aware of our history as well as our present-day strengths. To believe we can innovate, we need role models, from the past and from the present. And we also need to make it possible for innovation to thrive in every corner of the country.”

How We Can Win: And What Happens to Us and Our Country If We Don’t is a timely book by Anthony Lacavera and Kate Fillion. We rank it as one of the best reads in the last six months. If you haven’t read it yet and you care about tech startups in Canada, you really should.

What to attend, read and share

      1. Register now to attend True North powered by Communitech #TrueNorth18
      2. Read the Building Global Winners – Expert Review Panel Report.
      3. Check out our 7 Toronto Health Innovation Week reads
      4. Explore our Patients Included video summary of Toronto Health Innovation Week
      5. Scan through a copy of Go North – the terrific 2017 publication from Google Canada.

      Initiatives such as #TrueNorth18 have the capacity to apply many of the recommendations from the Building Global Winners expert review panel report.

      “When ‘made in Canada‘ synchs with our strengths and what we really stand for internationally, it will be an incredibly powerful brand-if we open our markets, and our minds, to competition and if all of us are looking around for opportunities to do things a little better and a little differently than anyone else does,” write the authors of How We Can Win.

      Hacking Health is an international movement designed to improve healthcare by inviting technology creators and healthcare professionals to collaborate on realistic, human-centric solutions to front-line problems.


      Images courtesy of Communitech.