We can’t overstate how proud we are that CityFALCON won the Next Big Idea in FinTech competition. For the honour, we got to travel to Ontario to get acquainted with the FinTech ecosystem there and learn more about startup culture in Ontario.
Michael Chan (Ontario’s International Trade Minister), Sheldon Levy (President of Ryerson University), Owen Lawrence (RBS) and Eric Van der Kleij (Level39) welcomed Ruzbeh Bacha to Toronto.
More than a week has passed since our trip, and we feel that we are now in a place to reflect on it. However, please note that our assessment is based on just a 15 days trip and limited interaction with people in Ontario.
The contest was held by Ryerson University’s DMZ in association with the Ontario Government and UK-based Level39. Being selected as the winner was an encouraging step for our business, and the reception we received reaffirmed our position that Canada is one of the friendliest sites in the West. Also, a big thank you to Danielle Smith who planned and managed my itinerary, and connected me to every person and company that I wanted to meet with.
Going around in Toronto and Waterloo
After arriving to the DMZ in Toronto, one of our first trips was to Communitech in Waterloo, an innovation centre for tech companies, where we got a chance to hear Steve Blank speak about startups and his views on the startup ecosystem in Canada. Any chance to hear from a seasoned entrepreneur is valuable. It was also a beneficial for us to see the great environment that the University of Waterloo created to support new ideas from students, to assist budding entrepreneurs and bridge the gap in relationships between the industry and start-ups.
Start-up pitching competition at Communitech
From there we met with Ryerson Futures. This meeting was important to us because it helped paint a picture of the connectivity that exists in the Toronto startup ecosystem. Ryerson Futures, an accelerator associated with the DMZ, works with seed investors, Ryerson students, and startups at large in order to enable innovators to create and work with effective mentorship and opportunity.
Meetings and networking with companies
Throughout the trip we had many meetings with interesting and relevant people, including potential partners and investors. This meant getting to speak to people from Thomson Reuters, Scotia Bank, TD, BayStreet Labs, various legal and accounting firms, Toronto Financial Services Alliance, WealthSimple, and an array of DMZ mentors. To elaborate on every interaction could fill many volumes, so we’ll just say here that each meeting helped gain understanding of the FinTech and startup culture in Ontario, and was extremely helpful to us.
One of the most inspiring parts of the trip for me was our stop at MaRS, a non-profit corporation in Toronto, aimed to commercialize publicly funded medical research and other technologies with the help of local private enterprises, and as such being a public-private partnership. First, I was astounded by the space. The massive area acted like an agora for free flowing and innovative ideas. Second, the concept of startups and large companies being in the same space is a fantastic idea. This is a strategy that fosters innovation and allows established industry professionals and new startups to share space and ideas.
Similarities between London and Ontario
During the trip, we couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the London and Ontario ecosystems. Based on our discussions and meetings, investors seem very risk-averse and focused on revenue and user traction and don’t necessary give credit to a product, the technology, or the team that’s building these things. In both places, we observed startups struggling to scale up their business due to lack of funding.
Differences between London and Ontario
Noting the similarities, we also found some important differences. The DMZ is a well-staffed incubator and has a business development team that proactively finds opportunities for startups. In the UK, most of the accelerators and incubators are understaffed, and there is not enough proactive support.
Another difference was the proximity of industry players to startups. In Toronto, we saw companies with spaces in Communitech, MaRs, and other places where startups also set up shop. This allows startups to simply walk over and build relationships with potential clients and partners. This seems to be a more effective way to build relationships, rather than following the who-do-I-know-on-Linkedin route.
Winning this competition and the resulting experience has been an absolute thrill. Partially because of the relationships we were able to build on this trip, Toronto will be one of the first markets that CityFALCON will expand into when the time is right. We’ll be looking to start with a sales office to help us serve several FinTech startups and other financial institutions. We know now that when we look to hire quality talent, there is a lot available in Toronto at a reasonable price. All that we’ve earned on the trip, plus the other advantages of Toronto, like proximity to New York, gave us a tantalizing view of the things to come in the future.
After coming back to London, I do miss a few things from Toronto – Tim Hortons coffee, all-you-can-eat sushi places at reasonable prices, the friendly culture of the city and of course the welcoming staff at the DMZ.
As a token of appreciation to Toronto, and the DMZ, we have dedicated the CityFALCON homepage to this fantastic city.
Our send-off at the DMZ