Toronto’s Tech Scene Advances: Block by Block
By many accounts, a block by block tech acceleration is occurring in Toronto, the most populous city in Canada. Bolstering this movement is the city’s rising prominence as a global hub and laboratory for Blockchain innovation.
With an estimated population of 6.2 million, this fourth largest in North America is blessed with a robust tech startup scene that’s spewing out a spate of new decentralized technologies. A number of factors have contributed to this surge including tax favorable laws for foreign investors, the fostering of creative hubs for startup entrepreneurs, and high profile companies like Ethereum which have established a favorable ecosystem for new startups to prosper.
Local government has also been a collaborative champion behind Toronto’s ascension and technological development, seeding creative growth through grants and financial assistance. The startup culture has also been the beneficiary of a growing cluster of not-for-profit incubators and accelerators. Among them, Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, the MaRS Discovery District, and nine accelerators fueled by the University of Toronto in collaboration with the Banting and Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (BBCIE).
This clustering of activity has been highly concentrated in Toronto’s bustling urban core, a move that comports with the views of prominent urban studies thought leader and fellow Toronto resident Richard Florida. As professor and head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and highly acclaimed author of the perennial bestselling book The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida has long championed the clustering of like minded-people, talent pools in targeted geographic locales – what he has dubbed “creative class” communities.
According to Florida, these demographic hotspots of groundbreaking and disruptive technologies foster highly specialized innovations like Blockchain technology, fueling economic development and prosperity for cities and regions like Toronto throughout the world.
Undergirding this expansion is Toronto’s young talent pool, replete with an abundance of linguistic and ethnic diversity. Entrepreneurs and investors are drawn to the strategic advantages of this geographic locale which is supported by a number of world-class higher education institutions in close proximity. Current Toronto Mayor John Tory has often referred to this as the next gold rush, a talent mine that he says, with focus and a measure of luck will be the asset that fuels Toronto’s economy of the future.
Says, Ameer Rosic, co-founder of the Toronto-based startup Blockgeeks,
“The reason for Blockchain tech rise in Toronto is simple. We have a growing multi-cultural startup scene where entrepreneurs are hungry – a factor that’s attracting more and more investors by the day.”
A Brief History
Anthony Di Iorio, CEO & Founder of Decentral and Ethereum Co-Founder, is seen as one of a number of keys figures in Toronto’s and Canada’s emergence as a hub for Blockchain innovation.
He launched the first Toronto Meetup in 2012, which fueled a connection with emerging Blockchain supporters Vitalik Buterin and Peter Todd. Buterin is known as a co-founder of both Ethereum and Bitcoin Magazine; Todd, a well-known Decentralized Consensus Consultant, and Bitcoin Core Developer.
Next was the formation of another element of the local ecosystem, the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada, a nonprofit involved in driving Bitcoin awareness and adoption throughout Canada.
Di Iorio’s firm Decentral, located in downtown Toronto, has emerged as a global leader in disruptive and decentralized technologies, providing blockchain, fintech and software development consulting services. In 2013, Di Iorio and his team released the Bitcoin Chrome wallet extension, KryptoKit, along with co-founding Ethereum with Buterin and a host of other collaborators during the summer of 2014.
Di Iorio has also been serving as the chief digital officer of the Toronto Stock Exchange. He also has spearheaded the Blockchain World Expo, held in Toronto in collaboration with Decentral and Ethereum Canada.
The Ethereum project, in particular, has brought major media attention to Toronto’s rise as an epicenter of Blockchain innovation. In 2016 it achieved the distinction of passing the billion dollar market cap for the first time along with the advancement of non-financial applications and Ethereum-centric initiatives.
Today, Toronto boasts a growing community of early stage and emerging Blockchain related startups. Here are just a few, by no means exhaustive list of key figures in this movement.
- Matthew Spoke, CEO of NuCo (Formerly ran Deloitte Rubix, the biggest blockchain implementation at Deloitte, out of Toronto)
- Dino Mark – One of the most active leaders in the ethereum space.
- Joseph Lubin – CEO of Consensys – he’s a Toronto-born guy. Toronto is the second largest office for them after NYC
- Adnan Ali, CEO of CGblockchain, a firm that enables asset managers to record transactions onto their private blockchain and maintain a tamper-proof data trail.
Toronto is also home to two authors who have written arguably the most prominent books on the Blockchain: The Business Blockchain by William Mougayar and The Blockchain Revolution by Don and Alex Tapscott.
Weinberg Shares About Toronto
Joseph Weinberg, CEO of Paycase, a Toronto-based mobile-first remittance startup that leverages bitcoin and blockchain technology to send money around the world faster, says Toronto has many intricacies that come together to create an environment for Blockchain tech to flourish.
“I would say that our banking system has played tremendously to this. Unlike our U.S. neighbors, we have six banks, not hundreds allowing us the capacity to engage quickly and at a deeper level together.”
Continues Weinberg: “This is a weird comment, but I think all of this plays upon the larger cultural significance of Canadians as a whole. We view one another less from a cut throat, competitive, winner takes all perspective, to really being friendly, and collaborative. It’s a different cultural form of aggression, but it is profoundly important to the early making of ecosystems and industries.”
He says that a great example of this was a comment his friend Jaron Lukasiewicz (former CEO of Coinsetter) made when he was acquiring CAVirtex (Canada’s oldest BTC exchange). “He noticed that competitors in Canada (exchanges in his case) were constantly asking to meet him and create relationships. To him, this was weird of course, because U.S.-based exchanges would never really do that.”
Weinberg believes that this really speaks to the cultural impact Canadians in terms of seeing collaboration as the best form of success (not to say that Canadian’s don’t compete as well.) “When you are creating new industries, it is the coherence and collaboration of the people involved that can make or break that new movement. People tend to mistake the natural order of the world being competitive, when in actuality, it is largely based on cooperation. We in Canada, and specifically in Toronto, work together as we realize we are only stronger in numbers.”
This mindset says Weinberg even evident with the prevailing financial industry “We don’t see the banks as threats, but as our friends in opportunity. I think they see us that way as well. We see the cooperative nature of our regulatory and financial system as a great guide to how we build our technology and our networks in Toronto, and around the world.”
“Our regulators even call on us for help and guidance which I think is a very unique and positive political environment as well. Instead of dropping down the malice of regulation right off the bat, our regulators and government, request that we help them learn what is really going on. They do not regulate first, then learn later, but learn first, and take action based on knowledge – this is critical as it has provided us the environment we need as innovators in our city and country to actually do our jobs.”
Weinberg concludes that this sort of collaborative environment provides a great deal of comfort to Toronto’s growing troupe of entrepreneurs like himself, which he believes is important.
“The collaborative nature of innovators, financial institutions, and government, is the recipe that has really led to Toronto and Canada, being a magnet for blockchain innovation around the world. To know that you are allowed to operate and continue to innovate with the support of the massive structures in your country behind you is pivotal to the success of a growing ecosystem.”