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It doesn’t take predictive technology to get a good picture of where Toronto is heading in its drive to become the Silicon Valley of the North. The trends are in place and specific developments underway that are speeding the region’s transformation. In a decade, maybe less, we’ll be there.

Toronto boasts a robust ecosystem that’s keeping the city and region healthy:  With major educational centers and incubators, improved access to funding and an attractive regulatory environment, there’s a solid base for growth. Indeed, tech jobs in the region have expanded by 14.6 percent since 2012 to 400,000, twice the pace of the rest of Canada. By 2020, some 20,000 more tech jobs are expected to be added, according to a report by Tech Toronto.

It’s now transitioning “from a startup hub to a globally competitive centre of innovation, where companies are born and can scale effectively,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory. “We are the keystone of Canada’s knowledge economy, and have the right ingredients for success, including exceptional talent, access to capital, and support services.”

Some of the barriers that have stymied that transition in the past are being addressed. A major one: The geographic fragmentation of Toronto’s tech ecosystem, which makes it a challenge to get to and from outposts in the region. Said John Ruffolo, CEO of the venture capital wing of the Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement System: “A key ingredient is the physicality of people and ideas colliding with each other serendipitously. The next evolution is to connect the two dots.”

By 2025, that will be addressed when construction is completed of the first phase of the high-speed rail corridor connecting Toronto to the tech outposts of London and Kitchener-Waterloo, and ultimately, Windsor.

The project was announced last month by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

It’s one of several major developments that will positively impact Toronto’s tech community, said Jonmichael Moy, who has worked in both Silicon Valley and Toronto and who now works as a tech executive in the latter city. “This great level of physical connectivity will go a long way toward making the wider tech community more cohesive,” he said.

Another factor influencing Toronto’s evolution today and tomorrow is the migration of top-notch talent. “We are one of the top global tech cities for our welcoming environment,” said Moy, “and the comparative cost of living, our culture and overall livability account for that.

Jonmichael Moy added: “But the U.S. elections and America’s growing insularity are already being felt here. Our inclusiveness and friendlier, merit-based immigration policies are attracting the best and the brightest from every country. It can only enrich and expand our community when all these creative minds are brought together in one place.”

Indeed, applications to the University of Toronto by American students have skyrocketed by 80 percent already this year. But, other minds, besides American ones, are shaping the tech community and its future: By far, the biggest source of immigrants to Canada is China (19,512 in 2015), followed by Iran (11,665; Toronto represents 60 percent of the total Iranian Canadian population) and Pakistan (11,320).

And interestingly enough, Moy noted, Canada is actively trying to lure techie expats like he once was from Silicon Valley back to Toronto. “It’s a group that has acquired skills, expertise and a strong network of contacts in the U.S.,” he said. “It makes perfect sense to attract these executives back to Canada, so they can infuse all that talent in the tech community here.”

Finally, Toronto’s tech economy is evolving toward a more diverse mix of businesses. While the city’s known for having a strong startup community, that belies its attraction to some of the big players, too. Further, having a wealth of small companies attracts the investments that will ultimately support their growth into big businesses.

For an idea of how that might play out in a decade, look no further than the MaRS public/private tech campus near the University of Toronto, where big tech names like Facebook and Paypal rub shoulders with some 200 startups in various stages of development.


 
 
 

 
 

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