With support from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada — specifically Ontario and Quebec — is having a Silicon Valley type of moment: The country’s $50 billion technology industry is growing at a 10 percent clip, with Toronto experiencing tech-related revenue growth of 50 percent, according to trade officials.
The growth includes start-ups and well-established firms setting up shop. With government support, companies and investors are using playbooks such as the “smart cities” template to help accelerate the growth. And the tech boom is occurring across several market sectors including health care/medical, IT, hardware and a variety of software platforms serving the e-commerce, marketing and communications industries.
To learn about Toronto’s “Smart Cities” efforts from the city’s regional board on trade, click here for a report.
From a consumer spending perspective, tech jobs tend to pay higher wages, which can boost local economies — especially over the long-term. And Toronto, the country’s largest city, is seen as the mothership of Canada’s tech boom.
According to a report from BlueHat Marketing, which specializes in digital marketing and is based in the city, 30 percent of all IT call Toronto home, “and that number doesn’t show signs of slowing down.”
“The companies planting roots here go beyond domestic, too. The five largest international tech companies call this city home: IBM Canada, Microsoft Canada, Google Canada, HP Canada and Cisco Canada,” it noted.
Earlier this year, Uber said it was moving to Toronto to build a driverless car research center. And Google parent Alphabet Inc. said it was eyeing the city’s waterfront area to create a 12-acre “high-tech” district.
Some notable Canadian tech start-ups that have been elevated to rock-star status include: Kik Interactive (an anonymous messaging app used by 40 percent of U.S. teens and is positioned as the WeChat of the west); League Inc., which is a platform solution serving the health-care industry, and Hubba, which is an online platform designed for retailers to get detailed information about products.
Further east, Quebec has also emerged as a key technology center. And many firms there specialize in retail and fashion apparel. Lightspeed, based in Montreal, offers point-of-sale solutions for retailers and restaurateurs.
Lightspeed provides solutions for more than 45,000 customers across 101 countries. Its clients have witnessed a 20 percent increase in sales after one year of employing a Lightspeed product and collectively professed a 98 percent satisfaction rate. Among Lightspeed’s solution suite for retailers is its omnichannel e-commerce solution that launched in 2016, which merges brick-and-mortar and online stores with an integrated e-commerce and point-of-sale platform. The firm celebrated its 12th anniversary earlier this year.
Seen as a “start-up city,” Montreal plays a key role in retail technology. Dax Dasilva, the founder of Lightspeed, told WWD, “The real strengths of Montreal are culture, diversity and creativity. It’s a very art-friendly city. For [anyone] working in the arts, it’s one of the few cities where you can work as a full-time artist. I think where you see creativity, you see great technology.” He added, “We’re known around the world for creativity.”
The start-up atmosphere of Montreal is largely due to its immediate access to higher education, which includes six universities and 12 junior colleges within or near the city proper. Many graduates opt to reside in Montreal and enter start-ups because of the city’s low cost for initiating new businesses, funding from the government, and a supportive ecosystem, according to Lightspeed.
Montreal’s savoir-faire gave the city a leg up in adopting and developing emerging technologies, particularly artificial intelligence, or AI. “We have a big head start in Canada in AI because of what’s happening in the universities,” Dasilva said. “Machine learning could be something that is yet another area where Montreal shows it’s ahead of the curve. We’re seeing a lot of stuff spring up that has an AI spin in [different] industries and it’s really helping the start-ups here differentiate themselves. I know it’s going to be something really important for Lightspeed as we evolve our analytics package,” Dasilva told WWD.
The province of Quebec added almost 86,000 full-time jobs in 2016, which exceeded job acceleration in all nine provinces of Canada combined. A significant number of jobs in Montreal are within the tech sector or part what’s dubbed Canada’s “creative commerce economy.” Accordingly, Montreal received the highest amount of foreign investments in all of Canada in 2016, totaling to $1.3 billion. “There’s [definitely] a recognition that your investment can go much further here,” Dasilva said.
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