When visiting new cities I always enjoy checking out the startup hubs and see what I can learn from them. In this case I made a special trip to Toronto just to check out what I had heard was the most lively startup environment in Canada. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet up with all the key people and places in the Toronto area but here are some that I was able to meet up with and my thoughts.

MaRS
I was very much impressed when I first walked into the MaRS facilities as they are huge compared to other startup centers I have been to. It is literally three buildings connected together and each one with dozens of floors and I think there are 100+ companies there. I was looking forward to knocking on AirBnB‘s door at MaRS to give them fair warning that my company (Bungalo) would soon be taking over the vacation rental market. But unfortunately there wasn’t anybody in their office while I was there, hopefully I will get a chance to meet up with them later 🙂

Salim the CEO of MaRS took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me and tell me all about the services at MaRS and it was very impressive. My first thoughts were that I had to get an office there someday but then I came there a few days later on a sunday and there was nobody there and most of the doors locked. I then realized that this is more of a 9-5 office space rather than a highly energetic 24-7 startup space. Without a doubt I’m sure this is one of the better places for well established startups with employees that work 9-5 but it isn’t really for a crazy entrepreholic like me. Maybe in a couple of years I might have an office there but not in my current status.

Communitech

I then took the bus to Kitchener and visited the startup hub that I had heard mentioned most often since my arrival in Canada, Communitech. Communitech is located in the Kitchener/Waterloo area and what I found interesting is that they have built up an extremely active scene there in an area with a population of only 500,000. Although Toronto with a population of 5 million plus is only an hours drive away.

I really liked Communitech, it was a very lively place and there was always something going on there and although the open space closed at 5pm there were many entrepreneurs working long into the night. Also the fact that in the same building is a bar, café and a pizza place should make it easier to work long hours without having to leave the office. There were also large companies located there such as Google and Desire2learn although I didn’t get a chance to meet up with them.

Chris Kolmatycki from Fundmetrics was a great host and he introduced me to all the great people there. I also got a chance to meet up with Iain Klugman who is the man behind Communitech and he was very humble saying that Communitech had a head start on many other communities since they have been at it for 18 years but what ever the reason the results are good.

StartupCamp15

While in Kitchener I sent out a message on Twitter asking if anybody wanted to meet up while I was in town and Jesse from BoltMade answered and invited me to the StartupCamp15 meetup. After looking for the place for about 10 minutes I finally found it and found myself in a very cool meetup with early stage startups. Those small meetups are often fun and give you a perspective on the startup scene that you can’t get anywhere else.

DMZ Ryerson
The Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University is something I knew nothing about but since I had a saturday in Toronto without plans I thought i would check it out. It took me probably an hour to find it as the details I found on the website were limited and it located in a chaotic location, right on one of the busiest squares in Toronto. It probably would have helped if I would have called ahead of myself but that’s not my style, I just walked into the office and said “Hi, I am from Iceland, can you tell me about DMZ?”, not sure what they thought of me but Kirstyn the person that welcomed me was very nice and was willing to show me the office even though there was a social entrepreneurship event going on.

DMZ has 5 floors in this very well located building in Toronto and seems like a lively place but I couldn’t really figure out the culture or the atmosphere of the office because of the event that was going on. But there didn’t seem to be too many people working on this saturday in the rest of the office and I also got the feeling it was a bit of a student office, even though I was told that half of the companies were not associated with the university.

There are still more places and people who I would love to meet up with and hopefully I will get a chance to do so next time I am in town. I am also looking forward to visiting all the above places again sometime later as there is no way to figure out how things work in just a few days. But what I can say after my few days in the area is this…

MaRS, Communitech and the Toronto startup scene are active and happening places for founders.