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Start-up Nation, eh?

Written on October 23rd, 2013

Is it just me or has Canada gone gaga over start-ups? I recently attended a couple of events for tech start-ups.

One was in Toronto and sponsored by the C100 organization (www.thec100.org)– a group founded by some ultra-successful Canuck tech entrepreneurs with deep connections to Silicon Valley, that want to help foster the next generation of tech superstars here in the great white north. How popular was the event? Well put it this way – it filled the former Maple Leaf Gardens!

Then last week, allured by the promise of beer, I travelled to Waterloo for “Techtoberfest” sponsored by the very successful hub/incubator/centre of excellence Communitech (www.communitech.ca) to spend a day and half listening to successful and budding start-ups from what is probably Canada’s nerd capital (an affectionate term around here). Again I was among hundreds in the audience enthralled by the presentations (even before the beer).

I also stopped by the University of Waterloo’s “Accelerator Centre”(www.acceleratorcentre.com) to get a tour of the large complex that houses and helps thirty or more high-potential start-ups. It already has at least as many companies that have “graduated” from the program including some very successful names.

And the start-up craze is not limited to Toronto or Waterloo. A recent trip around Vancouver showed us that Hootsuite and Ryan Holmes’ maple syrup mafia is spurring on an active start-up scene in lotus land as well.(http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/04/24/rise-of-the-maple-syrup-mafia)

Ottawa, once the hot bed of the last technology cycle, is far from dead, as we continue to see solid opportunities there. And I fondly recall the Newbridge affiliate program of the last century (geez that makes me sound old!) that produced some great successes. And in the Maritimes, the success of names like Radian6 (bought by Salesforce) is not going unnoticed by entrepreneurs either.

How important are start-ups to the economy and investors? I’m a bit biased because my two graduate engineering sons work for tech start-ups and heck, even I work for a start-up (albeit a Bay Street one). But recall that Blackberry, JDSU, Catamaran or CGI were all once fledgling start-ups.

What does all this mean for the start-up known as Difference Capital? While we are more an investor in later stage companies than start-ups, it does mean that the pipeline, the funnel, the infrastructure is coming into place for us to find many great investment opportunities over the next few years.

Now everyone please rise for the singing of the National Anthem.

Tom Astle, CFA, P.Eng, Head of Investment Strategy, Difference Capital

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