Even casual readers of this blog will likely know we are great fans of the good work done from the Kitchener-Waterloo region by Communitech. I am writing this post from the Communitech Hub and have to admit this week marks my first visit.
Our Francis Moran is of course a frequent visitor. While I have in the past had the opportunity to interview Communitech CEO Iain Klugman and Tim Jackson from the region’s Accelerator Centre, and work with the team at Communitech’s national arm, the Canadian Digital Media Network, I had not yet made the trek myself.
It also marks my first visit to a regional economic development agency outside Ottawa. Kitchener-Waterloo is not characterized by the shadow of big government as Ottawa is, but the linkages between industry, academia and government are obvious from the outset.
Walking down the street, I was struck by the profound significance of seeing on the side of the same building, alongside Communitech’s, the logos for Google, a multinational tech titan that needs no introduction, and local company Desire2Learn, which last year bagged the single largest first round of venture capital ever by a Canadian software play (largely from a U.S. investor). These two companies alone house upwards of 1,000 people in the complex.
Inside Communitech’s halls the brand parade continues. BlackBerry is here, providing an easy point of entry for anyone who wants to engage with the company. Next door is Canadian Tire, another of Communitech’s eight strategic partners, which is here to strengthen its e-commerce, user experience and mobile technologies in response to the competitive threat posed by the likes of Wal-Mart and Target. Several major Canadian financial institutions, including big banks and insurers, have set up shop here as they realize they are falling behind in the race to keep up with the always-connected mobile consumer.
In addition, there are about 580 current active startups that have worked with Communitech in some capacity over the past six months, and almost 1,000 to date. Of that 580, about 150 are from Kitchener-Waterloo, another 100 are from Toronto and the remainder are from elsewhere across Canada and abroad.
And there are also representatives on site from relevant government agencies and programs, such as IRAP and BDC, along with two university incubators and a later-stage incubator, in addition to the HYPERDRIVE program, which is about to welcome its third cohort.
Lastly, there is Erisvaldo Gadelha Saraiva Junior, the young executive director of Brazilian startup Yupi Studios. He’s in town for 10 days to build his network and sponge up as much information as he can to take home and apply to his growing business. He’s why I’m here, as his shadow to document his visit to Canada in a series of blog posts. He secured the opportunity after Yupi Studios was chosen as Best Startup at the inaugural Brazil-Canada 3.0 conference last December.
“What we are today isn’t what we envisioned three years ago, even two years ago,” Klugman told me yesterday. “We decided to just push hard and see what we would get.”
What the region has got is hundreds of new startups, thousands of new jobs, piles of VC investment and bragging rights that there is a community here, a commercialization eco-system, that proves great technology companies can indeed be built outside of California. And guess what – this region has no desire to sell its unique identity short by adapting the label of “Silicon This” or “Valley That.”
And let’s not forget the Canadian Digital Media Network and its efforts to extend this ecosystem nationally and build partnerships with private and public-sector organizations across the country.
Taken as a whole, what continues to build in Kitchener-Waterloo demonstrates how much can be achieved when a community and a majority of its stakeholders pull together in a spirit of collaboration rather than competition and view each other as valued partners rather than rivals for resources, talent, government funding or what have you.
“It’s a model I’ve not really seen anywhere else in the world,” said Klugman. “It’s kinda cool.”
I have to agree – it kinda is.