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Does Toronto have what it takes to lead tech innovation?

We know Toronto has become one of the fastest-growing tech markets in North America but does it have what it takes to lead tech innovation? Being a diverse and livable city, Toronto definitely attracts top talent BUT still needs to work hard to innovate, support startups, and take risks in order to claim that top spot.

By Brett Pitts, August 23, 2019

Toronto is on a hot streak. The city is the fastest-growing market in North America for technology talent, according to a new report released by CBRE Ltd. Toronto has seen a 54-per-cent increase in the number of technology jobs in the past five years and now sits third in technology talent – just behind the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle.

The CBRE report looked at a wide range of parameters for labour market conditions, cost and quality for highly skilled tech workers. With this ranking, Toronto is showing strong competitive advantages and appeal for both employers and the talent itself.

So how did we get here?

The CBRE report states that Toronto added 80,100 tech jobs between 2013 and 2018 – a net (brain) gain of nearly 58,000 jobs – top in the survey of all the cities measured. These figures show what we’ve known for years: Toronto is an attractive place to live and work.

In Toronto, we have a reputation as one of the most diverse and livable cities in the world, which makes us an attractive destination for the best and brightest from around the world.

As well, with factors such as our health-care system, the Canadian dollar and a lower real estate cost for businesses relative to large U.S. cities included in the report, Canada offers a lower-cost environment, which is helping high-growth companies hang on to more capital to invest in growth efforts.

While it might be tempting to sit back and ride the momentum, the report shows that Toronto sits outside of the top 10 cities in one major area: the concentration of “twentysomethings.” Having younger workers in the labour pool contributes greatly to the growth of technology talent in every market. To keep or attract this younger talent, industry and institutions need to commit more to innovation, and we need to encourage prominent technology companies to find a home in Canada, as well as maintain a supportive market for startups here. Reaching a position in the top 3 growth markets for technology talent is an important accomplishment, and it’s not difficult to envision Toronto reaching the top spot. But to get there, we must build on Toronto’s strengths to develop the broader ecosystem that distinguishes the most advanced markets in the world.

Innovation thrives where risk-taking is encouraged, and failure is not stigmatized. Coming from San Francisco, I’ve witnessed a business culture that allows people to take calculated risks, and to fail, possibly multiple times, until they succeed. We need more of that here.

Taking risks is especially important for entrepreneurs just starting out. For Canada to be able to tap into global resources of entrepreneurial talent, we need to show that we link the idea of risk with that of opportunity.

Relatedly, leaders in technology economies have also built incredibly strong venture-capital environments. Canada has made important progress and has more work to do. Seed funding in this country is already more available now than it was a few years ago, and that momentum is building. In 2013, the Canadian Government announced the Venture Capital Action Plan, which seeks to help bolster our venture capital industry and make it more globally competitive. On the private side, the venture capital community is raising record amounts of funds, which is fuelling growth. However, when compared with the sheer amount of funding available in top markets, it’s clear that sustained commitment, over not just years but decades, is critical to building the kind of innovation and technology scale we know we want for Canada.

This influx of talent is also having an effect on technology in different sectors, including in the core of Toronto’s financial services sector. For us, the biggest impact is on the talent of our team members across the bank who are working to evolve financial services. We have been very successful in bringing new talent into the company from different industries, and technology workers understand the very compelling opportunity. The transformation in financial services comes in many forms – Canadian consumers can benefit from, say, machine-learning applications that simplify day-to-day transactions. Data analytics can help the firm get a holistic view of the customer, allowing it to better address their needs. We can expect to see this continuing and accelerating.

There is incredible momentum in the Toronto business and technology environment, and we will continue to see features such as the city’s diversity and low-cost environment help the brain gain. But, to make it to the top of the list, we need a market committed to innovation and supportive of risk-taking. As well, we need to continue to have an active venture capital environment and support access to funding for companies starting out and scaling. Creating an environment that attracts top talent from around the world will continue to transform industries – just as it has for financial services. Our time is now. It’s time to lead Toronto’s and Canada’s innovation economy forward.

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