More than $2.8 billion was invested in local startups during 2021, more than the previous 10 years combined, said Chris Albinson, chief executive officer at Communitech.
“That is up 200 per cent year-over-year,” said Albinson. “It’s an exponential curve, I like exponential curves, they are fun.”
The are more than 26,000 tech workers in the region, which is also the western node of the Toronto Waterloo Corridor — the fastest growing innovation hub in world, said Albinson.
The corridor is growing about four times faster than Silicon Valley.
These employment and investment numbers put Communitech years ahead of its 2025 targets of 24,000 tech workers and $1 billion in investment annually.
After consulting with 1,100 founders across Canada, Albinson and his team have developed new objectives and a four-part strategy for doubling the size of the region’s tech workforce to 55,000 by 2030.
By then Communitech also aims to have 14 companies earning at least $1 billion a year in revenues, and venture capitalists investing at least $1 billion annually in startups and rapidly-growing companies here.
Communitech’s new strategy is based on big data, talent attraction, expanding markets and creating a new venture capital fund.
First, Communitech will wrap itself in the thickest layer of data it can build, putting all technical, human and financial resources of the sector in a single place. That will make possible faster connections among institutions and companies looking to solve technical challenges, and find the right tech firms for the job.
Albinson points to Grand River Hospital, which needed new training programs for nurses, and Axonify, which develops mobile learning tools. It allowed nurses to keep working during the pandemic and avoid taking time off the wards for new training.
Talent attraction is the next part of the plan, and Communitech Outposts now enables member companies to hire, pay and manage international employees working from 160 different countries. It reduces the time and costs of international hires.
“The talent war is global,” said Albinson.
Integrated markets is the third focus — locally developed tech should be quickly deployed in other markets across Canada. Albinson said the tech Axonify developed for Grand River is now used in Calgary and other Canadian cities.
“Now that is spreading across the country, that’s how integrated markets work,” said Albinson.
More work needs to be done to open additional markets across the country.
“Canada is the only country in the world that does not buy its own stuff,” said Albinson.
The fourth part the growth strategy is a venture capital fund to channel investments into Canadian tech companies. Albinson is working on that fund now, and said it’s important for the future control of Canadian tech.
Of the record-setting $2.8 billion invested in local startups during 2021, 81 per cent came from the U.S. That gives Americans a lot of influence with board positions and senior leadership, said Albinson.
The renewed focus on big data at Communitech is happening as the Data Hub, now at 14 Erb St. West in Waterloo, is moving into the Tannery at 151 Charles St. West in Kitchener. In the past five years it has become essential to Communitech’s plans for growing the tech sector.
Kevin Tuer, Communitech’s vice-president for Data and Advanced Technologies, said more than 50 startups went through the Data Hub since it opened in 2017, creating more than 400 jobs and attracting millions in investment.
“It was very impactful,” said Tuer. “I think we are just getting started.”
Tuer put together Canada’s Open Data Exchange, which includes data sets from local, regional, provincial and national governments.
The data was used by startups working on 5G networks, AI, Cloud computing and autonomous vehicles. Big data is a key element of artificial intelligence, which is becoming an important driver of the economy, said Tuer.
The Data Hub is where Martin Basiri and his brothers first started working on ApplyBoard, the fast-growing startup that helps international students quickly secure places at colleges and universities in North America, the U.K and Australia. ApplyBoard had $400 million of the $2.8 billion invested last year in local startups.