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Toronto could become the Silicon Valley of the North

Toronto could become the Silicon Valley of the North

Posted by PanamericanWorld on April 17, 2017

Because Trump was elected US president partly on an anti-immigration campaign, interest in moving to Canada has skyrocketed. The University of Toronto saw a 70% jump in applications from American students at the end of 2016, according to the Toronto Star — and that was before the president began efforts to bar immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries.

More recently, after a decision to delay the H-1B visas used by American businesses to hire skilled workers, the Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in March an expedited work-permit process for the same kind of foreign talent. 

It's a startup founder's dream: a community of 2,500 early-stage tech companies, a government investing in high-tech innovation and expediting work permits, and venture-capital investment levels not seen since the heyday of the dot-com bubble.

This isn't San Francisco, New York, or London — it's Toronto. And its bid to become the Silicon Valley of the North is now getting a boost from the Trump administration.

And while London is the world's largest center for financial technology, or fintech, immigration policies are equally uncertain there ever since Britain's 2016 decision to leave the EU.

As a result, Canada's startups are seeing a jump in job applications — especially from workers in the US.

"I've never seen numbers like this," said Roy Pereira, CEO of, an enterprise-tech chatbot startup. "Engineers wanting to immigrate to Canada from places like India are normal, but I've never seen anything close to the numbers of candidates from the US."

His company had 101 candidates apply for a "full-stack software engineering" position in a single month. Of those, 31% were from the US, 22% from Canada, 33% from India, and 15% from elsewhere.

"Certainly the geopolitical environment right now and what Trump has alluded to in terms of his new immigration policy and his perspective on H-1Bs — I think that has made some people nervous," said Salim Teja, executive vice president of venture at MaRS Discovery District, a Toronto venture program helping position the city as the next great startup destination.

Because of its large footprint in the Canadian startup scene, MaRS — which says it is the world's largest urban innovation hub and home to 1,000 startups within its venture program across the health, finance, energy, and education sectors — is often the federal government's go-to adviser on policy surrounding innovation. And it isn't just home to startups. MaRS, which spans 1.5 million square feet in downtown Toronto, houses 250 larger organizations that lease its space, including outposts for Facebook, Airbnb, and PayPal.

Salim Teja is executive vice president of venture at MaRS. Photo by MaRS


"We play an important role in connecting partners to the startup ecosystem — those could be international investor partners, those could be international corporate partners," said Teja, who spent six years in Silicon Valley before returning to Canada and helping to build MaRs. "We match incoming talent from both around the world and locally here in the ecosystem to our companies that are growing."

Silicon Valley investors

One draw for US investors right now is the cheap exchange rate, which takes investment dollars further and makes investments more attractive. Another is the softer competition for deals in the Canadian market, meaning that startup valuations are more reasonable than in places like Silicon Valley.

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