If you head to Street View in Google Maps, you will find these small white cabins with red roofs sprinkled across some of Canada’s most remote communities. Here’s one from Cambridge Bay. Here’s another from Iqaluit.
Back in 1670 - the Hudson’s Bay Company was a startup in the fur trade business. ‘Go West’ was the rallying cry of entrepreneurial pioneers striking out for the riches of an unmapped Canada’s wilderness. These Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts are legacies of that ambition.
The history of Canada’s economy has long been tied to our geography. We live in a country with the landmass nearly the size of Russia - and a population the size of California. The largest exporter of oil to the US? That’s us. These are facts that might shape a nation’s identity, if not its destiny.
But not Canada, not now.
Canada is no longer a place defined by the limits of our physical geography. Canada’s future potential does not lie beneath Canadian bedrock - it is within our universities, incubators and startups.
Today, over 500 members of Canada’s startup community are in Toronto at an event Google Canada is hosting called Go North. Our aim in hosting this event is to amplify the community’s concerns, while also taking stock and celebrating our successes.
Of course there are challenges: attracting and retaining top-flight talent, competition, harnessing new technologies and engaging corporate Canada. If you watch on the Bloomberg livestream, you’ll see we’re tackling these issues head-on with the best minds in Canada’s startup ecosystem. We’re also joined by Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains who will discuss the government’s role in helping Canadian companies and ideas succeed.
What makes every startup attending Go North different from startups in Tel Aviv, London, Berlin or Silicon Valley is where they’ve decided to build their company: the place we call home. Now, being Canadian means different things to different people. Maybe for some it means another hurdle for financing, or a pain in securing talent.
But, from the perspective of someone like myself who calls himself a new Canadian, what we have here is exceptional.
Outside Silicon Valley, the Toronto-Waterloo corridor represents the highest concentration of startups on the planet. But it’s the sense of community and shared ambition that truly sets us apart.
With all the talk of building walls and Brexits over the past 12 months, Canada was making headlines for welcoming refugees with open arms. This spirit of openness and inclusion shapes not only our national identity, but also how we do business. Since I moved up here 2 years ago, I’ve seen it first hand.
And Communitech, MaRS, TechToronto, Quantum Valley Investments and RBC - our partners in today’s event - they are the embodiment of this spirit. Finding a home for big ideas, hosting top-flight talent but - most importantly - nurturing and unifying this community.
Steven Woods, who returned more than 8 years ago from founding several successful startups in the Valley to oversee Google Canada’s engineering operations and growth in Waterloo describes what we have in this community - what we have in this room today - as the equivalent of capturing lightning in a bottle.
That is what the entrepreneurial pioneers of today are striking out in search of. Lightning in a bottle. And we have it right here. In the north.