Thriving ecosystem of Toronto startups on display at Startup Open House

Ask any Ryerson Ted Rogers School of Management professor and they’ll tell you a strong business model is often built on revenue, market value and competitive advantages.

But the 120 startup companies throughout downtown Toronto that opened their doors to the public on Oct. 30 as part of the Startup Open House told visitors that community, diversity and cooperation might be the keys to entrepreneurial success.

“The thing about the startup ecosystem in Canada as a whole is it’s not nearly as wide spun and critically acclaimed as something like Silicon Valley might be,” said Alex Choi, marketing manager of the startup Vanhawks. “But it’s a really tight-knit community. Almost every startup here probably knows at least one other person in any other startup.”

Vanhawks built their business model on the power of networking and community, according to Choi. The company’s Vanhawks Valour smart bike, a futuristic bicycle that alerts riders to cars that are too close and provides hands-free GPS navigation on the handlebars, raised over $820,000 on the crowd funding site Kickstarter. Choi said about 30 per cent of those sales were confirmed or in the works before the Kickstarter campaign ever went live.

“It’s not just about throwing something out there and hoping it sticks,” said Choi. “It’s about leveraging your relationships and really telling a great story.”

Other companies, like Kiwi Wearables, were just excited to have the opportunity to share their brand and their business model with those who are interested in the startup community.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of entrepreneurs, including us, embrace it,” said Ali Nawab, founder of the wearable tech company. “It’s always scary, it’s still scary. I think the biggest thing is that you really don’t know what’s going to happen. And quite often what you start to do and what you end up doing are two very different things.”

Event organizer Satish Kanwar said every participating startup had visitors during the event, and many companies reported upwards of 100 guests. The majority of attendees were undergraduate and graduate students, as well as young professionals from other related industries looking to learn more about the startup community in Toronto.

Both Choi and Nawab said they were impressed with the turnout of participants to the Startup Open House throughout the evening. For companies like Vanhawks and Kiwi Wearables that each have less than 20 people on staff, the event gave each startup the opportunity to share their story with people who likely wouldn’t have heard it otherwise.

“It’s one of those things where you just want people to come visit you and check out what it’s like, kind of peek down the rabbit hole,” said Choi.

Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ) was also a huge supporter of the event, and by opening their doors the incubator gave exposure to the over 70 startups that work out of the DMZ offices.

“The event drove a ton of engagement online, especially on Twitter, with lots of praise and energetic photos flying around,” said Brendan Dellandrea, DMZ director of marketing and communications. “It was great to see the community all charged up and having a good time. We’re excited to participate in an even bigger way next year.”

This was the first year the event took place in Toronto and the second year for the Montreal Startup Open House, which took place on the same night. Other companies that participated between the two cities included Shopify, ScribbleLive, Freshbooks, 500px, and Frank & Oak. Kanwar said he hopes to run the event in Toronto again next year.

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