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TechToronto takes over City Hall to kick off 2016

TechToronto took over City Hall last night for a sold-out event that featured a speech by mayor John Tory, raising hopes that startups can create a booming ecosystem in the city.

Speaking to a crowd of 400 entrepreneurs who filled the Council Chamber - many of them visiting City Hall for the first time - Tory said he wants Toronto to be seen as a “beacon of innovation.” That end-game would see tech, startups, and small business as a key driver of Toronto’s economy and contributing to Canada’s success globally, much like Silicon Valley in the US.

Tory reiterated his support for ride-sharing service Uber, holding it up as an example of the need to encourage ‘disruptive’ technologies. He vowed make the much-touted idea of a Kitchener-Waterloo / Toronto tech corridor into a reality.

But before this can happen, there are big hurdles to confront, he said: most notably, companies leave Toronto - and Canada, altogether - because they can’t get financing.

“Sometimes it feels like everyone is moving to the Valley -- are we stupid to stay here,” said  Matt McCausland, co-founder of Sam :) app, who is best known for his work building ScribbleLive. “It was symbolic to have the community come into council chambers. It shows the city is behind us .”

Some companies are staying home and finding success, said Upverter founder, Zak Homuth. He described the gruelling process of getting his company off the ground -- a classic startup story of working out of his parents’ basement, leveraging credit cards and government grants. He was blunt in his assessment of their need to stay in the GTA. “If we were anywhere else, we’d be dead.”

TechToronto co-founder Alex Norman believes the city’s support is more than just a goodwill gesture: Tory sincerely believes in, and wants to work with, Toronto’s tech community. “Historically the tech community doesn’t get a lot of attention. It shows they’re actually trying to make a change.”

The challenge is put this attitude into practice with policy that’s actionable, said Jeff Ruby, CEO and founder of health innovation company, Newtopia. He agreed with Tory’s suggestions to help keep startups in Toronto and grow the ecosystem, including offering companies rebates for leasing vacant real estate space. Ruby said the city needs to do a better job of marketing startups both within its boundaries and on the world stage. “Attracting funding, recruiting, finding office space, connecting to others [in the community] -- these are the bonds the city can really help with.”

The monthly TechToronto meetup is designed for Toronto's technology community to meet, learn from each other, and launch initiatives to raise awareness of the community’s contribution to the city. It is organized by TechToronto.org, which has successfully grown to approximately 7,500 members, making it one of the largest technology-focused meetups in North America. Organizers announced that the meetup will expand to Vancouver for the first time, on February 23rd.
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