Innovation tour: Can Mississauga’s community of entrepreneurs emerge from Toronto’s shadow?
Originally published by Dan Miner on Buffalo Business First here.
Read Monday’s story about the innovation economy in Hamilton here.
Hamilton is broadly comparable to Buffalo regarding its startup ecosystem, ahead in some ways and behind in others, but the same can’t be said for Mississauga.
The Southern Ontario city’s population is about 700,000 and growing rapidly, and it is home to a host of major multinational corporations and has a rapidly growing population.
It’s also in close proximity to Toronto, a worldwide economic power which is ranked 8th amongst the world’s top startup ecosystems, according to a prominent study by Startup Genome in 2012 (Waterloo, Ont., was ranked 16th).
Thus, the Mississauga startup community has a unique set of challenges. Like Buffalo and Hamilton, it has a small but evolving series of programs and facilities to support entrepreneurs.
But it is also seeking to cultivate an identity of its own, no easy task amidst the adjacency to Toronto and the major corporate players which dominate its business scene.
“Our biggest challenge is getting the word out,” said Pamela Banks, the RIC Centre’s executive director. “We live in the shadow of Toronto.”
The RIC Centre – one of 18 Regional Innovation Centres recognized and supported by the province of Ontario – was launched in 2008 as a nonprofit to support innovation and entrepreneurship in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon and has since helped more than 780 companies take their innovations to market.
It is situated in the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, a research and development complex that includes a 27,000-square-foot chemical pilot plant.
The work may be quiet – but it does exist. Banks led a Business First reporter through a row of offices that host high-tech companies, some of which have utilized the nearby Xerox laboratories. She pointed out success stories such as CHAR Technologies, which has been working with RICC for years and recently received $750,000 from Canada’s SD Natural Gas Fund.
But venture capital funding remains elusive – despite an evolving network of angel investment groups throughout Ontario, Banks said.
Like David Carter of the Innovation Factory in Hamilton, Banks can list off companies that came into the RIC Centre with a technology or an idea and has since begun to earn revenue and grow. One of its client companies, Induce Biologics, secured $2 million in financing in February from a Palo Alto-based investment firm. Another client, Ansik Inc., was accepted this June into the Techstars Mobility accelerator, backed by Ford Motors and situated in Detroit.
Induce is based in Toronto and Ansik in Waterloo.
The key now is to engage the corporate heavyweights that have significant operations in Mississauga, to recognize that the community has own early-stage technology movement.
“The corporate connections piece, getting companies to work with us, is the hardest part,” Banks said.