As Toronto’s new mayor, John Tory has a long list of things to tackle – gridlock, development, the growing rich-poor divide, infrastructure development, and the list goes on.
When he eventually comes up for air, I would boldly suggest an important task is putting together a plan for Toronto (the city) to better support the fast-growing start-up ecosystem. Other than David Soknacki, start-ups were not discussed during the recent election but if Toronto wants to drive economic growth, it should get engaged quickly.
1. Wave the flag about how Toronto has a world-class start-up ecosystem. We have a really, really good thing happening but it’s difficult to find anyone at city hall talking about start-ups. By simply putting the spotlight on the sector’s growth, people and companies, it would shape the conversation differently.
Truth be told, Toronto should promote its start-up ecosystem as enthusiastically as other cities – e.g. San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas and Vancouver. Heck, even places such as St. Louis and Detroit are excited about start-ups.
2. Host a Start-Up Summit that brings together government leaders and entrepreneurs to exchange ideas about how to accelerate the ecosystem’s growth. As well, create a partnership to create a start-up conference and showcase. There’s no reason Toronto can’t have a Web Summit-like event in Toronto.
3. Create tax incentives for start-ups to set up shop and expand in Toronto, including tools to create business zones that could benefit from job creation opportunities. The city should also provide start-ups with incentives to hire young people to help address the troubling youth unemployment issue. A model to explore is how San Francisco provided start-ups with tax incentives to open downtown offices.
4. Explore partnerships with start-ups that can offer innovative products and services. This would give startups a major boost financially, while the city would benefit from tapping into new and leading-edge technology. You have to believe, for example, a startup could have built a new e-commerce Website for island ferry for less than the four-year $588,000 contract that the city signed.
5. Follow San Francisco’s lead by launching an Entrepreneurship-in-Residence program. San Francisco’s program is a 16-week program that brings together the private sector and city departments to look at different ways to lower costs, increase revenue and drive productivity. You have to believe startups could deliver better ways for the city to offer online services.
6. Reach out to municipal leaders in Kitchener-Waterloo to create a cohesive plan to nurture and promote a “tech corridor”. There is huge potential to develop better connections and synergies with Kitchener-Waterloo. Right now, the two communities operate in quasi-silos. It’s a classic case of 1+1=3.
7. Get Enterprise Toronto and Build Toronto to really embrace start-ups. Both agencies have a mandate to support Toronto’s economic development, so why not get them to help the start-up community take it to the next level. It’s good to see Waterfront Toronto’s plans for a high-speed network but more programs are needed.
8. Form a start-up advisory council to come up with ways to drive the growth of Toronto’s ecosystem. There are lots of smart entrepreneurs who have the ideas, experience and energy to offer valuable guidance and insight to support start-ups in the right way.
More: For a snapshot of how Toronto’s startup ecosystem is doing, check out this report card.
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