Data Catalyst - InnovationWe’ve been curious about where startups live in Toronto and the factors that shape founders’ decisions on where to set up shop. This information is essential if we’re going to provide services where they’re most needed and help build the kinds of environments that allow young companies to thrive.

Instead of just relying on basic assumptions to get answers, we turned to the data to figure it out. After all, good data drives valuable insight.

This concept is central to Data Catalyst, a new program being incubated at MaRS that’s all about bringing data together to produce BIG insight and drive innovation.

As a starting point, we’re focusing on Ontario startups and the innovation ecosystem. Understanding the location of startups felt like a natural place to begin this exploration of Ontario’s innovation ecosystem.

For our first post, we’ve combined client location data from MaRS Advisory Services and StartupNorth’s Index to map the concentration of startups located across Toronto.

Since Toronto really is a city of neighbourhoods, we also interviewed 10 startups in different areas of the city to get their take on why their startup ‘hood and work space suit their business needs.

Toronto Startup Map
Toronto Startup Map: MaRS + StartupNorth Index

There’s plenty more to come, but here are a few things we’ve learned so far.

We could have guessed, but good access to public transit came up in every conversation and was noted as one of the primary considerations when choosing a location.

“Everyone at the office takes public transit or rides their bicycles. Being close to transit is a benefit for our employees.”

Not surprisingly, affordability came up, with some startups working part-time from home offices and part-time in coffee shops and places like MaRS to save cash.

“Affordability of space is one of the primary considerations for me – I’m bootstrapping, so trying to keep it lean.”

The ideal type of work space was described in consistent terms by all startups. High on the wish list was a loft-feel, exposed brick, high ceilings, open concept and natural light. Other common themes included flexibility in the space to accommodate growth, untraditional leasing options and locating in shared spaces with other entrepreneurs.

“We’re young companies – none of us thinks we want a traditional office – it’s got to be open concept in terms of facilitating communication and creating a vibrancy and energy in the space. It starts with an open concept feeling – there is a lot of camaraderie and innovation that can come about simply by moving your chair over and talking to someone else in the space.”

Amenities varied by business type, but common to all was having a variety of dining options and good coffee close by.

“I wanted us to be located somewhere with great cafes, restaurants and bars. I spend a lot of time entertaining clients – I’m having breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks with various clients on any given day– not having to travel far to meet clients or access a great restaurant is important to me. It’s a question of how important your time is to you – I gain an enormous amount of efficiency because I don’t have to travel far to do business.”

As I mentioned, this is our first go at using data to generate insights into Ontario startups. We’d like to hear from you. What do you see in the map? What’s missing – can you help us complete the picture? Send us an email with your feedback.

Joe Greenwood

Joe Greenwood is the Executive Lead, Data and Program Director of MaRS Data Catalyst. He works with stakeholders to identify opportunities to reuse data from different sources to support effective innovation programs and to enable the growth of commercial and social enterprises in target innovation and market sectors in Ontario. See more…