The Waterloo Region is becoming a hot spot for start-ups. With over 1,845 tech start-ups in the past five years, the Kitchener-Waterloo region is beginning to garner a reputation for new entrepreneurs. The area is being referred to as the Silicon Valley of the North.
Justin Trudeau himself has discussed, on a global stage, the importance of start-ups within this region. Internationally, Waterloo’s tech reputation is off the charts, demonstrated through companies from Silicon Valley often recruiting students from the University of Waterloo. The Kitchener-Waterloo region has raised at least $650 million in investment as of 2015.
For decades, companies such as Google, IBM, Intel, Electronic Arts and SAP have set up in Waterloo and recruited students from the area. The University of Waterloo, known for their co-op program and emphasis on innovation, makes it easy for these companies to recruit engineers and computer scientists. Further, Wilfred Laurier University’s emphasis on their business program also makes them desirable to hire for business roles within these start-ups.
The region has numerous resources to cultivate this growth of start-ups. To name a few, which will be discussed in-depth later, include Velocity and Communitech. There are also grants and pitch competitions that encourage starting a business. For example, Velocity offers a grant of $125,000 to seven start-ups three times a year.
Start-ups are also supported by the government. Small businesses are encouraged to apply to grants given out by the provincial government. The region also has a grassroots Startup Canada communities that support entrepreneurship at the local level. The enterprise supports and gives “a voice to entrepreneurs through online programs, national awards, flagship events, and partnerships with private sector and governments.”
The University of Waterloo requires most students to hold a co-op position, in which a student works for four months gaining real life work experience while getting paid. The university often prides itself on their co-op program and start-ups looking for people to help often hire students from universities who are on co-op.
Hiring a co-op students leads to tax credits from the government. Cooperations can claim 25 per cent of eligible expenditures and small business can claim 30 per cent, as long as the wages are paid to a student in a co-operative education work placement.
The KW region offers a variety of locations to have a start-up. The most popular is Velocity, which is the “largest free start-up incubator in the world.” Companies accepted into the start-up garage “are given workspace, access to a mentor network, and introductions to investors who will help build their business.” Their target focus is students and alumni of the University of Waterloo; however, they still do consider applicants of different backgrounds.
The Velocity Garage can be found inside the Lang Tannery, a historical building in Kitchener that now hosts numerous companies, including: Google, Communitech, Velocity Garage and Desire2Learn.
Downtown Kitchener is a host to many more start-ups, mostly found across from the Tannery, which include well known companies such as MappedIn and Thalmic Labs.
Silicon Valley of the North
All in all, the KW region is a hub for tech innovation with numerous start-ups popping everyday. The region is the second largest location for start-ups despite it is small population of 550,000 people. It is collaborative environment, entrepreneurial spirit, and governmental support makes it an excellent location to have a start-up. It is reputation has continued to grow in international communities as more and more recruiters from Silicon Valley have come to recruit from the KW region.