Tech hub Toronto - Canada

Tech hub Toronto

News item | 27-03-2023 | 09:00

Toronto is North America’s fastest growing tech hub. Both talent and capital are drawn to the Canadian city – a multicultural metropolis where 160 languages are spoken. Harman Idema, Dutch consul-general in Toronto, tells us about the opportunities for Dutch business here.

What should people know about Toronto?

‘With nearly seven million people living in the Greater Toronto Area, this is North America’s fourth largest city. Half of its residents were not born in Canada, and all these different cultures generate a unique dynamic and creative vibe. More than 160 languages are spoken here. Toronto is the economic capital of Canada, a country that’s among the 10 biggest economies in the world. So this is truly an international metropolis.’

What makes Toronto interesting for Dutch companies?

‘There is no other place in the world with a faster growing tech sector. Toronto is a vibrant tech hub for both established companies and startups. The Big Five – Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Meta (Facebook) and Microsoft – have offices here, and so do countless startups. This has made Toronto a magnet for talent and capital. Currently, more than 80,000 people work in Toronto’s tech sector. The region’s universities also have a strong tech focus. AI legend Geoffrey Hinton, for instance, has been a computer science professor at the University of Toronto for many years. Scientists are also looking to connect with the private sector, and those public-private partnerships have proven successful.’

Which Dutch tech companies are successful here?

‘Payment platform Adyen is a well-known fintech company with an office in Toronto. Care innovator Tover is achieving success with their ‘magic table’ (Tovertafel), an innovation to help people with cognitive impairment, such as dementia. OneThird is a food tech startup that has developed a handheld scanner to predict the shelf life of fresh produce, helping parties in the food supply chain to make better decisions. It’s currently being trialled in a pilot project with a Canadian supermarket chain. Spotzi, a specialist in geomarketing, is also carving out a niche here, helping companies to define, locate and target their customers.’

What can the consulate-general do for Dutch businesses?

‘At least once a year we organise a trade mission for startups, jointly with the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). We connect participants with parties in our business network in the Greater Toronto Area. And the most important event where we can help participants get a foot in the door is Collision tech conference. This annual three-day event at the end of June draws some 2,000 startups and 1,000 investors. Politico has dubbed it the ‘Olympics of Tech’ – the place to be if you want to go places. That’s why the consulate-general has a pavilion at Collision. We hold networking events, pitch training sessions and organise visits to companies. Our focus this year is on women tech entrepreneurs, a group that, unfortunately, is still underrepresented in the tech sector.’

Do Canada and the Netherlands have a similar business culture?

‘Our countries have the same norms and values, in business but also more broadly. Politically and historically, Canada is one of our most important allies. Around one million people in Canada have Dutch roots and this deep bond is visible in the business sector, too. It’s true that Canadians are less plain-spoken than the Dutch, and you need spend more time building a personal relationship before you can make a deal. But once you’ve developed that rapport, it will endure and lead you to new contacts and opportunities.’

Canada and the European Union have signed a trade treaty. Does it offer advantages to Dutch businesses?

‘Absolutely! The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) scrapped 98% of import tariffs, gives goods and services faster access to the Canadian market, and allows European companies to bid for Canadian public contracts at all levels of government. CETA also includes arrangements on topics like climate, the environment and human rights. So the treaty definitely offers opportunities for Dutch businesses that are committed to doing business internationally in a socially responsible way. And thanks to the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, companies operating in Canada also have access to the entire North American market – a market of almost 500 million people.’

In what other sectors are there opportunities?

‘Canada faces challenges in the areas of circular economy and in life sciences and health (LSH) and these present opportunities to Dutch entrepreneurs. Canada is becoming increasingly ambitious about achieving a circular economy, but has too little knowledge and expertise domestically to get the ball rolling. They’re looking for best practices, particularly in the areas of sustainable construction and waste processing. The Dutch Canadian Circular Alliance (DCCA), with 100 members active in the construction industry, helps Dutch and Canadian companies link up. The many opportunities in LSH relate to the same issues that confront the Dutch health and care sector: an aging population, staff shortages and increasing costs.’

Is doing business in Canada a risky venture?

‘Dutch entrepreneurs run no more risk in Canada than they do in the Netherlands. The Canadian economy is robust and stable. The country is a well-functioning democracy, whose democratic principles and institutions are enshrined in rigorous laws. The Canadian constitution devolves a lot of responsibilities to the provincial legislature, which therefore have a lot of freedom to make their own choices. This can lead to – sometimes major – legislative differences between the provinces. Canada has two official languages: English and French, which is mostly spoken in Québec. But it’s not a problem if you only speak English.’

More information

Visit the contact page of the consulate-general in Toronto.