When I first started my career in the tech industry, the Bay Area was the place to be. That’s where all the innovation – and money – was, and so that’s largely where the tech talent went. I was no exception, spending 12 years working in Silicon Valley for both startups and established companies alike. Even seven or eight years ago, when I was looking to return to Canada, there were very few companies that were doing exciting things in Toronto, and even fewer VCs willing to invest the capital.
In recent years however, that’s all changed. The Toronto tech scene has become exciting and vibrant, filled to the brim with interesting ventures and the talent to see them through. As the Chief Technology Officer of OANDA, one of the first firms to realise the true potential of Toronto as a tech hub, I’ve followed the careers of several startups with interest. Here are five companies I currently feel are worth watching:
1. Top Hat
When Top Hat was first established in 2009, it offered a tool for students that made it easier for them to participate in classroom discussions. Over the years, it’s also become a popular platform among university professors, who use it as a one-stop-shop for everything from assigning coursework to grading papers and publishing textbooks. According to the company, its products are now being used at more than 75 percent of the top 1,000 colleges and universities in North America, which is a huge achievement for a company founded in a small apartment near the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
In 2017, the company raised the princely sum of US$22.5 million while moving into its shiny new Toronto headquarters, thereby cementing its reputation as a major player in the local startup space.
Shopify began life because its founders wanted to establish an online store for snowboarding equipment that would enable them to build their brand without having to rely on marketplaces or other third-party platforms. As e-commerce has boomed, so has Shopify, and today businesses continue to turn to the platform to manage every aspect of the sales process, from listing products to engaging directly with customers.
Like Top Hat, Shopify was originally a small company with just five people working out of a coffee shop. In 12 years, the company has grown to more than 3,000 employees working across five offices in North America and two in Europe. Shopify currently has two offices in Toronto, with a new one scheduled to be completed in early 2019, and is continuing to hire people and further establish its reputation in the city.
A clear Toronto success story, Ritual has gained recognition as an app that allows people to order food in advance and pick it up, enabling them to skip long lines at mealtimes. The app recently launched in six additional cities in North America, and is now available to hungry customers in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington DC. Between its easy-to-use interface and the vast number of eateries on the company’s network, it’s not hard to see why Ritual has become a popular choice for busy city dwellers.
Founded by a former Google employee, the company recently raised another US$70 million to continue its expansion into other cities, with the ultimate goal of expanding into industries beyond food.
Wave offers a variety of products designed to help small businesses with their accounting, invoicing, payments and payroll. The software itself is free, but clients pay for additional services such as tax services and credit card processing for online payments. Over the course of its existence, the company has tracked more than US$200 billion in income and expenses for its three million customers.
Consistently ranked among the top innovators and one of the best places to work in Canada, Wave has become the accounting product of choice for companies around the world. To date, the company has raised almost US$80 million, and is continuing to thrive.
While not as established as some of the others on this list, Transpod is one of the most exciting startups in the tech scene today. The company’s goal is to create a method of transportation that is sustainable, affordable, and above all, fast – and their proposed method of doing so is by implementing a hyperloop system.
Made famous by Elon Musk, a hyperloop system consists of a low-pressure tube that vehicles can travel through at speeds faster than an airplane. While it remains to be seen whether Transpod will be successful in this endeavor, it will nevertheless be fascinating to watch.
At OANDA, we consider ourselves fortunate to have been at the forefront of Toronto’s transformation into a world-class tech hub, and our own development has been due in part to our ability to tap into a wealth of talent and knowledge in the local market. As Toronto has grown, so have we – and it’s all thanks to the rich pool of tech talent that call the city home.
About the author
Based in Toronto, Warren Faleiro is OANDA’s Chief Technology Officer, responsible for driving the company’s product development strategy and providing technical leadership across all areas of the business. With more than 20 years of experience extending from Toronto to the San Francisco Bay area, he has worked for some of the world’s most innovative companies including FreshBooks, Danal and Verisign. Warren holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto.