Technicity: Grow Toronto

TORONTO–IT companies must entertain a market view that is larger than the greater Toronto region and even Canada if the Toronto technology cluster is to thrive alongside other IT hotbeds such as those of Silicon Valley and New York.

That was the message Pat Draper, president and CEO of the Toronto Region Research Alliance (TRRA), has for software enterprises in the greater Toronto region. “It’s very easy to think about what your neighbour down the street or half an hour away might need. But there’s a much bigger world out there,” said Draper in an interview with ComputerWorld Canada.

Draper was a panelist at Technicity, a day-long event produced by IT World Canada Inc. in collaboration with the City of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance that assembled technology leaders, entrepreneurs and economic development agencies to discuss the state of Toronto’s technology cluster and develop an action plan for the future.

Draper went on to tell ComputerWorld Canada that he thinks enterprises that make up Toronto’s technology cluster do a great job of working on global projects that, in turn, attract foreign businesses to relocate here and further build the cluster. “Wherever they might come from, there is the opportunity for them to work in a global context,” said Draper.

Earlier during the panel discussion, experts discussed a new report entitled Canada’s High-tech Hub Toronto that captures the state of Toronto’s technology cluster from 2005 to 2009, the likes of which hasn’t been produced since 2004. While the report found investment in Toronto technology companies has been sparse during this period, innovation in IT didn’t follow the same trend.

Panelist Brendan Maher, partner and national industry leader with professional services firm KPMG, noted that innovation thrived despite a dearth in funding in those five years, particularly in mobile software, mobile advertising, cloud computing and digital media. “(There are) lots of examples of seasoned technology entrepreneurs coming back to build brand new companies after being successful in their first venture,” said Maher.

Moreover, the report revealed $9 billion in acquisitions by IT companies in the greater Toronto area.

Canada’s IT sector is currently worth $80 billion and set to grow to $100 billion by 2014, noted panelist Krista Napier, senior analyst with Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd. “It’s steady and it’s healthy,” said Napier.

Toronto in particular is well positioned to take advantage of opportunities in mobile, digital and social technology trends, said Napier. Toronto software companies can turn those opportunities “from cool ideas into brilliant ideas,” she said.

The report also identified 68,000 IT jobs in Canada that will need filling. “That is one big number,” said panelist Paul Swinwood, CEO of the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC).

Swinwood said there is a huge opportunity among Toronto’s technology cluster to help grow that talent base and called to event attendees to donate four hours over the next year towards helping grow that supply of talent.

Swinwood identified a five-point approach already in motion that could be improved: industry and academic partnerships; immigration of foreign-educated professionals; skills upgrading, cultural diversity, and multi-disciplinary programs.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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