There’s a lot of buzz about the innovation renaissance in New York. But the action in Toronto, just 340 miles to the north — and I do mean north — often goes unnoticed.
A week ago, on the tail of a snowstorm, VentureBeat landed in Toronto and held our first-ever meetup there — part of our prowl for the best companies in the world. Here’s how these events work: We partner with savvy investors to provide feedback, and invite them to DEMO, the product-launch conference I executive produce, if they’re a good fit.
We found the city humming. Some 277 people turned out to our evening meetup (photo top left), organized on just two weeks’ notice. With the mobile revolution in full force, Toronto benefits from the local talent. RIM, the maker of BlackBerry smartphones, is located in Waterloo, about an hour away but part of the local ecosystem. Employees are starting to leave RIM to start cool companies. Rogers, a major wireless communications company, is investing in startups through its venture arm, which was our local partner for screening hot startups. And local universities pump out a qualified workforce – a diverse group of systems designers and hardware, software, electrical and computer science engineers.
That diversity is a perfect recipe for a firm like Xtreme Labs, a Toronto-based mobile developer shop that has exploded to 95 developers, from just 15 only a year and a half ago — and with plans to hire another 50 developers. Farhan Thawar, VP of engineering at Xtreme, tells me he’s sucking up talent from anywhere he can find it — hiring Americans for the first time in his decade-long experience in hiring, pulling them in from places like California and New York — a reverse brain-drain that has long flowed in the opposite direction. Xtreme made its name by developing deep expertise in building native apps for the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and now Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7.
Xtreme has kicked off its own incubator arm, and is supporting startups such as Guard.ly, a super simple app that offers personal security in cloud by letting your friends know where you are at all times, and Pophire, which helps companies leverage the social networks of their employees to get referrals for prospective employees.
We invited about a dozen startups to pitch at the event. Photos below.