“Sleeper” Toronto No More: Bustling Downtown and Entrepreneurial Spirit Attract Start-ups, Tech Firms and a Global Population
Toronto is a lot of things – the capital of the Canadian province of Ontario, Canada’s largest city and the fourth-largest in North America (behind New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City). It’s a city of immigrants and diverse neighborhoods, a booming metropolitan area that has undergone rapid change over the last 20 or so years, and a skyline that is marked by cranes and non-stop construction. From its location on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto has been shedding its reputation a traditionally conservative finance-banking hub, thanks to an influx of technology companies, startups and entrepreneurs - and fueled by a shift of the city’s professional working population from the suburban fringes into its downtown core over the past decade.
In fact, until Toronto’s recent boom, the city was known as a non-New York hub for theater and as the communications center of Canada, with the CN Tower as one of the city’s iconic downtown landmarks. It’s the only Canadian city with a Major League Baseball team (go Toronto Blue Jays!), and the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the original six founding teams in the National Hockey League.
But today, Toronto’s creative class is fueling growth in many sectors namely entrepreneurship, fashion, design, communications, technology, theater, arts and more – turning Toronto into a vibrant, busy and worldly metropolitan area.
A global city, a global workforce
As the downtown business base expands, and as younger workers and families move in, Toronto can now boast of a vibrant nightlife, flourishing restaurant and bar scene, accessible public transit system, bustling convention center and hotel industry, and all of the cultural diversity that is supported by a truly international population. According to recent census figures, at least 50% of metropolitan Toronto’s 6 million citizens are born outside of Canada, and 140 different languages are spoken.
Because of the population shift into the city’s core, coworking opportunities and shared office spaces are becoming more popular, fueled not only by an interest in work environments that are tailored for the mobile-ready 21st Century but also because large companies moving into downtown Toronto, including Google and eBay, are monopolizing many of the available, smaller commercial spaces.
New business models require new working environments
The result is that solo entrepreneurs and small businesses are shifting away from multi-year office leases in large buildings into more affordable coworking and shared office environments – open-area coworking facilities, and hybrid shared environments that provide coworking spaces, private offices and event/meeting rooms. Solo business professionals, remote workers in Toronto, and companies looking to relocate to Toronto can take advantage of modern shared office amenities that allow them to set up, plug in and start working immediately.
Alex Sharpe and Kane Willmott, whose early entrepreneurial endeavors were launched in the city’s coworking spaces, founded iQ Office Suites in 2012 to take advantage of Toronto’s ongoing population and employment growth. Their firm specializes in the transformation of character buildings – the Dineen Building on Yonge Street in 2012, and the former Bank of Canada Building on University Avenue which just opened this year– into state-of-the-art, completely unique shared office environments that honor their buildings’ histories and architecturally significant features.
Both buildings provide high-quality amenities and services, including lounges for members, 24/7 access, technology/IT support and opportunities for networking and community events. The buildings preserve historical elements as well: exposed brick from the old buildings blends with modern office furniture and interior design features, for example, and the bank’s former gold bullion vault is now an expansive members’ lounge and event space. And what kinds of entrepreneurs and companies are fueling the Toronto office boom?
Computer programmers, advertisers, mobile app developers, 3-D printing companies and firms that piggyback on the success of Toronto’s large, established companies are part of the growth. Tube Mogul, a global digital advertising platform, has its Canadian presence in Toronto.
Other innovative new companies and initiatives include Revolo Bikes, manufacturer of electric bikes; Nymi Band, a wearable wrist band that stores and verifies (through heartbeat identification) a wearer’s passwords and security information for all devices and logins; and Bitmaker Labs, a Canadian web development school.
Three top-ranked universities – University of Toronto, York University and Ryerson University – call Toronto home, and graduates from other Canadian colleges are now moving to Toronto (rather than outside of Canada) because of job opportunities closer to home.
The challenges facing Toronto’s start-up community are similar to those in other cities with technology hubs: access to funding and needed skillsets, a comparatively high cost of living, a tight housing market, and the challenges involved in bringing new products to the global market. The presence of 60- and 70-story high-rise apartment buildings and condos in downtown Toronto is evidence of the housing demand. But Toronto’s continued growth also means that housing stock in older neighborhoods is being renovated for an influx of new residents and families, and neighborhoods close to the downtown core are being revitalized – creating unique and inspiring places to live that are also accessible to the downtown core via public transit. Toronto’s has shed its reputation as a “sleeper” city, and today it harbors all of the assets that make it a great city – multi-cultural, vibrant, growing and youthful. Those same assets are the building blocks of a new, modern working environment tailored for large and small businesses alike – and poised for even more growth and change in the years ahead
By Alex Sharpe and Kane Willmott, co-founders of iQ Office Suites Inc. iQ Offices are the leading provider of shared office space in downtown Toronto for companies interested in luxurious, scalable and feature-rich commercial space tailored for the modern, mobile-powered organization. Founded in 2012, iQ offers shared workspaces at two downtown Toronto locations: 140 Yonge Street (the historic Dineen Building) and 250 University Avenue (the former Bank of Canada building). Co-Founders Alex Sharpe and Kane Willmott specialize in the creation of unique and inspiring flexible workspaces that are supported by state-of-the-art office technologies, services and amenities. For more information on iQ Office Suites, please visit www.iqoffice.ca.