This post was originally published on Rob's Linkedin on Dec. 14th. You can follow him here.
I recently was invited to represent BioConnect on a trade mission to Israel with the City of Toronto and Mayor Tory. This experience for me was just incredible from both a personal and business perspective and I’ll tell you why.
Now you hear about these so-called trade missions and don’t I for one didn’t necessarily understand what they’re all about. Israel is an incredible country. They’re starting up companies what feels like every day. While in Israel we visited most of the main cities (Sderot, Beersheva, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ramallah, Jerusalem), start up accelerators, government institutions, startups and each day was JAM-packed. I’m not kidding when I say I only had 30 minutes a day free…and that included a shower.
Well, why was this trip organized? What did we feel like we could learn?
The focus of the trip was two-fold:
- To learn from Israel, the so-called “Startup Nation” and see if we can implement these ideas back in Toronto.
- To meet various organizations in Israel and begin to form partnerships in order to further the innovations of the two countries and our global economy
I come back from that experience completely inspired and convinced with our decision at BioConnect to fuel and be a part of the Toronto ecosystem. It turned on something I’ve felt for a long time - that Toronto’s ecosystem IS extraordinary and has extraordinary potential to accelerate innovation.
Here are my three main takeaways that we can learn from as a community:
- Mayor Tory is an extraordinary man and the City of Toronto was on the right track bringing business leaders to Israel
The decision to organize this trade mission to me shows the leadership of Mayor Tory, the City of Toronto and the commitment to building out the Toronto ecosystem.
On this trip I got to experience the work of Mayor Tory first-hand. He is a very great representative of our city abroad. The guy works hard and we were there for a purpose. From the moment we landed it was FULL ON - he runs a very tight ship. While there, we visited the innovation centres of private companies such as Google, IBM and Barclay's, public innovation centres such as the “Floor” Fintech Innovation Centre at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and the MassChallenge Accelerator, we met with the Canadian Embassy and CyberSpark - Israel’s Cyber Innovation Arena and the Israel National Cyber Bureau as well as multiple universities including Ben Gurion and Tel Aviv University.
I tell you these things because it’s so easy to be critical of these missions, but the City of Toronto was not messing around. The goals of going there to learn from Israel and look at partnership opportunities for Toronto’s tech leaders were both fulfilled.
I want to take the time to extend my gratitude to the City of Toronto, the Toronto Board of Trade and all its constituents for putting together such an impressive trip.
- In Toronto we have to do a better job of connecting our ecosystem
Israel does a fantastic job connecting the education system, to government, private sector and military. Everyone in the country has to be in the military. So everyone is getting a baseline understanding of technology, then they go off to university and then start their own companies. There are over 600 tech companies, 12 accelerators, 18 investment funds in Jerusalem alone. It’s why they call Israel “The Startup Nation.
Toronto has all of the right parts (Bianca Lopes has talked about this in a blog post) but we could do a better job of connecting it all. As business leaders, governments, and educators we need to bound ourselves even more to advance the ecosystem of Toronto further. BioConnect has made this commitment - we're fully onboard. We're pushing for this ecosystem.
- Accelerators: MaRS, DMZ, OCE, OneEleven amongst others
- Universities and research units within them: Work with the universities and young bright people to stir up the innovation and commercialization of new technologies
- Tech sector: There are over 296 startups in the Greater Toronto Area (Source: Betakit)
- Government: Support of the Ontario government is extraordinary. We’ve benefited significantly from partnering with organizations like BioTalent Canada, MentorWorks to identify grant opportunities where the Ontario government supports us. The Canadian government as a whole is also very supportive of the tech sector. Prime Minister Trudeau just announced an investment of more than $200 million to create a learning hub to explore artificial intelligence and big data.
These are just a few mentions of the incredible people and organizations that fuel our ecosystem. If I compare that to the system in Israel, their ecosystem is powerful because all the pieces work together. That was a big takeaway for me and I come back inspired to do what we can at BioConnect to fuel our ecosystem.
- We need to do more to sell hard the city of Toronto globally
I just listed some points as to why how extraordinary our ecosystem is. Now I want to comment on what we can be doing to sell it to the world.
The way Israel does it - it’s a full sales pitch of their entire tech ecosystem. We have many assets here that are just as good if not better than Israel’s, but we don’t sell it well. By doing that it will encourage more companies to open up offices here, or relocate their businesses to Toronto. Canadian companies need to change their behaviour and ‘buy Canadian’ when Canadian tech companies can deliver. To strengthen the overall Toronto and Canadian ecosystem… This is what makes Israel stronger. And given recent world events I think there is no better time the present to really open up those doors.
I hope you’ve found the story of my experience to be helpful. As I said, we're seeking ways to push for this ecosystem and are proud to be a part of it. Thank you to all the players who work to make this possible every day.