This year, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in partnership with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto will recognize Mayor John Tory with the Words & Deeds Leadership Award. This award is presented to individuals who demonstrate - by their words and deeds - that the efforts of one can lead to the benefit of many.
I’m extremely excited to be attending Mayor Tory’s recognition dinner. In fact, when I heard of the event, I knew right away that I wanted to contribute. I see “Words & Deeds” as being a well-deserved celebration of Mayor Tory’s leadership within the city of Toronto, among business leaders and in connection to Israel. Moreover, it’s a way to realize the passion and commitment he has for this city and how selfless he is as a leader.
My first real interaction with Mayor Tory came last year, when I joined a Business Technology Mission Trip to Israel, which was organized by the City of Toronto. The trip was jam packed, with back to back meetings the entire 8 days. The point was to learn from Israel – the “Start-Up Nation” and bring insights back to Toronto. It helped us understand Israel at a deeper level, from its history to how strong, innovative and bold it has become and I'm so thankful to now have that perspective.
At one point during the trip, we were brought into a kindergarten class and I was amazed by what I saw. Kindergarten students were being taught software programming and robotics, before they were even taught language.
In Israel, cyber skills are considered fundamental, making them a higher priority than language in the schools’ curriculum. Can you imagine this? Unlike most of the world, Israel does not find themselves constrained by long-standing, common practices. This is an unconventional approach to education – and it's exciting.
In the grand scheme, I think the structure of their ecosystem is playing a lead role in their ability to innovate. They’ve dedicated a massive amount of space to FinTech and Cyber Security innovations - largely in the form of hubs.
When entrepreneurs are working in proximity to each other, it is very powerful.
Proximity removes any barriers to communication, making collaboration more fluid. The ecosystem also ensures the right support is put in place to address the common needs of FinTech’s. And when this happens, companies can move faster because what they need is right there.
Bringing Israeli Innovation Principles Back to Toronto
As you can probably tell, a lot has stuck with me from this trip. That just comes to show the importance of exposing entrepreneurs to the “Start-Up Nation’ – something which Mayor Tory recognized.
This is just one of the many examples of how he demonstrates his commitment to growing Toronto. He is working tirelessly to ensure we can compete on a global stage - raising our profile, rejecting the status quo and making improvements everywhere he turns.
Even throughout our trip, he was relentless, with seemingly unstoppable energy. I watched him going for eight solid days – from 7 AM to 7PM we would have back to back meetings, followed by dinners. It was draining, but that didn’t stop Mayor Tory. The morning after we landed back in Toronto, I turn on the TV and there he was, on a float in the Santa Clause parade.
With the relentlessness and focus that he brings to the table, I’d say he runs our city like a true entrepreneur.
Leaders Eat Last
I recently read a piece by Simon Sinek, called “Leaders Eat Last”. He talks about how Generals in the military will give everything of themselves, so that the Junior Marines can execute strongly.
The difference between authority and leaders is self-interest, explains Sinek. Leaders sacrifice their own-comfort – even their own survival in the case of the Marine Corps General – for the good of those in their care.
Mayor Tory is exactly that – selfless. You can tell he is out to make a difference; that he is driven by an agenda of ‘what’s best for the city, period’. He has made incredible personal sacrifice to see Toronto succeed.
Improving Toronto’s image and impact globally will ultimately manifest into more jobs, creating greater opportunities for Torontonians and strengthening our ecosystem all around. This government support along the incredible tech talent emerging from the Toronto/Waterloo corridor is turning Toronto into a leading tech hub.
This is exactly why I want to build a company here – because this is a great environment to do just that.
Shaping Toronto as a Leading Tech Hub
In hindsight, Israel gave me perspective into the opportunities we have here, in Canada. We should wake up every day and kiss the ground we stand on. We are so blessed, it’s not even funny.
This realization came to me while I was standing on a hilltop overlooking Gaza an area of the country, an area of massiv conflict in the country. Yet, despite these circumstances existing, Israelites have continued to persevere and push boundaries in technology innovation, as though adversity is their enabler. As I wrote about right after the trip, they do this through community, collaboration and the tech hubs I just spoke about.
In Toronto, we need to support each other as a community to be stronger.
Organizations like Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District are already doing an exceptional job at this. BioConnect is a MaRS Scale-Up venture, which is for SME’s in the midst of their growth phase. MaRS has been a key player in helping us reach self-actualization. They are proactively advancing our company. They aren’t waiting for us to call, but rather taking the initiative to seek out opportunities. I see them as being an equal member of our company, as they act as a full-on advisor to BioConnect.
It is not only their support that makes them great, but their infrastructure and the resources they’ve made available.
MaRS is mirroring Israel in this regard; creating the ecosystem that enables entrepreneurs to lean on each other.
They provide solutions in areas that are hard to navigate such as providing the network to find the best-in class IP lawyers. Again, this ecosystem removes the friction that is often experienced by growing SME’s.
But the question remains: What more can we do to strengthen our community?
As my final call to action, I want to encourage you all to be an advocate for Toronto by making a legitimate commitment to strengthening the ecosystem. It is one thing to use words, but the only way we can make a true, lasting impact is through our actions.
One way in which you can contribute is by coming out to support Mayor Tory at the Words & Deeds dinner. This is the perfect opportunity to build our ecosystem. With approximately 700-900 guests in attendance, I foresee making plenty of new connections, ideally leading to future collaborations.
What do you see?