Ask any Torontonian entrepreneur: there’s a reason our city made it into Startup Genome’s 20 most active startup cities back in 2013. We have an incredible, tight-knit community of entrepreneurs, self-starters and go-getters supported by a wealth of institutions and incubators—such as our own DMZ at Ryerson. Just skim through KahootHQ’s Project Board and you’ll get a sense of the talent and innovation brimming within Toronto’s city limits!
Want to get a sense of some of the exciting new ideas being born in this city? We’ve compiled just a slice of the vibrant startup scene with 10 companies and products that got us excited. Let us know in the comments below about any motivational Toronto startups you think should make the list!
Launched in 2009, 500px is one of the best known success stories from Toronto. Co-founders Oleg Gutsol and Evgeny Tchebotarey, both acclaimed photographers and entrepreneurs, created an online community for aspiring and professional photographers alike to share, buy, and sell their work. Within a few years, the site and its associated mobile app skyrocketed to become the premier photographers’ platform acknowledged to hold the highest quality photography worldwide.
Shoutout to our home base: 500px graduated from our very own DMZ back in 2011. Since that time, they’ve acquired over $9 million in funding, over 2 million registered users, and a mobile app that consistently sits as one of iTune’s top photography apps.
Maybe you remember the 2013 Facebook frenzy when all your friends were posting endless streams of Bitstrips: the mobile app that lets you create and share customizable comics featuring you and your friends in strange fictitious situations. You have Toronto co-founders Jacob Blackstock and Shahan Panth to thank for these viral little cartoons. The concept began back in their high school days, when they traded humorous hand drawn comics back and forth during English class. The mobile app released in 2013 hit Internet fame, rated the trendiest app of the year by Google and garnering over 30 million users across 90 countries.
Here’s one for our fellow startups! Co-founders Kevin Kim, Tobok Lee and Freddy Hidalgo-Monchez teamed up to create a burgeoning social network for startups and entrepreneurs. The picture-based platform addresses a perceived communications gap: sites like AngelList and Gust were great resources, but they felt there was a lack of “real” communication between members of the community. Enter TeamStory, a platform for entrepreneurs to capture and share moments of the day-to-day grind of running a startup: the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between. Still in their early days, the community has already amassed 200 beta signups, shared over 3,000 moments across 63 countries.
Another big name in the tech startup community, Wattpad is self-described as a kind of YouTube for books, an online community of self-publishers and readers. They use a Netflix-style algorithm to track users’ personal tastes and filter through the site’s prolific literary output. The company launched in 2006, but it shot to fame with the release of its mobile app in 2007, reaching 5 million downloads by 2009. 32 million users and 70 million stories later, the site is considered a viable contender against traditional book publishers. In fact, a number of Wattpad’s most successful writers, garnering millions of views each, secured book publishing deals through their Internet fame.
Did you ever get caught texting in class? Now, thanks to this Toronto-based tech startup, mobile technology has a respectable place in class. Teachers run Top Hat on their mobile devices, while the same material is streamed on students’ tablets and phones as they engage directly with learning material, from answering questions to completing quizzes. Free for teachers, the app provides seamless integration and easy-to-use tools for teachers to create quizzes, questions and educational resources. Top Hat is currently used by over 500 institutions and over 500,000 students across the globe, including at the University of Toronto.
Based out of the University of Toronto, Chematria represents an innovative and potentially industry-altering piece of software that analyzes the effectiveness of both existing and hypothetical drugs. The technology’s artificial intelligence allows the program to evaluate in a matter of days masses of data that would take the human brain years to analyze. It’s an impressive program that takes an equally impressive supercomputer to run—the largest supercomputer in Canada, loaded with millions of data points designed to pinpoint the most effective drugs against diseases such as multiple sclerosis, leukaemia, and, most recently, ebola.
One of the biggest names in Toronto’s tech community, InteraXon is making waves in technology controlled by brainpower alone. Supported by a diverse team headed by Ariel Garten—neuroscientist, psychotherapist, and fashion designer—the company produces a nifty piece called the Muse, a headset that senses brainwaves and converts them into digital signals that can influence everything from electronics to brain-powered beer taps. Garnering interest and support from a wide range of industries (including Ashton Kutcher?!), InteraXon recently signed a deal with Indigo and has sold upwards of 5,000 Muse headsets since its launch in May 2014.
Formerly known as Bionym, Nymi is another wearable-tech company boasting big potential with over $14 million in funding for its namesake product: a wristwatch that taps into its wearer’s unique cardiac rhythm as an alternative to traditional passwords and PINs—keeping your personal information close to your heart, so to speak. In an age of identity theft and security breaches, the wristwatch presents some interesting implications for how we interact with our everyday devices, and how we can access the information stored in them. RBC agrees: in late 2014, they partnered with Nymi to roll out their PayBand pilot project allowing clients and staff to charge purchases to their credit card using their heartbeat as their PIN.
Imagine a remix of Instagram and MyFitnessPal. Well, co-founders Garret Gottlieb and Phil Jacobson did, and named it PumpUp. Latching onto the health and fitness trend, the app is a photo-based social network designed to motivate users to maintain an active lifestyle. In addition to posting and commenting on progress photos, users can also access custom workouts, track progress and activities, and receive fitness coaching. Winning over $2.4 million in funding and gathering over a million users within six months, PumpUp shows no sign of slowing as it secures big-name industry partners and continues expanding its team.
Balancing books, organizing receipts, invoicing clients… It’s a tedious but necessary part of running a business. Founded in 2003, Freshbooks is an innovative tool that seamlessly micromanages small business finances, from creating timesheets to tracking profits and losses. Since its launch, the app has spread across over 120 countries and attracted over five million users with its user-friendly interface and efficient service. Another reason to like Freshbooks? Co-founder and CEO Mike McDerment is a stout supporter of the Canadian startup industry: every week, he has dinner with a different aspiring entrepreneur he wants to help achieve their goals.
Sara Menuck | Guest Writer
Armed with an honours degree in Professional Writing and a personal vendetta against the misplaced apostrophe, Sara is a creative writer, meticulous editor, and self-professed Netflix addict.