5 Reasons Guelph is Better Than Waterloo or Toronto for Tech Startups.

In 2008 I co-founded my first tech startup in Burlington (A city-suburb just west of Toronto), Ontario. We eventually moved to Oakville (nearer still to Toronto than Burlington), and then ultimately landed right in downtown Toronto in 2012. It was fun. It was what we believed was the right thing to do. I kinda liked Toronto. But then… commuting. I was either driving or on the train for at least 3 hours of every work day. I felt the lives of my wife and young kids slipping through my fingers.

That, among many other factors led me to leaving that (still awesome) company (which I still love and own a hefty chunk of). I took a year off.

It wasn’t until I started to seek out a technical co-founder for a new startup idea that my year-long freedom was jeopardized.

Freedoms often give way to the efforts required for new ideas to succeed.

I REALLY had to build this new idea… but I also had no desire to do it in the big smoke. In fact, every ounce of my being wanted to believe it was possible to build something great closer to where Michelle and I and the girls (and now boy) were, way out in the countryside, an hour and thirty minutes from downtown Toronto.

After meeting with more than ten (and less than twelve) different friends and candidates for this technical co-founder role, I met Jack. Now… I know it’s generally frowned upon to just up and start a startup with someone you’ve just met… but screw what’s frowned upon. When you meet someone with the same ideals and drive, passionate about the same problems and skilled in the gifts you lack, and you have that instantaneous connection, grab that and don’t let go. That’s Jack. He’s one of the most effective young tech leaders I’ve ever met — and now he’s my co-founder. There was just one thing. Jack lived in… gulp…….Guelph of all places. He had moved there from downtown Toronto with his new wife Mandy when he got a job at Kik Messenger only a short while before.

It just so happens that my other co-founder Matt, lived there too. I myself, was only 30 minutes from downtown Guelph at my home in the Flamborough countryside. between Hamilton, and Guelph. My wife had attended UoG. I had many friends in Guelph. So, against all natural tech-startup inclinations, I didn’t push for the hustle and bustle of Toronto. I didn’t gravitate towards the academic prowess of Waterloo. I simply followed the tender nudging towards the non-obvious, small-town agricultural embrace of Guelph, Ontario. After being in Guelph for a full year of operations, I can honestly say… Wow Guelph! WOW!

So…Why Guelph?

1. Rent. We’re a startup. Every penny counts. In Guelph, we pay per year what my previous business pays per month in downtown Toronto. ‘Nuff’said. I wish I was kidding.

2. Call it the “Big fish in a small pond” syndrome — but we’re one of the only valley-venture-backed startups in the music tech space in all of Canada — let alone Guelph. So we get a certain amount of attention. I was texting back and forth with the Mayor of Guelph (@camguthrie) on Wednesday morning. We’ve already brought nearly 2 million dollars in investment into the relatively small Guelph tech community. Word gets around in the small pond.

3. In very much the same way that I didn’t like commuting to downtown Toronto, there are many skilled workers who buy outside of the city to get a more affordable and spacious home of their dreams for their families, only to find themselves outside of their dream homes more often than they are inside of it. Commuting does that. It’s been remarkable to interview incredibly mature and gifted senior developers and engineers who are passionate about tech, but tired of their commute. “You guys are in Guelph!?! What!?! That’s amazing!”. It has become an unforseen asset to be in little’ol’Guelph rather than in downtown Toronto.

4. Locavore. The University of Guelph has historically been one of Canada’s foremost agricultural universities. As such, there is an active local farm-to-fork (@farm_to_fork) movement in Guelph which finds it’s way into many of the very fine restaurants there. Great local produce lends itself to a greater selection of ingredients for the other amazing trade-school in Guelph — Conestoga College — which has one of Canada’s best culinary programs. It’s actually quite hard to find a bad restaurant in Guelph. They exist… but they stick out like sore thumbs against the palette of quality foodie experiences available in Guelph. In particular, we’re a 3 minute walk from Baker Street Station (@BakerStStation), and just 5 minutes from 39 Carden (@39CardenStreet). We’re 2 minutes from Buon Gusto (@buongustoGuelph) and it’s just another small jaunt over to Ox (@OxGuelph). We’ve made it a tradition to take new hires to Baker Street on their first day. Beyond an unbelievably original re-interpretation of pub food, they offer an astounding array of beers. Which brings me to my next favourite benefit of being in Guelph…

5. Micro-Breweries. We’ve fallen in love with Royal City Breweries (@RoyalCityBrew) and Wellington Brewery (@WellingtonBrew). So much so that we run 2 taps right in our offices just to have easy access to them. That’s not even mentioning Stonehammer Brewing (@StoneHammerBeer), or Sleeman Breweries (@SleemanBeer). It’s great to be able to share a pint after a long day with the folks you’re in the trenches with. It’s even better if that pint is special.

6. (Bonus!) So if all that wasn’t enough to make Guelph the ideal place to launch your startup, there’s the UoG Coop program and graduates. As an Angel investor, I have twice invested in young entrepreneurs who were UoG grads from the CompSci program. So far we’ve only had excellent experiences with current or former UoG students. It seems that the idea of collaboration and teamwork are engraved onto their impressionable hearts… and it’s good. We’re also quite close to Waterloo, with it’s plethora of top-notch engineers as we grow.

The Truth…

Truthfully I don’t know for sure if Guelph is better than Toronto or Waterloo to launch a startup. I know that networking, access to Angels and VCs are true benefits of the Toronto and Waterloo startup scene. I can’t deny that. Denying that would be stupid. I know my statements are anecdotal at best but... From Guelph, I can drive 20 minutes to Waterloo for meetings, or 60 minutes (after/before rushhour) to downtown Toronto. I’m in the middle. To me, culture plays an incredible role in building the foundation of a great company. Your environs play their part in that foundation. I’ll say this — I feel like I’ve discovered a secret others should know about. I’m confident in our ability to build a great and profitable global business with this amazing team. 5 years ago I’d have laughed at you for suggesting it could happen in Guelph. Now, I’m thinking that just being in Guelph might play a material role in helping us do so.

Thanks Guelph. You’re great.

Follow our progress at http://fan.si and on twitter @getfansi



CGO @ CCCI/YesTV/Tricord | CEO/Founder @ Fan.si @getfansi Former CEO | HitGrab Inc. @HitGrab, Mentor | @founderfuel, Angel/Advisor, @500Startups Class #001

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

CGO @ CCCI/YesTV/Tricord | CEO/Founder @ Fan.si @getfansi Former CEO | HitGrab Inc. @HitGrab, Mentor | @founderfuel, Angel/Advisor, @500Startups Class #001