When you think about highway 401, traffic and commuting is most likely the first thing that comes to mind. For John Ruffolo, its innovation. CEO of OMERS Ventures, Ruffolo kicked off an event last week called Series 401 which showcased sixteen of the top tech companies along the 401 corridor: GTA and Waterloo Region.
Series 401 is a partnership between Kitchener-Waterloo’s Communitech and Toronto’s OneEleven, a new tech hub created by OMERS Ventures.
Ruffolo says that 90% of the companies OMERS Ventures sees is coming from about five key areas of innovation: Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo. “If we take a look at these areas even further, the corridor between Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto accounts for 50-60% of all the innovation activity happening in this country,” explained Ruffolo.
For Ruffolo, the success and failure of innovation in this country is rooted in how well Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo do within this area. And strengthening these two nodes will start to impact other areas of the country.
“If you get two ends of the nodes very strong and you develop the infrastructure between them, other parts of the ecosystem, like a hub and spoke, will really start to develop. We believe that connecting KW to Toronto is really the source to drive innovation in this country,” said Ruffolo.
Kitchener-Waterloo has done well with clustering over the past couple of years. Communitech, which started in 1997, is now a tech cluster of nearly 1,000 companies that generates more than $30 billion in annual revenue. But Toronto’s innovation areas are fragmented and scattered which is one of the main reasons OMERS Ventures created and situated OneEleven in the downtown core in the same building as Google.
“We want this to be where tech happens. Where the future happens. We will have companies here and training and development. But its really about community building. This will be the place where, serendipitously, people and idea collisions will occur,” Ruffolo enthusiastically told the crowd.
The Series 401 event gave sixteen companies the chance to pitch a room filled with Canadian and international investors. The group represented a cross-section of companies from both Toronto and KW. The selection also highlighted the wide array of different industries being impacted by tech innovation including health, social media, human resources and commerce.
In attendance at Series 401 was:
- ESL Explorer
- Market Clouds
- Tulip Retail