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How startups are making sure they don't miss out on Canada's tech boom

Editor’s note: From November 19-30, Yahoo Finance Canada will be highlighting the best of Canadian innovation in a series called The Future Is Now. We’ll be bringing into the spotlight some of the companies and individuals that aren’t just pushing the limits, they’re creating new ones, for themselves and investors alike. We’ll be shining the spotlight on homegrown talent in the fields of satellite technology, autonomous vehicles, wearable tech and more. Check out our hub page for even more coverage and let us know in the comments: Which companies do you think represent the best of Canada looking toward the future?

The MaRS Discovery District in downtown Toronto.


Canada’s tech sector is booming.

Despite losing out on Amazon HQ2 (it was a long shot, anyways), the Canadian tech scene is growing. Just in September, Microsoft announced it planned on hiring 500 new employees as part of a $570 million expansion in Canada, one that includes a new headquarters in Toronto.

A July CBRE report ranked Toronto as the fourth top-ranked tech talent market out of 50 cities in the U.S. and Canada, behind just Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. According to the CBRE report, Toronto’s is North America’s fastest growing tech market. There were 241,000 tech job in Toronto last year, an increase of more than 50 per cent over five years, with nearly 30,000 jobs added in 2017 alone. (Ottawa and Montreal were ranked No. 13 and No. 14, respectively.)

But in the midst of this boom, startups are trying to make sure they do not lose out on potential opportunities, particularly when it comes to hiring top-tier tech talent.

“We have to remember that in this wave of growth that we’re going to see in terms of Toronto and Canada’s tech profile that we don’t forget to support the startups, because we don’t want them to get lost in a lot of this growth,” said Salim Teja, president of venture services at innovation hub MaRS, in an interview with Yahoo Finance Canada.

Startups have certainly noticed an increasingly competitive market when it comes to hiring top-tier tech talent in Canada.

“A few years ago, the question was about who is winning the talent war? The talent itself, or the companies that are out there trying to hire?” said Axle Davids, vice president of branding at Swift Medical, a Toronto-based healthcare startup.

“The talent has won. There is no doubt about that.”

Swift Medical is in the midst of hiring several people to join their current team of about 65 full-time employees. It’s a process that hasn’t always been easy. Laura Niblett, a human resources generalist with the healthcare startup, said there have been instances at other companies where candidates have been hired on the spot, moments after an interview ends.

“In tech, the hiring process can be insanely fast,” she said.

“What we’ve really noticed is that a) it’s a highly competitive market and b) the candidate pool is not as big as people think it is and c) it’s really a candidate’s game out there, not the employers.”

As a result, startups are trying a range of approaches when it comes to hiring that highly-sought after talent.

One approach taken by some startups has been to participate in one of the programs offered by MaRS, the innovation hub located in downtown Toronto. Swift Medical participated in the company’s Talent Brand Accelerator program, which provided group programming about talent branding. MaRS also said it helped the startup “re-invent its recruiting program and hire 40 new team members in six months.”

Lendified, a Toronto-based fintech startup that provides loans online to small businesses, also partnered with MaRS in the past year. Through its partnership, Lendified was connected with Venture for Canada, a non-profit organization that recruits recent graduates to work at Canadian startups. MaRS said Lendified hired at least three people through its partnership.

Another way to bridge the talent gap, Teja said, is recruiting international talent.

Vikram Rangnekar worked at LinkedIn’s Silicon Valley office for six years before he decided – to the slight bewilderment of some of his colleagues – to move to Toronto. Now, he and his wife run their own company, Mov North, a subscription-based service that helps tech employees come and work Canada.

“There’s a lot of local talent in Canada ” Rangnekar said, pointing to the University of Waterloo, University of Toronto and McGill University as hot spots for potential tech talent recruitment.

“The problem is there is a lack of experienced talent here… so we’re trying to bring people in to fill that gap. I think companies are still warming up to hiring internationally.”

While the entrance of major U.S. tech firms into the Canadian market may make the job market more competitive, Teja argues it also brings great opportunity for local companies.

“We hear about this from the innovators who are running their startups and who often feel that when the big guys come in, they are going to scoop up all of the talent, salaries will rise and it will be harder to fuel growth,” Teja said.

“What we’re seeing is that a lot of these big groups that are coming not only want to hire locally, but are prepared to move global talent to Toronto, which basically grows the talent pool even further.”

Still, many startups looking to hire talent are banking on the appeals of working for a small, innovative company – more creative freedom, less bureaucracy, and the financial potential of getting through the doors of a burgeoning business in its earliest days.

Indeed, Swift Medical says they don’t see major U.S.-players such as Microsoft as a competitor in the talent market. Niblett says the company’s hiring process has instead been focused on retaining talent that is not only highly skilled, but will stick around due to a passion for the work they are doing.

“Yes, our pool list gets shorter because more candidates are being hired and aren’t looking for other jobs,” she said.

“But we’re a healthcare company and we’re passionate about improving the healthcare space… We try not to worry too much about what other companies are doing. We need to hire people that want to work here.”

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