Opinion: Brampton Positioning for Pit-Stop in Silicon Valley North

Brampton is geographically well positioned in the Toronto-Waterloo technology corridor of Southern Ontario that is being primed as Silicon Valley North. The corridor includes a developing ecosystem of companies and industries, venture capital and incubation support, universities, researchers, engineers, infrastructure, political will and leadership. What appears missing in Brampton however is a direct connection to this ecosystem. The city is at risk of becoming a mere pit-stop in this corridor and losing its young and educated human talent to regions that have a head start over Brampton.

The opportunity for our city is closing. Aspiring entrepreneurs who will create the next wave of technology innovations and employment are not opening up shop here. They are gravitating to downtown Toronto and around the University of Waterloo where there are tremendous resources available to be successful. There are few reasons for a technology start-up to risk isolation from the existing ecosystem by locating in our city.

Consider what is at stake. Silicon Valley in northern California is a century long project that sprouted Apple, Google (Alphabet) and Facebook.  These three companies alone have a combined market capitalization of US$2.7 Trillion and play a major role in the local and state economies. They are a small sample of the global leaders in the area that drive the American and world economies. They compete hard for talent and market share by making innovation the core of what they do. Are there any prospects of a similar company ever sprouting up here in Brampton? But imagine if one could!

Watch a progress update of Apple Park, Apple’s new 175 acre campus in Cupertino, California…

How does Brampton make innovation the core of what happens here?

As a young engineer working at Microsoft in Redmond, WA just outside of Seattle, I had a front-row seat to the entrepreneurial genius of Bill Gates.  Many of my co-workers had been lured from Stanford, MIT and Canada’s own University of Waterloo. “Bill”, as we called him, inspired us all to think big and to take action.

Bill owned the land that the company leased for its now sprawling campus. The land is not unlike land I see in Brampton near where I now live on the city’s west side. Canon Canada recently opened their Canadian headquarters in the area and chose the site because of the areas natural features. Yet the area is zoned for many more suburban McMansions. Guelph or the Waterloo region is now a much better option for a start-up that hopes to be the next global innovator and wants land to grow into, while also being close to transportation and research centres.

When I left Microsoft I moved back home to Brampton to start my own software company in 2001. I self-funded the venture and learned through trial and error how not to run a business. Looking back, one of the biggest mistakes I made was locating the company in Brampton. The idea of a technology incubator back then was not mainstream and so software entrepreneurs especially were left to flounder.

Today however, the need to support technology start-ups is seen as critical to the economic viability of every municipality. The recently announced partnership with Ryerson to create a STEAM based university program here should give us all some hope. The generation of kids in elementary school now will be the benefactors. The rest of us need to ensure that this hope becomes reality by pushing our business and community leaders to lay the foundation today for success in the coming decades. We need a long-term vision matched with empowered and educated young people who are supported to think big, think differently, to innovate, and to start their businesses here.

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