It’s axiomatic that vibrant technology clusters are anchored by one or more top-tier research institutions. Universities generate novel research and IP. They attract a wide cross-section of the next generation’s most talented engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs. For Silicon Valley, it was Stanford, Berkeley, Caltech, Xerox PARC. For Toronto it was the University of Toronto and the University Health Network. For Waterloo, it was its world-renowned engineering school at the University of Waterloo. Markham, in contrast, has neither a university, a research hospital or even an NRC institution.

Nonetheless, it has produced an extraordinary volume of IP. In fact, Markham companies arguably out-perform those from Waterloo, one of the country’s most storied tech enclaves. Adjusting for the outsized presence of BlackBerry/Research in Motion, which according to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office [CIPO] accounted for over 84.04% of Waterloo’s IP between 2000 and 2021. Markham companies registered 1,224 patents; Waterloo only 1,085, excluding BlackBerry/Research in Motion’s 5,871]. Moreover, Waterloo patents include academic research from the university. Markham’s are private sector and market ready.

Cultural distinctions amongst these southern Ontario powerhouses are similarly striking.

Toronto, the seat of the provincial government, unsurprisingly, has a heavy public sector bias. Its entrepreneurs naturally respond to government initiatives and prioritized academic funding streams. They look to them and institutional investors to validate their ventures.

Kitchener-Waterloo is dominated by the gravitational pull of the University of Waterloo. Simultaneously collegial and competitive, its entrepreneurs have confidence that their community’s deep national and international network of relationships and outsized reputation in innovation circles will offer access to the investments, the connections, the media coverage and even the customers essential to success.

Markham’s ethos is fundamentally different. Ruggedly independent and market driven, its entrepreneurs blend conceptual insights with deep technical proficiency – and bootstrap their own ambitions. They find financing that supports their endeavours rather than adapting their ideas to the exigencies of current public sector priorities, academic trends or investment bubbles.

Y Space Markham