The Canadian start-up ecosystem’s growth is reflected in the number and size of investment deals made in 2018. PwC and CB Insights’ MoneyTree report broke down the five Canadian cities that saw the highest volume of dollars and deals in 2018: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City, and Calgary.
Betakit, a media company that follows Canadian start-ups and tech innovations, recently compiled an article on the five top Canadian cities in investment volume and deals. BetaKit spoke with PwC’s tech team to better understand the factors that influenced each city’s success and what’s driving its growth in 2019.
Toronto was Canada’s top market for venture capital investments, with its investments jumping back over the CAD 1 billion funding mark. Start-ups in the city took in roughly CAD 1.7 billion spanning 160 deals, a 47 per cent increase from the previous year’s CAD 976 million across 136 deals.
Fintech and artificial intelligence continue to be what Toronto PwC tech managing director Rich Adam called the “800-pound gorillas” in the market. The city continued to lead the country in the number of FinTech companies, with several notable funding deals in that space, including Clearbanc’s CAD 92 million round, as well as foreign exchange cloud platform Kooltra’s CAD 6.5 million round.
While Montreal has long known as Canada’s AI capital, there are many signs that Toronto could also compete for that title, according to the Betakit article.
Toronto’s top five deals in 2018 — Clearblanc, Ritual, Ecobee, TouchBistro, and Wattpad, spanned the gamut of B2C, B2B, and hardware-software firms, some with repeat founders.
While investment in Vancouver remained stationary in 2018, the number of deals the city saw increased drastically. According to sources, there were around 101 deals made in the period compared to 60 in the previous year.
Cameron Burke, PwC’s technology sector managing director for Vancouver, called the PwC numbers indicative of two trends in the city. On the positive side, he said, Vancouver has a “proud and vibrant early and emerging tech ecosystem” that was seeing more VC funding flowing into it. He pointed to scaling-up as one of the main challenges facing the city’s tech companies.
“The challenge of scale remains, of taking a company from 100 to 700 people,” he said. “There’s not that many people locally who have done that, and some of the people [who have] are still locked up into those companies. What I’m starting to see is…the narrative that we need to bring people here to grow and scale.”
Burke noted that he is watching with interest how people from British Columbia’s traditional industries are starting to cross-pollinate into tech and bringing new ways of thinking.
Montreal’s number of deals remained relatively stable, 74 in 2018, up from 71 in 2017, the city saw a 29 per cent increase in the amount of VC dollars, totalling CAD 1.16 billion. Montreal also recorded an impressive fourth quarter, with CAD 346 million spanning 19 deals.
A large portion of that Q4 funding came from two major deals. Hopper, a travel booking platform, raised a CAD 128 million Series D round, and Milestone Pharmaceuticals closed a USD 80 million private financings.
After a couple of quieter years, Quebec City had a blockbuster 2018. With companies raising CAD 575 million over 30 deals, the city more than doubled its deals and dollars from 2017. It had its best year in VC activity since 2012, earning Quebec City a spot on MoneyTree’s list of the five most active cities in the country.
Calgary hit a six-year high for both dollars and deals in 2018, with companies bringing in CAD 169 million over 20 deals, representing a 22 per cent increase in VC funding from 2017.
“I think 2018 and 2019 have been blowout years, it’s been positive in the technology ecosystem,” said Joon Chan, the technology leader for PwC Calgary’s assurance practice. “Calgary has seemed to be one of the best-kept secrets in Canadian technology, but with some of this activity in the past six to eight months; it’s showing up more.”