ICT Toronto: The City, the Industry, the Community

Ok, enough bitching and complaining already. Alicia Bulwik of the ICT Toronto project has agreed to meet with some members of the TorCamp community and our extended community of Toronto tech investors, entrepreneurs and bloggers on October 5th. Thanks to our good friend Allen Gelberg of MaRS for providing space. We will hear an update on what ICT Toronto has been up to and have input into its business plan.

So now that the community has the City’s ear, what does the community want to say?

Let me take a first crack at it:

  1. ICT Toronto needs to recognize all community members as legitimate economic development actors; i.e. “loosen up” and “open up”
  2. ICT Toronto needs to pay attention to and take lessons from the successes of BarCamp, DemoCamp, CaseCamp, Enterprise2.0 and other unconferences as well as the success of a more traditional conference like Mesh; understand how they happened and the role they have in developing the community, the industry and Toronto’s reputation
  3. ICT Toronto needs a two-track strategy: one supporting the large end of the ecosystem, and another supporting the emerging players
  4. ICT Toronto needs to be transparent to, and communicate regularly with, the wider technology community; a web site is a good start, but Toronto’s tech bloggers are important influencers, thought leaders and opinion-makers and already have the audience, so take advantage of them

Community is important to the development of a vibrant tech industry. TorCamp and similar groups are communities of practice. Communities of practice include students, people working in the industry, current and former entrepreneurs, investors, teachers, academics, etc. Not all these community members operate a business today, or represent a formal organization. The community is not an organization. “Community is the framework”.

Economic development practitioners traditionally only recognize businesses and formal trade organizations as legitimate stakeholders. This must change. This is a paradigm shift from an industrial policy model towards the cultivation of an ecosystem. This shift in perspective is absolutely necessary to unlock Toronto’s potential. This community can help make this shift manageable for those practitioners by demonstrating how to exploit the new tools of participatory community-building and social media. That link must be established.

How can we move Toronto up the ladder globally?

Paul Graham’s essay “How to be Silicon Valley is an important starting point. Read Joey’s series on the subject. You need rich people and nerds. I agree with many of Graham’s points, especially on the importance of making a place that both nerds and rich people are drawn to:

There has been a lot written lately about the “creative class.” The thesis seems to be that as wealth derives increasingly from ideas, cities will prosper only if they attract those who have them. That is certainly true; in fact it was the basis of Amsterdam’s prosperity 400 years ago.

A lot of nerd tastes they share with the creative class in general. For example, they like well-preserved old neighborhoods instead of cookie-cutter suburbs, and locally-owned shops and restaurants instead of national chains. Like the rest of the creative class, they want to live somewhere with personality.

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So placemaking is an important part of building a vibrant technology industry. What kind of places do both nerds and rich people want to spend time? Why do people love Toronto? Well, a working, functional city with a high quality of life is a start. So culture is an issue for the ICT industry, as is transportation and the environment. The ICT industry should be putting its economic and political weight behind the recommendations of the Strategies for a Creative City project, and put pressure on senior levels of government to increase support for intelligent urban growth, improved regional transit infrastructure, improved creative education and social and cultural investment in our communities.

What can ICT Toronto do specifically?

First, convene all the communities of practice and industry groups to establish needs and priorities for the future and identify areas for cooperation. This would be a major regional forum for the ICT industry to bring the various partners together under a single roof.

Next, bring large companies, communities of practice, venture capital firms and other levels of government together to pool resources and make strategic investments in pilot programs and local infrastructure such as:

  • Innovation Commons spaces – bring entrepreneurs, geeks and rich people together on a daily basis
  • Social Microfinance and other new models for seed funding of early-stage startups
  • Ubiquitous and cheap wifi; affordable mobile data connectivity and ultra-broadband availability
  • Link DemoCampers to large companies to pilot/partner new products
  • Provide travel assistance to startups to attend key conferences, trade shows

Joey, David, Mark, Mathew, Rob, Tom, Rohan, Leila, Malgosia, Jay, Rick and Estelle will be there. Your input is important. Leave your comments here or trackback or email me: mark (at) remarkk (dot) com.

One thought on “ICT Toronto: The City, the Industry, the Community”

  1. It is really very much about community. I am pleased and encouraged by the very positive perspective that you bring.

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