Ontario’s Best Kept Secret: Is Canada’s Silicon Valley North Actually This Small Rural Town?

The question of which Canadian city is most deserving of the title of Silicon Valley North has been hotly debated for many years. 

Toronto is Canada’s most active ecosystem, according to the Startup Compass, but we all know activity isn’t everything.

And if activity isn’t everything, should we not look beyond the borders of Canada’s major cities like Vancouver and Montreal… perhaps far beyond?

In what has been dubbed by some in the tech startup scene as “Ontario’s best kept secret,” the small town of Prince Edward County is vying to become the rural or miniature edition of Silicon Valley North. With a community of just 25,000 people and more than two hours by car from any major city, the County seems like a hard sell. But the town—which historically has only been desirable to retirees—is “suddenly witnessing the arrival of young entrepreneurs,” as The Globe and Mail puts it.

Steven Chan, for one, has moved his gaming startup, Little Think Tank, from the Valley to what most Valley-goers would consider little more than a quaint hamlet—an unassuming town called Picton on the shores of Lake Ontario. The Prince Edward County Innovation Centre has attracted nine startups in the first year of a newly reinvented program that sees local incubators invest seed mone, which is matched by the federal Community Futures Program.

Combine seed money—which is surprisingly hard to obtain in a Valley obsessed with A-rounds—with a much lower cost of living, and you’ve suddenly got an unexpectedly enticing opportunity. And Picton is also better located than one might guess—it’s conveniently equidistant to three of Canada’s most important tech hubs: Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.

While Innovation Centre developer Conrad Guziewicz confesses that for urbanites, living there “can be a big adjustment,” he affirms that it is indeed “a great place to live.” He himself was raised in Toronto and performed as an executive for Silicon Valley tech companies in the 90s before renovated a former resort in Picton into office suites. Now, his organization’s fund takes equity stakes up to 25% in locally budding startups.

Hoping to snag as many as 16 more entrepreneurs and startups within the next year, Prince Edward County looks poised to quickly etablish its own ecosystem of technology startups. It will soon be a well-kept secret no more. Especially considering their very first investment turned out to be a smashing success.