Kitchener’s Downtown Tech Industry
For quite a few years now, the Waterloo Region has had a reputation for tech innovation. Its name always pops up on lists of entrepreneurial havens and startup hubs. The Waterloo Region has a population of just under 550 000, but it is ranked on the same level as Canada’s largest cities: Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa, and Vancouver, despite substantially larger populations than the Waterloo Region, are on the same playing field in terms of success, investment, and the formation of new tech startups.
The Canadian Technology Triangle (CTT) was a group and an idea that brought the Waterloo Region to the world stage; it suggested that Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, and the surrounding townships of Wellesley, Wilmot, Woolwich, and North Dumfries had something special going on.
This was not just a regional phenomenon, but a movement worthy of international attention (and investment). The CTT attracted investors, and it helped innovators, entrepreneurs, and small businesses prosper and grow throughout the Region. The CTT passed the baton to the Waterloo EDC (Waterloo Economic Development Corporation) in 2015, and this organization continues the CTT’s noble purpose.
But the Canadian Technology Triangle, in its name, suggested that this Region was interconnected, with no single centre of activity; the name Waterloo EDC has come under some scrutiny for the implication that Waterloo itself (the city) was of greater importance than the other parts of the triangle.
In truth, the TriCities and the surrounding Townships all contribute to the Region’s sterling reputation. So for today, we’re going to put Waterloo (the city) aside for a moment (mostly), and focus our attention on Kitchener – particularly, Downtown Kitchener’s tech sector.
What sorts of places can you find in Downtown Kitchener; what’s driving the tech boom? The answer to both is: quite a lot. One leading organization running out of the downtown core is Communitech. They were founded in 1997 by “a group of dedicated entrepreneurs who wanted to raise the profile of the Waterloo Region tech community.
Their vision: more tech talent, a globally-recognized tech sector and better support for companies” (Communitech). And they’ve been working to foster and encourage growth in downtown Kitchener (and beyond) ever since – hundreds of tech companies form the ‘Communitech family,’ and by all accounts, it’s a happy family.
Communitech is located at 151 Charles Street West, on the northwestern part of downtown Kitchener. Its huge office complex (over 80 000 square feet of space) is known as the Communitech Hub, and this is the beating heart of downtown Kitchener’s tech sector; it’s a space to collaborate, cultivate connections, and relish in the boundless opportunities provided by Communitech’s ambitious vision for the future (and the present) of the Waterloo Region.
If you’re part of a tech startup, if you’re an independent creator, or if you’re looking to work in the tech sector: Communitech can help. The WorkInTech service they run helps bring employers and jobseekers together – check it out here.
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Much of downtown Kitchener’s tech industry runs out of the Lang Tannery building. What is the Lang Tannery? Well, it was once a massive tannery – at one point the largest in the British Commonwealth. But Cadan, Inc., a Toronto-based real estate development company, saw the value in its location and design, so they purchased it for $10 million in 2007.
Now, hundreds of tech startups, large and small, run out of the Tannery. Desire2Learn (D2L), an ambitious online, educational software developer, has its headquarters here, and Communitech, with its network of over 800 startups, also calls the Tannery home.
One of the more recent arrivals to the Tannery is Velocity. Financed by the University of Waterloo, Velocity works with students at the UW campus, and serves as a launching pad for a wide variety of startups and tech companies.
Their Velocity Garage runs out of the Tannery, where they provide business advisors, company workspace, and incredible networking opportunities. Some of Kitchener’s greatest success stories have benefited from Velocity’s services, including Thalmic Labs Inc., MappedIn, Vidyard, and more.
If you leave the Communitech offices, and the distinctive Lang Tannery, and turn right on Victoria Street South, then left on King Street West, you’ll get a glimpse of Google’s new Kitchener office (it’s located in a complex on 51 Breithaupt Street, just off of King, also in the Tannery District).
What does it mean that a tech giant like Google has chosen Kitchener as the home of one of its offices? Well, it’s an undeniable stamp of approval from a company with the resources to set up shop anywhere; Google continuously strives to stay ahead of the curve, and Kitchener is a thriving centre of innovation.
It also makes Kitchener an attractive option for other massive companies to invest in in the future. Google’s Kitchener office initially ran out of the Lang Tannery, too, but it’s grown incredibly over the last ten years (from under ten employees to over 400, making it Google’s largest office in Canada), so Google purchased a historic rubber factory and converted it into a bustling, modern tech hub.
Google also made sure to prioritize sustainability; the building received a LEED v4 (Leading in Energy and Environmental Design) green building certification, making it one of the most environmentally-friendly offices in Canada. It serves as an engineering headquarters, with special emphasis on Gmail, Chrome, and several other Google services and platforms.
Over half of the team is made up of graduates from University of Waterloo – UW is, of course, another central part of the Region’s rise as a leader in tech, as it ensures an experienced workforce is available to the numerous tech companies in the Region.
Downtown Kitchener’s rise as a centre for tech startups and innovation didn’t start all at once; it was the confluence of a number of factors, as well as individuals and companies willing to bet on the area’s potential.
It turned out to be a really good bet, as now downtown Kitchener has the infrastructure; international, national, and regional connections; and reputation to ensure its continued growth and prosperity. The Tannery District is a major hub for startups, but you can stroll up and down other parts of Kitchener’s downtown core and find plenty of tech companies – both established ones and growing ones.
For example, Thalmic Labs stands across from the Charles Street Terminal, and Vidyard is a few blocks away, off Queen Street North. As downtown Kitchener’s tech industry continues to soar, business opportunities in other sectors, property value, and the city itself will all benefit as well.
It’s a good time to be in downtown Kitchener.
Written by Will Kummer