Mark Zimmerman from MaRS Discovery District sheds light on Toronto and the Startup Ecosystem Report

A recent report from Startup Genome showed Toronto tied for 10th place on their list of the world’s top ecosystems for startups. Mark Zimmerman, an advisor in the MaRS information technology, communications and entertainment practice, delves into Toronto’s scorecard to look at the good, the average, and the bad. You can read Mark’s post here.

The report rings true to me, and Mark’s commentary helps explain why. Toronto is young, as startup cities go, and because the report split Toronto and Waterloo (while considering San Francisco and Palo Alto a single ecosystem) I think some of the strength of our close ties to the Waterloo community might be lost, but we are definitely playing in the big leagues and if we continue as we have been evolving, Toronto will move up higher on the list over time.

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Who’s lying to you?

Lie spotting expert Pamela Meyer gave a great Ted Talk on “How to spot a liar” where she opens by mentioning that lies are a cooperative act. The lie gets power when someone agrees to believe it. She mentions this only briefly before focusing on how to spot lies but it was enough to get me thinking.

Sure, we knowingly agree to go with the lies sometimes. “You’re the best kisser I’ve ever known!” But what about when we don’t recognize that we’re being lied to? Maybe the liar is just that good. But how often is that?

How often, instead, does something subtle tell us we’re being lied to but we choose to ignore it? We don’t want to believe we’re being lied to. The lie is telling us what we wanted to hear. Or maybe we just don’t want to deal with the implications the person lying.

Meyer’s brief comment at the beginning of her talk is food for thought.

When we go along with lies, we’re not really being honest with ourselves. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Illegal file sharing increases content revenue?

Illegal file sharing increases content revenue?

Conventional wisdom tells us that illegal file sharing reduces revenue to the content producers (films, music, etc.). This study suggests that might not be the case. It suggests that illegal file sharers promote the content they like, causing more people to actually pay for it.

Same goes for getting tech products to market

Community organizing is all about building grassroots support. It’s about identifying the people around you with whom you can create a common, passionate cause. And it’s about ignoring the conventional wisdom of company politics and instead playing the game by very different rules.  – Tom Peters

What tech are you underestimating?

Around ’93, ’94, the conventional wisdom about the Internet was that it was a toy for academics and researchers. So it was very, very underestimated for about two years. – Marc Andreessen

What’s up with women in tech?

As I was pondering where to start this new blog, I attended an interesting discussion that revealed Unconventional Wisdom coming from a group of young women in tech. I hadn’t attended Girl Geeks Toronto for a while, but decided to check out their panel on being a woman in tech and while it started out sounding like the same discussions we’d had when I was their age, I was intrigued by where it went.

The fact that the event took place underlines what hasn’t changed – women are still a small minority in technical roles.

When I first jumped into tech, as a router jockey in the 90’s Internet explosion, I was “the girl” on every team I joined. Customers didn’t need to ask my name because if they called back they could just say it was “the girl” who deployed their network or fixed their problem. That didn’t change much as I progressed through operations and engineering roles or even technical management. Until I made the leap over to marketing, I was “the girl”. Back then, I thought for sure the picture would be different by now, but both the stats and the other night’s anecdotes told a different story. Women in tech might now be a few among many, instead of the only one, but it’s still largely a man’s game.

Then as now, conventional wisdom said this is the result of things like sexism in hiring, lack of encouraging girls to study tech, and negative pressure from male peers. But that’s not what I heard from the Girl Geeks the other night.

Here’s a sampling of what the panel and audience had to say:

  • “Companies want more women but not many women apply.”
  • “Kids decide by middle school [whether to go into tech]”
  • “Girls enter tech programs but then most of them shift over to business.”
  • “Women are afraid we’ll break things”
  • “Boys have hacked their hardware to win video games. Girls usually haven’t.”
  • “More boys code as a hobby.”
  • “Women in tech courses are more goal oriented; men keep playing just to understand how the tech works.”
  • “Women often choose HR and Marketing to have more impact than production has.”
  • “When we ask for submissions from women techs, we don’t get many.  Some are afraid to fail or be judged.”
  • “We have lots of women’s tech organizations now”

(From my own notes and Sacha Chua’s nifty Sketchnotes of the event.)

Whether these views are right or wrong, they all have something in common.

They show the panel and audience focusing on why girls and women CHOOSE not to pursue tech jobs, instead of who might be preventing them.

So much for the conventional wisdom of external roadblocks keeping the numbers of women in tech small. So what can we do about it? What should we do? Is it even a problem?

Those are questions we couldn’t tackle when the focus was on external barriers. By looking past those assumptions to discover that girls and women are keeping their own numbers low, we can start to address these new questions.

I’m not saying that initiatives to hire more women and make sure girls aren’t discouraged from studying tech haven’t been worthwhile or should be stopped. They just aren’t the whole answer.

Sacha Chua’s Sketchnotes of the
Girl Geeks Toronto “Vexed In The City” Event