Touring Toronto Startups with Startup Open House

Tim Middleton—BookNet’s Project Manager, Retail Liaison, and Official Halloween Candy Supplier—took to the streets on October 30th to take part in Toronto’s first annual Startup Open House. And of course, we never let Tim take a field trip without reporting back on his findings…  

The Startup Open House tour is a brilliant way to get to know what’s happening in Canada’s startup community, take a look inside startups at different stages of growth, and see how companies build a creative culture without sacrificing productivity. Toronto is a real hotbed for startups, so there were plenty to pick from on this year’s tour, and I expect next year there will be a whole lot more.

There was a pretty good turnout for the event, at least at the startups I had a chance to visit, and I was able to have a few good conversations along the way. Or at least, I tried to: mostly people seemed to be travelling in packs, so it was hard to strike up a conversation without people thinking I was weird. Take-away: Bookshelves filled with books! They’re a great conversation-starter.

Startups in action: Shopify

The Working Group

First stop was The Working Group. I was there last week as well, for a workshop on Value Proposition Canvas creation run by Strategyzer. TWG seems to be nicely embedded in the startup community. They had a few people doing presentations—Timeraiser, Nudge, and WikiWash were the headliners. A bit noisy in their space, but it had all the essentials: bikes hanging on the wall, long shared desks, some private offices, and a nice kitchen stocked with beer!


There is a real startup-success vibe to Shopify: There’s a games room, a cosy corners for ad hoc meetings, couches, bookshelves, and a huge bar! Compared to a lot of startup spaces, this place is positively swanky. Lots of people at this stop. Question: When is a startup no longer a startup?


Muse: The biofeedback headband people. They were demoing the headband, and lots of nerdy neuroscientists were hanging around. There were around twenty people working in the office: programmers, marketers—hey, it’s a startup!


Hotpopshop was on my way to the MaRS Centre, so I stopped in to meet them. It’s a very friendly group, and a neat business—I loved seeing all the 2nd and 3rd–gen makerbots working away. I chatted with one of the co-founders—they’ve got a background in architecture, and the modelling was what got them into 3-D printing. 

Their business is creating prototypes and doing short-run product (bling!) for—for example—conferences. Three-day turnaround for a couple hundred items (Yes, I was thinking Tech Forum). The makerbots can and do run all night; the laser cutter is faster, but somebody needs to be there to supervise it. No unsupervised lasering.


Upverter is in a house that I pass every day on Phoebe Street. Their product: software for building circuitry to facilitate building hardware. Kinda cool. I have passed this house as mentioned above and often seen some guy on a phone having intense business conversations sounding a lot like Erlich from Silicon Valley. So yes—he is one of the cofounders, and yes—he’s a lot like Erlich. The house is jam-packed: engineers on floor one, marketing on floor two. All a bit cozy, but hey, they graduated from y-combinator so they like it cozy.


Love startups and cool tech innovators as much as we do? BookNet’s quarterly tech meetup Code Meet Print Toronto regularly features speakers from the startup world. Sign up with the CMPTO meetup group or to the weekly BookNet eNews to be notified when a new CMPTO is coming up.