Kingston, Canada: Punching Above Its Weight

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Most startups follow the herd of choosing big cities and hectic commutes – the bustle, burn rate, and burnout is somehow associated with entrepreneurial success. However, the city of Kingston, Canada, offers startups world-class infrastructure, human capital and market access minus the stress of a big city.

Recent years have increasing international attention being paid to Kingston. For example, Kingston is ranked by PCMag as the #1 fastest wireless city in North America. The UK based Financial Times fDi Magazine ranked Kingston as the small city with the best foreign direct investment strategy in North America, as well as being a top ten city for human capital and lifestyle. Kingston is also ranked by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as the best city in Canada to live for a woman. Investment has national credibility with the angel network, SOAN, ranked #1 in all of Canada for new angel networks started in the last five years and 3 in the country for deal flow.

Kingston is a multicultural city with thousands of speakers of Spanish, German, Chinese, Arabic, and Portuguese among other languages. Also, Kingston is an official bilingual city with more than 10% of the population fluent in French. Similar to culture, industry is also diverse with startups in the sectors of: clean technologies, biotech life sciences, smart cities and software technologies, food and agriculture.

Kingston offers startups incredible human capital from three post-secondary institutions: Queen’s University, St Lawrence College and Royal Military College. Essentially, this provides startups with faculty, research opportunities, and 30,000 students to draw talent from. For example, GreenCentre Canada, is capable of incubating chemical startups in a multi-million dollar lab and then working with chemical engineers to scale a company.

Often, there are subsidies to offset the costs of hiring students and recent graduates. Queen’s University attracts students from around the world; both campuses of SLC and Queen’s University have recently invested tens of millions of dollars into innovation capabilities. Artificial intelligence-related conferences and TedX events have seen an increase in the city. Queen’s University has more student clubs per capita than any other university in Canada with a number supporting an entrepreneurship mission, as well as new tech like blockchain, hyperloop, and AI.

Smart cities are the focus of the Mayor’s Innovation Challenge, which annually sees startups compete to solve a Smart City challenge with the City of Kingston investing in winning teams. Utilities Kingston is also a partner in the new Maple Leaf fibre optic cable network from Toronto to Kingston to Montreal.

Entrepreneurs in Kingston can go sailing after work. Lifestyle for startups in Kingston includes living in a vibrant city surrounded by more than 1000 lakes and 1000 islands, close to nature, yet offering market-scaleup opportunities in a two-hour drive to millions of customers in Montreal, Toronto, Syracuse, and Ottawa. Startups benefit from formal collaborations with Ottawa and Syracuse to access business support services. Several coworking spaces and incubators allow entrepreneurs to work in a decentralized manner.

The most iconic coworking space is The Sanctuary, which is built into a beautiful 18th Century church with a Crossfit gym in the lower level. For scale-up ready companies, accelerators and incubators include InnovationXL, Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre, and Launch Lab.

Written by Andrew Bacchus (MAES), Business Development Officer– Emerging Sectors, Kingston Economic Development Corporation.