StartupBlink Blog

With a population of almost 200,000 people, Kingston is a multicultural city with a range of diverse nationalities and beliefs. It offers startups a forward-thinking and inclusive environment, with a strong and established culture of entrepreneurship.

Kingston claimed rank 144 in the 2020 Startup Ecosystem Ranking Report, moving up from 147 in 2019. Furthermore, the city is one of the top 10 startup ecosystems in Canada. 

The City of Kingston in Ontario, Canada.

For Kingston’s rankings in the Startup Blink Global map click here

Unique Ecosystem Advantages:

  • #1 city for women in Canada
  • #1 fastest wireless networks in North America 
  • #1 for new angel investment networks in Canada
  • #1 in foreign direct investment strategy for small cities in North America 
  • High level of public subsidies and incentives for startups, including R&D and hiring

Overview of Kingston’s Startup Ecosystem 

According to data from the 2020 Startup Ecosystem Ranking Report, the average cost of living is 41% cheaper than London and the GDP per capita is $51,559. It takes less than 2 days to start a new company in Canada and in 2019 the country had a rank of 23 in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index. 

Access to key markets

Geographically, Kingston offers a startup 14,000,000 people in market access; it is the only city in Canada to offer such market access, including three borders: Ontario, Quebec, and New York State. The city of Kingston lies on the shore of Lake Ontario and is 2 hours equidistant to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Syracuse. 

The area around Kingston represents the third largest GDP concentration in North America, with 25 million people within an 8 hour drive, 130 million people within a day’s drive and only 30 minutes from the US border.

The Kingston Economic Development Corporation has invested in creating and establishing ties to the United States through the Kingston-Syracuse pathway. This is a collaboration focused on the relationship between economic development, Queen’s University in Kingston and the universities in Syracuse, New York, that allows for a regional economic development strategy for startups especially in health innovation and cleantech. Most notably this initiative has developed a soft landing zone for Kingston based startups trying to enter the US market.

Investment Trends

Kingston is a fantastic location to look for investment. The city is ranked as having the best foreign direct investment strategy in North America for small cities by the UK Financial Times.

Regarding angel investors, the Southeastern Ontario Angel Network has been ranked first in Canada for new angel networks and third for deal flow.

Recently, Kingston and ecosystem partners, such as Queen’s University, have invested $7.2 million into women’s entrepreneurship via the WECan program and recently $3 million into an ecosystem initiative for health innovation. Kingston’s ecosystem is very collaborative, which is a huge boost for any startup. The ecosystem partners to support startups include: Kingston Economic Development, Queen’s University Partnerships & Innovation, GreenCentre Canada, Southeastern Ontario Angel Network, City of Kingston, St Lawrence College, The National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), Ontario Centres of Innovation, Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre, and Launch Lab.

Also launched recently is KPM Accelerate – an accelerator focused on chemtech startups; it is the only accelerator of its kind in Canada. Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre at Queen’s University launched Build2Scale Health in 2021 to support student-led ventures in health innovation with a grand prize of up to $30,000.

Ecosystem Assets

Kingston wants to be a leader in health innovation, chemtech, biotech, software, clean technologies as well as food and agriculture. The R&D infrastructure is truly state of the art. For example, GreenCentre Canada is able to help support the growth of Kingston chemical startups with the support of a multi-million dollar lab and PhD level chemistry scientists that aid in transforming innovations into valued products and services.

According to PCMAG, Kingston has the fastest wireless networks in North America, making it a perfect place for remote startups looking for a state of the art wireless connection. The city also has five new stunning coworking spaces, one of which is situated on the waterfront and another that is built into a 18th century church. Utilities Kingston is part of the Maple Leaf fiber optic cable network that includes Toronto and Montreal allowing the city of Kingston to benefit from incredibly fast and stable broadband speeds. 

One of Kingston’s most exciting accelerators, Compass North, aims at helping female entrepreneurs scale their technology companies through a 5 month mentorship program. This is a partnership between L-spark and Queen’s University to promote women in business. Additionally, Kingston has the smallest gender gap in Canada and was voted the best place to be a woman in Canada by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Another critical factor contributing to Kingston’s success is the city’s post-graduate institutions that provide an abundance of human capital. Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College, and the Royal Military College provide the ecosystem with over 30,000 educated and talented students, ready to create and innovate. 

Recently, Kingston Economic Development is partnering with LatAM Startups to further enhance collaboration between startups from LatAM, especially in health innovation and exploring the Startup Visa program, which enables commercial ready entrepreneurs to immigrate to Canada.

Public Collaboration

One of the most essential factors to Kingston’s success is the active collaboration between a number of organizations to nurture and facilitate the development of the city’s thriving startup ecosystem. Organizations such as the Kingston Economic Development Corporation and Queen’s University work hand in hand with the City of Kingston to create a supportive environment in which startups can seize opportunities. Recently, the City of Kingston launched the third annual Mayor’s Innovation Challenge where student teams can solve problems for the City of Kingston and receive seed funding to bring the idea to life.

Through collaboration, Kingston offers startups a competitive advantage in the form of a collaborative ecosystem that is invested in their success. Summer Company is another program that targets youth startups, sometimes students that are still in high school, to create a company over the summer months.

Hiring of newcomers, and recent graduates, is also a major point of collaboration with thousands of dollars offered to assist Kingston companies in hiring and training a new employee. The City of Kingston and KEYS Job Centre offer the Dual Career Support Program, which is a made-in-Kingston solution to integrating the spousal partner of a relocating family to Kingston, where one partner has received a job offer.  

Response to COVID-19 

Kingston startup owners pivoted their business models during the pandemic. Snapcab, a successful Kingston startup that manufactures office pods used at Amazon and Goole, pivoted its manufacturing processes to build pods for medical use for COVID-19. Additionally, The BizSkills Academy has launched a virtual incubation program to help accelerate startups during the COVID-19 pandemic. Feris Build Tech innovated mobile health units for hospitals and community clinics. Limestone Analytics and Eastern Ontario Leadership Council innovated a dashboard with predictive analysis of COVID19 in Kingston using a scenario modelling of pessimistic-to-optimistic to inform data-driven decision making. King’s Distributed Systems created a technology to harness and distribute compute power to model transmission patterns of COVID19, which enabled Canadian communities at all levels to deploy these epidemiology models at a scale previously only available to the federal government.

Queen’s University has a $200,000 initiative to fund research projects that will contribute medical or social countermeasures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus and its negative consequences on people and communities in Canada and globally. Additionally, Smith Business School at Queen’s University and Kingston Economic Development partnered on a series of business seminars to help local companies adapt, learn and strategize throughout the pandemic; led by distinguished business professors, these seminars were offered to the Kingston community free of charge. Kingston Economic Development administered a $1,000,000 fund with an investment from FedDev Ontario for local tourism-oriented businesses to support the tourism sector, and foster economic recovery.

Innovative Kingston Companies & Promising Startups

Kingston has 98 active startups working on innovative solutions to national and international problems. These are some of the most promising and notable from the list

Li-Cycle – Through a closed loop, sustainable and scalable processing technology, Li-Cycle recovers critical materials from lithium-ion batteries and reintroduces them back into the supply chain.

King’s Distributed Systems – The Distributed Computer™ is the most intuitive tool for parallel processing.

Tecta-PDS – TECTA-PDS markets the world’s first, automated, EPA-approved microbiological water quality monitoring system

Swidget – The world’s first truly modular smart home hardware.

RateHub – More than 13 million Canadians visit Ratehub.ca every year to get personalized recommendations on the best mortgage rates, credit cards, savings accounts, GICs, and insurance products. HQ’d in Toronto, RateHub’s dev team is situated in Kingston making RateHub a perfect example of a dual-city tech company that leverages Kingston’s lifestyle and talent pipeline.

Octane – A medical technology company with the most advanced bioreactors, bioprocesses, and biomaterials for regenerative medicine

Accelerators 

Through the collaboration of a number of different organizations Kingston is able to offer support to startups in the form of specific accelerators. Here are some of the most promising accelerators the city has to offer.

Compass North – Hosted by L-SPARK and created in partnership with Queen’s University, Compass North is a five-month accelerator program for women-led companies in the greater Kingston region. 

Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Center – A center established by the Queen’s University to support the innovation and entrepreneurship activities of students and entrepreneurs of the Kingston community through incubators, accelerators, and workshops.

Launch Lab – A team of entrepreneurs that provide advisory services by pairing entrepreneurs with experienced business owners from Kingston for one-on-one mentorship and guidance.

FedDev Ontario – An enabler to Kingston’s ecosystem. Kingston is thankful for the support of FedDev recently investing $3 million to position Kingston as a place to develop, test, and commercialize innovative health care solutions. Additionally, FedDev has funded WE-CAN to inspire and empower existing and aspiring women-identifying entrepreneurs, through the provision of tools, resources, expert mentors, networks and building of community, to expand existing businesses and to launch new ventures.

Switchboard – A business support hub that makes it easy for entrepreneurs and business owners to quickly find important information & resources.

KPM Accelerate – The first of its kind in Canada, KPM-Accelerate works with incubated start-ups and SMEs in the field of chemical processing, advanced materials, chemical energy (production, storage, or transfer), and material transformation

Startup, Resources and Networking Events

The most important startup event of the year is the Mayor’s Innovation Challenge. Kingston also offers many networking and pitch events throughout the year that allow entrepreneurs to meet and connect.

The Mayor’s Innovation Challenge – Hosted by Kingston’s city hall, the Innovation Challenge is an event focused on challenging startups to solve Smart City challenges. Kingston invests in the winning teams to give back to the startup ecosystem, creating a positive feedback loop for entrepreneurship.

Kingston Economic Development and ecosystem partner offer businesses and startups workshops on social entrepreneurship, inclusion, digitizing, and marketing; see the event calendars

The WE-CAN programming with Queen’s University leads on outstanding workshops and series for women entrepreneurs; see the event calendar for WE-CAN

Startup Summary

Through collaboration between key organizations and forward-thinking initiatives, Kingston has created a supportive and nurturing hub for startups to blossom while simultaneously protecting them from competition and allowing them access to some of the biggest cities in North America. 

Ultimately, the city of Kingston sets a trailblazing example for small to medium-sized cities, by showing how active collaboration between educational, business and public organizations can promote the development of a successful startup ecosystem. 

For more information on startup ecosystems download the Startup Blink 2020 Global Report.

Contributor