City has appeal for startups

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Thunder Bay is ranked 26th in Canada and 10th in Ontario among a ranking of best places in the country to develop a startup business.

The data was culminated by HelloSafe, a platform for comparing insurance and personal financial products, through their Startup Blink study.

Nolwenn Abolivier, with HelloSafe Canada, says the platform offers broader topics related to consumption in Canada and around the world. Its goal is to decipher complex subjects for consumers and provide the latest information.

“Thunder Bay is included in this ranking of the best cities for startups because some (of its) startups specializing in e-commerce and retail, software and data and health are located there,” Abolivier said.

“Startups that benefit the most from Thunder Bay, compared to cities that rank just before or after Thunder Bay, are those specialized in e-commerce and retail such as Rent Panda or JustParts.”

Abolivier says the ranking is done once a year by the Startup Blink team based on qualitative, quantitative, and environmental criteria. Their goal is to provide qualitative information to entrepreneurs so that they can intelligently decide on the best place for their startup.

Ryan Moore, a development officer with the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission, is not surprised that Thunder Bay is on the list.

“We see a huge swath of support for local businesses in Thunder Bay,” he said, in reference to funding opportunities and shop local support from the community.

“In terms of what makes us welcoming to the external (entrepreneurs), obviously in the North, your dollar goes a little bit further.”

Moore added that is apparent when they see large organizations like mining companies “looking to set up shop in Thunder Bay” and hear comments like, ‘your houses are only $280,000?’

“We have a really good cost of living here in Thunder Bay,” he said.

“The other part is people that are looking to move to Thunder Bay to start their operations find it attractive. We’re a small city with big-city amenities and with access to nature opportunities that a lot of people would like. Within 15 minutes, you can go fishing, then back and forth to your condo and still go to the symphony that night.”

Moore says Thunder Bay is a “nice pilot community” for software and e-commerce solutions.

“If we can make it and prove it here, (it can easily be) scaled up to the bigger communities. Sometimes our ‘almost isolation’ plays a bit of a factor that we can be a good testbed for a software company,” he said.

Moore said the message incoming entrepreneurs should hear if they are looking to start up their company in Thunder Bay is that “this is a great opportunity.”

"We have all the amenities of some of the bigger cities with all the advantages of being a small city,” he said.

James Ellard, a marketing and branding specialist with the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre, also isn’t surprised by Thunder Bay’s ranking.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on here and it’s really exciting to see all these businesses starting up and growing,” he said. “A lot of people do gravitate to bigger centres like Toronto and Silicon Valley for their startup, but there are so many great things that we have to offer in Thunder Bay.”

Ellard says people are starting to realize that they don’t necessarily need to be in those big centres.

“It’s a lifestyle choice,” he said. “I think people are realizing that they don’t really want to be in a big city, dealing with an hour and a half of traffic one way to work when they could be closer to the outdoors, camping or swimming at night versus constantly travelling long distances for no reason.

Ellard says there’s a lot of support for startups whether it’s on the innovation front or the entrepreneurial front.

Among the 40 Canadian places ranked in the world’s best cities for startups in 2022, 50 per cent are located in Ontario. These cities include Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, London, Guelph, Windsor, St. Catharines, Thunder Bay, Peterborough, Cornwall, Barrie, Sudbury, Collingwood, Brantford, Sault Ste. Marie, Stratford, Hawkesbury, Owen Sound and Port Hope.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal