'Global powerhouse' business competition with ties to China now in Toronto

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'Global powerhouse' business competition with ties to China now in Toronto

An international business competition known as the "Global Olympics of Innovation" is in Toronto for the first time this weekend.

Toronto is hosting a regional round of the the China (Shenzhen) Innovation and Entrepreneurship International Competition at city hall on Saturday. 

At the competition, which was initiated by the city of Shenzhen in China, entrepreneurial companies in Canada can compete for prize money of up to $240,000, according to a news release. They also have the chance to win Chinese government grants, access to venture capital, and office space in Shenzhen.

"Toronto is excited to be part of this competition and to help provide this opportunity for our talented companies to grow in China," Mayor John Tory said in the release.

"I want Toronto to be seen internationally as a place where big things are happening and where companies can grow and expand their markets internationally."

Shenzhen, with a population of about 11 million people, is located in southeastern China. It's considered one of the wealthiest cities in China.

Benefits for Canada and China

Jenny Qi is chairperson of Canada Confederation of Shenzhen Associations, which is co-hosting the event. She said this is the first time that Toronto is hosting a regional round of the competition. More than 20 projects from Canada are competing in this round, she said.

"This event is beneficial both to Canada and China and also Toronto and Shenzhen," Qi told CBC Toronto.

Luisa Ji is co-founder and designer of Milieu Technologies Ltd., an Ottawa-based consultancy service that helps cities make better decisions about land use planning and development. She promoted her company at Saturday's event.

Ji said she thinks the company can help Shenzhen, a fast-growing city. 

"I understand what cities face in rapid development and population influx," said Ji, who has a background in architecture and urbanism studies.

"We hope to leverage this opportunity to work with Toronto and Shenzhen."

Dragons' Den judge

One of the judges of the competition is Michele Romanow, a star of CBC's Dragons' Den and co-founder of a company called Clearbanc.

She said she got her start through business plan competitions like this one.

"That's how I raised my first $100,000. I think that one of the reasons I am an entrepreneur because I did these," Romanow told CBC Toronto, adding that she's been impressed with the quality of projects.

"This is a global powerhouse competition. And the fact that we have it here is a great sign for Toronto innovation and I'm just excited to be part of it."

Toronto, Shenzhen agreed to share business info

Companies compete in five categories or industries: internet and mobile internet; electronic technology; biological and life sciences; advanced manufacturing; materials and energy, including energy.

Other regional rounds are reportedly being held in Sydney, Munich, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, London, England and Santa Clara, California. The finals of the competition are to be held in Shenzhen this spring.

Last November, according to the release, Toronto and Shenzhen signed a memorandum of understanding to exchange business information. The release said the Toronto regional round is the "first partnership" following the memorandum.

Toronto is using the competition to promote its innovative businesses, Tory said in the release.

The event is co-hosted by the Canada Confederation of Shenzhen Associations and the Shenzhen Overseas Students Association of Canada. It has the support of the Chinese consulate in Toronto.