Hackernoon logoNarwhals & Unicorns — Why Canada’s Tech Sector is Better than we Think. by@braden_kemp

Narwhals & Unicorns — Why Canada’s Tech Sector is Better than we Think.

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Braden Kemp

Director of Operations

Canadians are great at a lot of things (hockey, apologizing & maple syrup to name a few).

We’re also pretty good at being humble, and we need to stop it. Canada is the second largest country in the world by land mass (9.9 Million sq km), and the 37th largest by population (~37 Million). We have a population density of about four…yes, four (4). Four lonely Canucks every square km.

In contrast, the USA (also a giant land mass) has a population density of 34 (still lonely on a global scale, but way more of a party than we have!).

Since this is a startup article, I’ll get to the point:

This is a huge disadvantage.

Less people means less tech talent, less investment, less government support, less critical mass, fewer tech clusters, less advisors….you get the point. We have less — much less — than our global competitors in the tech space.

To be honest, it looks pretty hopeless.

But it isn’t. Turns out we’re actually pretty awesome at starting successful technology companies.

Let’s look at some neat animals! First, the Unicorn:

Majestic, rare, and REALLY hard to find. That said, about 40 teams in the USA have managed to capture one (2014 stats). A Unicorn is a startup that has achieved a valuation of $1B USD.

Forty sounds like a lot of unicorns, but consider some important data points.

The USA has:

In the most unscientific way possible that means:

  • 7.95 Million Residents/Unicorn
  • 1.18 “big” cities/Unicorn
  • $1.2 Billion in VC Investment/Unicorn

Now, let’s have a look at our friend the Narwhal

Strange looking, pointy (seriously, what IS that thing), and as rarely seen as the unicorn (mostly because it’s cold as frick where they live). Canadians have found about 7 Narwhals to 2014 (we’ve lost a couple to big $$ in the Valley), which are startups that have achieved a valuation of greater than $1B CAD.

Same data points, but for the Great White North this time:

Again, this isn’t science but:

  • 5.29 Million Residents/Narwhal
  • 1.26 “big” cities/Narwhal
  • $271 Million in VC Investment/Narwhal


We certainly have to remember that this is a moving target — these statistics have changed drastically in 2015, but without solid data for both countries it’s nearly impossible to compare apples to apples (Unicorns to Narwhals?).

What this (again, completely not scientific) bit has shown us is that it Canadians aren’t so bad at building crazy successful startups. Every Narwhal created takes approximately:

  • 2.66 Million fewer people than a Unicorn
  • About the same # of “big” cities as a Unicorn
  • About $700 Million less dollars than Unicorn

Another important note to consider is that Canada’s bucket is quite leaky when we talk about tech talent. The Valley, Boston, New York, and others see a huge amount of really talented Canadians move in every year.

Recently Steve Blank said this of the Waterloo Region —

“This place is more capable than any other ecosystem in the world in hitting it out of the park and it hasn’t”

But maybe it has. Maybe we are too hard on ourselves.

I believe Canada punches far above it’s weight in the global startup community, and we are simply limited by fundamentals such as size, funding, and geography. It’s cold up here, and there’s a lot of distance between startups. We need to huddle for warmth, and we need to get crazy. Canadian startups are resourceful, succeeding against the odds — let’s get them some more money, more support, and do our best to retain talent and we might just find ourselves sitting on a Narwhal farm.

Keep warm, Canada.


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