It’s a well-worn cliché that big cities are hostile, unwelcoming places.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth on Tuesday, as the 11 companies of Communitech’s second HYPERDRIVE cohort moved around New York City like they owned the place, and were more or less told as much by the Big Apple’s top Canadian diplomat.

“Every single day when I’m here in New York representing Canada, you realize how strong the Canada brand is,” said John F. Prato, Canada’s Consul General in New York. “We’ve done some things really, really well, and the Canada brand is the biggest benefactor of those things.”

Many of the Cohort 2 companies clearly took to heart the encouragement they received to make the most of their trip to New York, which is part of the three-month sprint to validation that all HYPERDRIVE companies face.

Several booked meetings in advance and journeyed a day or two early to the Big Apple to be sure to leverage whatever advantage they could from being in the hottest tech market outside Silicon Valley.

Rob Darling, founder of WellRead, made the trip Sunday night so that he’d be fresh for meetings on Monday with potential partners in his quest to bring relevant news and social content to readers.

“I had a meeting with the New York Times on Monday,” Darling said. “They were very receptive, to our technology and to our approach to how we’re tackling the problem.”

Darling was able to leverage a connection to get a meeting with one of the news industry’s most storied brands, and says he was encouraged to do so by HYPERDRIVE.

“I think that’s exactly it; don’t be afraid to step out and ask those questions,” he said. “Even though you might not think it’s possible, those doors will probably open.”

Taylor Jones, co-founder of Dandy, said his team did about one month’s worth of advance work to set up meetings and prepare for the New York visit.

“Michael Litt (CEO of venture-backed Vidyard in Kitchener) talked to us before, and said “Reach out; you never know what will happen,” Jones said. “That’s what we did; we did LinkedIn, we e-mailed first name at whatever-dot-com, and were actually pretty surprised at the amount of e-mails that we got back from people wanting to meet up.”

Jones said the Dandy team came up with “nine or 10” extra meetings with potentially valuable strategic partners in New York, beyond those that HYPERDRIVE facilitated directly.

Matt Gardner and Jason Moore, co-founders of Groupnotes, also flew into New York on Sunday night with a plan to contact key people in advance of the official HYPERDRIVE schedule.

“We had intros, not to the exact people we wanted to talk to in New York, but people who knew them,” Gardner said.

Moore said these budding relationships with “connectors” should help anytime Groupnotes needs to make relationships, particularly with paying customers.

“Even if we’re not here to strike deals, if we leave, we want the name Groupnotes on people’s lips,” Gardner said.

Bruce Whitaker, president at HYPERDRIVE company Open Doors Network, worked in advance of the New York trip to land an invite to a networking event with 50 people on Wednesday night.

Whitaker said HYPERDRIVE was invaluable in helping him to make the connections that led to the invite.

“HYPERDRIVE’s been absolutely amazing,” he said. “Every day, I’m blessed to be part of it, because of the whole idea of the mentorships.”

When the former president of Toronto’s real estate board heard that Whitaker was involved with HYPERDRIVE, “it added a lot of credibility” to Whitaker’s request to meet others who were deeply involved in the Canadian real estate scene, he said.

“Being attached to an accelerator program has been huge,” he said, “ and one of the biggest benefits for me is the relationships with the mentors.”

Prato, who worked as an investment banker on Bay Street in Toronto before he was appointed to head up Canada’s diplomatic operations in New York, called Communitech “just an incredible organization” that has helped to inspire his consulate’s new Canadian Technology Accelerator, which helps companies to make valuable connections in New York.

“I’m very grateful, because we’ve gotten a lot of ideas from both Communitech and HYPERDRIVE on where we should be going with these models,” Prato said.

The Consul General also heaped praise on the University of Waterloo as a producer of the kind of world-class technical talent needed to build robust companies.

“The University of Waterloo, whenever I meet people, no matter where they are in this country in the tech space, they know the quality,” Prato said.

“One of the (venture capitalists) that I spend a lot of time with places (UW) at the same level, or higher, than Stanford, and he’s a Stanford grad,” he said.

Prato urged Canadians to make use of the services of what he wants to be known as the “innovation consulate” in New York, which has surged to within striking distance of Silicon Valley as a hotbed of technology entrepreneurship in just a few years.

“Our role here is to help you,” he said.

Welcoming words indeed.

About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.