It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the biggest companies gravitate to the biggest cities. Large centres have the deep talent pools, advanced infrastructure and amenities enterprises need to thrive.

In Canada, that means MTV – Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver – have long attracted the lion’s share of large corporations.

That’s beginning to change as startup communities sprout and blossom in smaller urban centres around the world. Nowhere is that change more evident than here in Waterloo Region – specifically, inside the Communitech Hub – where a growing roster of large companies has planted itself at the heart of our teeming startup scene.

The newest arrival is Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, which has set up a post in the partners’ concourse at the Hub. Their neighbours include BlackBerry, Canadian Tire, Canon, TD, Manulife, Google and Christie.

Like them, Microsoft has recognized the value of proximity to the newest of innovations and the people who drive them – something Waterloo Region, despite its compact size relative to MTV, has in concentrated abundance. In return, startups will enjoy direct access to Microsoft’s people and products as they work to build the region’s next great tech company.

To find out more about the vision behind Microsoft’s arrival here, I interviewed Marc Gagné, Senior Developer Evangelist with the company.

Q – Why has Microsoft decided to set up a space in the Communitech Hub?

Marc Gagné, Senior Developer Evangelist, Microsoft (Photo: LinkedIn)

Marc Gagné, Senior Developer Evangelist,
Microsoft (Photo: LinkedIn)

A – Our team had the opportunity to engage with Communitech and the community through a few industry collision days last February, where we met one-on-one with various startups and SMBs from the area. It was through those connections and working with the teams at Communitech that we discovered we really needed to become more involved with the organization. The quality and diversity of the people we met and the ideas we heard were incredible.

This February – one year later – we’re thrilled to introduce a physical presence in the Hub, which will give us a chance to engage with startups, SMBs and enterprises on an ongoing basis.

Q – As a global company, Microsoft has locations everywhere. Why did it choose Waterloo Region?

A – Within Canada, we often focus our core engagements within Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. This is where we have critical mass from an employee and resourcing perspective. But innovation isn't confined to just these cities. Startups and future enterprises are growing all across Canada, and Waterloo is one of the fastestgrowing regions. So when the team got together to discuss where to invest next, we knew the Waterloo Region and Communitech was where we needed to be.

Q – What can a company as large as Microsoft learn from the smallest of startups?

A – When we place ourselves within an innovation ecosystem as rich as Communitech’s, we get a very real perspective of not only what's going on today, but more importantly, where technology is going tomorrow. At a micro level, this helps our team know where to focus our platforms, training and content by learning what tools and platforms developers are currently using, and how they’re being used.

At the macro level, startups offer Microsoft a very valuable perspective on what our future customers will need and where industries are headed. You can already see the influence startups have had when you look at Microsoft's commitment to open standards, open source and technology stacks that complement our own. Just recently, Microsoft announced Windows 10 for the Raspberry Pi 2, which will be free. That's a pretty big change for us.

Q – How do you plan to use the Microsoft space?

A – Our primary goal with the Microsoft hub is to provide support to, and engage with, the Waterloo region startup community. We’ll have a dedicated technical evangelist available to meet with startups on a one-to-one basis, discuss their needs and offer technology guidance and training. These face-to-face connections will also allow us to facilitate deeper engagements within Microsoft and our large ecosystem of partners and customers.

We’ll also use the space to promote our BizSpark program, which is free for tech startups and provides up to $60,000 in free hosting credits, free Microsoft software and access to loaner devices. Our goal is to make startups aware of the incredible tools and resources available, empower them and help them to drive their business forward.

Q – What are your early impressions of the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem?

A – Admittedly I've only recently, in the past year or so, been engaged with the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem and it’s nothing short of amazing. I think what stands out is the scale and ambition of the startups. They really are dreaming big and delivering.

Recently, Mike Kirkup took me on a tour of the new Velocity Foundry. I literally wanted to buy everything I saw there, from Lumotune (think e-ink technology on transparent film) to Palette (awesome customizable controls) and Ubiq (especially if they deliver on the promise to make sharing content and presentations easy in meetings).

Anthony Reinhart is Communitech’s Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer. View from the ‘Loo looks at the issues, people and events that shape Waterloo Region’s technology sector.