When the Raptors beat the Warriors a couple weeks back to win the NBA title – and yes, this is a column about technology – there were some worthwhile lessons to be had.

The team that did all the little, and big, things right was rewarded with a championship. The team that was hungriest, that played together, that shared the ball and available minutes, that supported one another, that made well-researched bets on overlooked talent, that didn’t behave with a sense of entitlement, beat the other guys. The incumbent got knocked off its pedestal by the upstart.

Funny, the way things work out sometimes. The Toronto-based Raptors just happen to play in what increasingly appears to be the hottest, upstart tech ecosystem in North America, taking the mantle from the long-time incumbent located across San Francisco Bay from where the Warriors have played these past many decades – Silicon Valley.

As a metaphor, the Raptors-Warriors contest serves pretty well.

A recent story on Fast Company titled Toronto doesn’t want to be Silicon Valley. It’s building something better, lays out in compelling detail the way that doing the little, and big, things right pays off. Doing so has put Toronto (and hey, we’re allowed, by extension, to include Waterloo Region) in the position to build a new and improved global tech corridor, one with less crime, less homelessness, more diversity, and one that’s more deliberately welcoming of immigrants. I quote:

“[Toronto] is North America’s fourth largest and fastest growing market for tech workers, currently employing roughly 214,000, according to a report by the Bank of Montreal. Since 2017 Toronto has added more technology jobs than the Bay Area, Washington, D.C., New York City, and Seattle combined, according to a study by the CBRE group. Recent months have also seen major investments by Uber, Microsoft, Samsung, Intel, and Shopify into the city’s technology ecosystem, which saw more than $1.4 billion in international investment in the month of September alone.”

The same growth and pace holds true here in Waterloo Region. Shopify is going gangbusters. Google, locally, is about to double the size of its operation. Several startups are close to breakout scale. The local ecosystem is humming.

Why? Why is the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor ecosystem flourishing?

As that same Fast Company article points out, some pretty good policy made here in #WetheNorth – policy that goes back decades and includes a determination by the father of the incumbent prime minister to welcome immigrants and refugees – is paying some big dividends.

The Global Skills Strategy and the Entrepreneur Start-Up Visa Program are both runaway successes. Federal money directed in the 1980s at research into the then-unknown field of neural networks has spawned what is now a world-wide rocketship called artificial intelligence.

Couple that policy with the anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S. ever since Donald Trump came to power, sentiment that’s driving tech talent into Toronto’s waiting arms, and you’ve got the makings of something shiny and new. And made right here.

“There is an extraordinary momentum and energy in Toronto, particularly around tech and AI, which I’ve always hoped for and believed could happen, but it’s amazing to actually see it happening,” says Jordan Jacobs, co-founder and Managing Partner at Toronto-based Radical Ventures, a VC that invests in firms that specialize in AI.

Jacobs has a keen sense of the Toronto tech scene. He is a co-founder of the Vector Institute and was co-CEO of Toronto-based Layer6.ai, which was bought by TD in early 2018 for a reported $100 million-plus.

Jacobs, by the by, is a one-time employee with Canada Basketball who, in the early days of the Raptors franchise, was seconded to it as a young lawyer. He also, in a previous stage of his law career, played a behind-the-scenes role in the Toronto music and entertainment scene. 

For him, the parallel of what unfolded on the court against the Warriors and the explosive emergence of the Toronto tech scene are very much aligned – and he believes that Drake, the hip-hop artist cum Raptors ambassador, has played a vital role in what has unfolded on both fronts.

“For years I have been calling it the “Drake Effect,” said Jacobs. “The biggest music artist in the world is a hip hop artist who proudly and loudly proclaims his Toronto roots. That invigorates young people, including [tech] founders with the ambition and confidence to stay and proudly build in Canada.

The Raptors’ win – and doing so against the Warriors juggernaut – feels like a perfect summation of the rise of Toronto. Whatever happens on the court going forward, I think the [Toronto] tech ecosystem is hitting its stride on a global level and will never look back.”

Those who were closely watching both the Raptors this season past and the emergence of the Toronto tech scene could have told you that neither development was a surprise. A clear path, based on some sound decisions and spot-on execution, existed for both.

Both did a lot of things right, both found a little luck along the way, and today are reaping their just rewards.

Take that, ‘Frisco.

Craig Daniels covers technology for Communitech and spent seven years covering the Raptors and the NBA for a Toronto daily.