Ecosystem is not just a buzzword – it’s a thriving entity that relies on engagement for its success. 

This insight emerged from a panel discussion at the Elevate Festival in Toronto that focused on the importance of leveraging your tech ecosystem.

Panelists included Joel Semeniuk, Communitech’s Chief Strategy Officer, Darrell Schuurman, CEO of Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce, Emily Smiley, Director of Partnerships and Investor Relations at DMZ, Alroy Almeida, Director of Deep Tech at Velocity, and Adam Castle, Director of Venture Services at WEtech Alliance

Elevate is a three-day tech and innovation festival that’s been running since 2017. It brings together a wide range of innovators, founders, investors and others to learn from thought leaders through featured speakers, panel discussions and networking.

During the ecosystem session, each panelist explained how their organization operates within their ecosystem and how founders can leverage the supports and expertise around them to strengthen their companies.

“Being a founder is hard,” said Semeniuk, who has started and led companies himself. “There is always adversity and that is what the ecosystem is all about. In order for an ecosystem to be deployed and activated, there needs to be a problem to solve and there needs to be a catalyst in the ecosystem that brings everyone together. That's what Communitech does.”

Almeida, also a founder, recounted his journey and how he leveraged support from organizations like Communitech and the University of Waterloo’s Velocity program.

“It is crucial to get connected because there is a remarkable amount of support available for founders,” Almeida said. “The key is to find someone you trust and start collaborating with them to ensure you are headed in the right direction.”

It’s important to choose your supports carefully, he added.

“If anyone you encounter doesn't seem genuinely supportive or has ulterior motives, it might be best to distance yourself from that aspect of the support system,” he said. “We're all here to prioritize your needs, and it's all about ensuring you have the necessary resources.”

Smiley discussed how founders can enter the ecosystem.

“Finding someone you trust can be seen as a foot in the door,” she said. “Establishing this relationship can significantly broaden the doors of opportunity available to you within the ecosystem. In a relatively small yet maturing ecosystem like Canada's, there is a wealth of knowledge and networks that can assist you in accessing the right support at the right time and making valuable connections.”

Schuurman, from Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce, talked about how founders can connect with like-minded individuals, creating a space where they can address the specific challenges they face due to their identity.

“Our mission is to support businesses facing unique challenges or barriers, particularly those stemming from their identity, such as gender or ethnicity,” he said. “We recognize the under-representation of diverse businesses in corporate and public supply chains, so we take action. Our commitment lies in building bridges, connecting people, and fostering opportunities.”

Wrapping up the discussion, Castle emphasized the importance of everyone contributing to the tech ecosystem.

“We need your help to shape what comes next and craft the future of this ecosystem,” he said. “Connect with us and share your visions for how you want to see this ecosystem evolve. We want your participation in building it together."

Other Elevate Festival panels featured a number of founders from the Waterloo Region ecosystem, including Meti Basiri, co-founder and CEO of Applyboard, Kurtis McBride, CEO of Miovision, Ali Asaria, founder and CEO of Tulip, and venture capitalist Janet Bannister, a former Communitech board member, among others.