Reasons to Love Toronto Now: because John Ruffolo brought the tech industry back from the brink

Reasons to Love Toronto Now: because John Ruffolo brought the tech industry back from the brink

(Image: Raina and Wilson) (Image: Raina and Wilson)
 

In the mid-oughties, as Silicon Valley swirled into a nerd-bacchanal of beanbag chairs and IPOs and coding parties, the Canadian tech industry was flatlining. Over the course of that decade, venture capital shrivelled from $6 billion to $1 billion as money managers stopped investing after suffering huge losses in the dot-com bust and financial crisis. One of those companies was the $72-billion pension fund OMERS, which abandoned tech’s razzle-dazzle for more stable assets like bonds and real estate. Then, in 2009, they hired John Ruffolo, a shark-faced former Deloitte exec tasked with getting OMERS back into the VC game. While everyone else retreated, they attacked: not only did OMERS reinvest in dollar-starved start-ups, but they also bypassed VC firms altogether and started their own. In 2011, under Ruffolo’s directorship, OMERS Ventures established a $200-million fund—accounting for a fifth of the entire industry—and began investing in tech companies like Shopify, an e-commerce platform; Wattpad, an e-reading app; and HootSuite, a B.C. social media management system that’s now valued at $1 billion. OMERS Ventures fuelled a flutter of activity in the Toronto tech industry: incubators at U of T, Ryerson and Waterloo accelerated their programs to nurture new talent, the government doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, and the networking colossus Cisco Canada has pledged to invest up to $4 billion in the Toronto tech sector over 10 years. The way Ruffolo sees it, the ideal tech city is a centre of innovation and finance, and Toronto is one of the few places that offers both. He’s responsible for a surge of entrepreneurship, aggression and capital on Bay Street—plus an insatiable demand for office beanbag chairs.