Focus on People: How Ritual Handled Its Large-Scale Staff Reductions

When Rob Kim was faced with reducing half the staff of Ritual, the social ordering app, in the face of COVID-19, his guiding principle was that it was a goodbye rather than a termination.

The prospect of cuts at any size, at any time, are difficult, and there is no doubt they have been made exponentially more challenging by the current economic state of affairs across Canada and around the world. Still, the reduction of staff is a reality many Canadian tech companies are now facing, and there are ways to approach layoffs with care and consideration.

As OneEleven member companies work to navigate the current crisis, we invited Rob Kim to share Ritual’s approach with our Founders, as part of our ongoing efforts to help support strong companies and leaders.

On a detailed, human Zoom call with our members, Kim’s advice was that messaging needs to be clear. If layoffs are necessary, be direct about the global economic situation in the wake of Covid and how it has affected the sector and the business, but be human and humble in doing so. Kim mentioned most employees affected understood the unprecedented situation, but knowing what the company had done to try and mitigate the layoffs was a common question that came up. We are all sharing a common crisis, but being thrown into a professional one is scary, so being honest about specific challenges a company is facing helps in showing that careful thought was given to the decision if it had to be made.

Ritual, the social ordering app co-founded by Ray Reddy in 2014, has been a Toronto startup success story since its launch. Reddy, who was working out of Google’s Mountain View headquarters after successfully selling them his first startup, returned to Toronto to launch the company. Pre-Covid, Ritual was operating out of 50 countries with nearly 400 employees, and had raised $143 million in funding.

As the pandemic shuttered restaurants and cafes on which Ritual’s user base relied, the company’s VP of Finance modelled up to 150 different scenarios to try and map out the next six to nine months, Kim said. Ultimately, each department was given a budget target that needed to be met, balancing the priority of keeping the remaining team productive and engaged and protecting operational capacity for a return to business post-social distancing.

Kim and his core team also created a massive FAQ document that could be utilized by managers making the layoffs. Because Ritual’s reduction in force was across so many different countries, considerations like differing labour laws and insurance practices were included. For example, employees laid off in the U.S., the only one of Ritual’s current markets without universal healthcare, were given additional insurance coverage.

Keeping things human also meant acknowledging the personal relationships between coworkers and teams that had developed across the company. Work, especially in a time where most workplaces have gone exclusively remote, provides a touchpoint for many in anxious times. Kim and his executive team made the choice to leave some areas of communication open, allowing team members to stay connected through the process.

Ritual has a Hong Kong office and Kim acknowledged that much of the company’s planning for its restructuring started in February, when the situation was first developing there, but he echoed again how paramount it was to have a plan that could be shown to employees. That plan can be inclusive of what happens when it’s safe to go to work again, or slowly restart the economy in a more traditional iteration. Ritual’s Talent Manager is now undertaking reverse recruiting, assisting those who have been let go in looking for other positions by working with recruiters at other companies, or assisting in workshopping CVs where requested.

For Kim, the hardest part was the morning of the reduction, and talking his staff through it. He said that “faces showed up” in his head as he made the announcement because he knew, personally in many cases, those who would be affected. He was heartened by the efforts of managers who gathered those leaving and those who stayed for impromptu Zoom calls to say goodbyes and share memories. The human element he so much wanted to maintain was there, even in the toughest moments.

For OneEleven, it is these shared lessons and learnings that benefit member companies who work side by side within the space. As companies grow, they can leverage one another’s expertise and experience to make strong moves and avoid common mistakes.

“Part of our role at OneEleven is to make sure our founders have access to examples of strong, compassionate and strategic leadership, to help guide their own decision making,” said Executive Director Siri Agrell. “This is a difficult time for every business leader but I truly believe that those who think about how to mitigate the immediate impacts on the real people affected by these changes are the ones who will demonstrate their capacity for long term success.”

How OneEleven’s Companies and Partners Have Responded to COVID-19

OneEleven is home to smart people doing hard things. So it’s no surprise that our community leapt into action to help address the myriad impacts COVID-19 is having on everything from our neighbourhoods and workforce to our economy and competitive prospects. In some cases tech companies and startups were shifting their operations to respond to COVID in the first days of government mandated social distancing, advocating for their sector, or initiating novel responses. Here are some of the ways our companies and corporate partners have stepped up and are helping to address the impact of these strange times.


What started as a public Google Sheet, an open and collaborative database of tech workers who had lost their jobs due to COVID-19, turned into something well beyond what co-creators Adam Bercovici (Luminari), Marianne Bulger (Prospect) and Adam Gellert (HiredHippo) ever anticipated. The Help List, which initially broke Google’s viewing capacity, has now been built into a robust, searchable database of over 2,500 talented Canadian tech professionals with the aim of matching people to jobs as much as strengthening the tech community during crisis. Luminari has also launched a COVID-19 support podcast to help companies navigate and take advantage of government subsidies. The first episode features Canadian tax expert, Jay Goodis, who breaks down some of these subsidies.


A OneEleven alumni company that has been on the front line of healthcare since the company’s founding, Maple offers a virtual health service focused on matching patients to doctors via text, audio or video. Since the pandemic, the company’s daily online doctor consultations increased by 400% as patients and doctors look for safer ways of accessing and delivering healthcare. In Ontario, Maple launched a program funded by OHIP where patients can talk to a local doctor over video, within the same day, about their COVID-19 concerns, symptoms and next steps. So far, doctors have performed more than 3,500 COVID-19 consultations on Maple, speaking to patients as old as 90 years of age.

“There has never been a greater need for this type of service than right now,” said Dr. Brett Belchetz, CEO of Maple and a practicing ER physician. “We’re committed to helping ensure Canadians are armed with the tools they need to remain safe and healthy during this time.”


Companies that have seen increased demand during the COVID crisis require tools to assist in streamlining a heightened administrative load. The FormHero platform allows organizations to publish the user interface for a business process, in the same way that a person would publish a blog post. Companies can build out a dynamic set of questions and data points that need to be collected for any business process and configure how that data is then used.

One customer FormHero works with, a leading travel insurer, was already receiving thousands of emergency assistance calls per day. At the onset of COVID, the company saw an increase to the volume of these calls by 166% (or nearly three times what it had been previously), with almost all being COVID-19 related calls.

“Working with their business users, we were able to implement a new Guided Care Smart Form that walks their call-takers through each COVID-19 call, automatically creates cases in their back-end legacy systems and automatically generates and sends documents and notifications to their clients.” Said FormHero Founder and CEO, Ryan Kimber, “Using the Guided Care Smart Form, they’ve been able to add additional call-takers without additional training and to significantly reduce the duration of each call — as they don’t have to work through multiple systems, the Smart Form does the work of communicating to the other systems in the background.”

Virtual meetings have become as ubiquitous as the term “social distancing” in our daily lives, whether for work or keeping in touch with family and friends. The meeting assistant is one of the most intuitive and quick ways to schedule virtual meetings, so much so that the company has seen a massive uptick of thirteen times their typical usage rate in the past month. To respond to this increased demand, is offering free 30-day trials and 50% off any of its plans once that trial is finished, in the interest of keeping everyone connected.


Manzil, a OneEleven member company that offers Shariah-compliant alternative financial products and specializes in halal financing and investments, saw an opportunity as well as a responsibility to give back. Partnering with over 40 of Canada’s leading Muslim civil society organizations, Manzil helped to create the Canadian Muslim Response Network (CMRN). Established to help vulnerable populations stay at home as Canada confronts the pandemic, CMRN has put together 2,000 Emergency Relief Kits and counting. Each kit contains food, hygiene products and cleaning supplies, and are delivered to those who have requested them, nationwide. Manzil has assisted in fundraising for kits of all sizes and organized volunteers in Toronto to deliver them to those who have applied through the CMRN’s web portal

“At Manzil, we pride ourselves in our mission of people before profit,” said CEO and Co-Founder, Mohamad Sawwaf, “When we were made aware of this initiative, we reached out to see how we could help on all fronts, especially given the ties we have to our community and our innate nature to conduct acts of charity. We constantly receive requests from all walks of life who are looking for financial assistance, and we thought that this would be one of the ways that we could give back directly and indirectly to those that have encountered unforeseen financial and nonfinancial burdens.”


Many businesses are feeling the financial squeeze of the pandemic on the Canadian economy. By shifting to remote work and pivoting to other ways to utilize their platforms, the tech sector has managed to mitigate some loss. But with the timeline of COVID stretching out in front of the country, companies have funding concerns looking ahead into the next quarters.

So, who helps those trying to help the country? The OneEleven company and startup network, Hockeystick, of course. Already adept at matching startups with potential funders, Hockeystick saw the concern amongst their colleagues in the community both inside and out of OneEleven and moved, quickly, to assist in a solution. Creating a database of active Canadian funders, startups feeling the strain are able to access assistance now when they need it most. Hockeystick has also launched a free matchmaking service through the same Active Funders in Canada list. The aim is to connect funders and startups based on funder criteria and information about companies within the database, and it has already generated 50 funder meetings and over 250 intros within the first week of launch.

“Canada’s tech startups are part of a multi-billion dollar industry that is going to power Canada’s growth for decades to come. During the COVID-19 pandemic, funding is at the top of every entrepreneur’s mind,” wrote Raymond Luk, Hockeystick Founder and CEO. Within the first 24 hours of launching, over 50 new funders were added and many more have been verified since, giving small tech businesses the tools to access the funding they need, now.


Laura McGee, Founder and CEO at Diversio, is a member of the Expert Panel on Women Entrepreneurs. The Panel put out a memo to Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, as well as several Premiers highlighting some of the specific ways women entrepreneurs will feel the economic repercussions of COVID-19.

“Women entrepreneurs will feel the oncoming shock more than most due to several factors: They tend to run smaller businesses, are less capitalized, and are heavily concentrated in the services sector. On top of that, many women are now managing child-care during school closures and elder care while older Canadians are encouraged to self-isolate.”

Some of the solutions McGee underscored in the memo were short-term liquidity through 0% interest loans, of which women-owned businesses, being small businesses in the retail and services sectors, are most likely to utilize, as well as compensation for primary caregivers and expanded SME procurement programs with increased quotas for women-owned businesses. The tangible, immediately implementable supports are only some of the ways McGee and fellow female entrepreneurs are advocating to ensure gains made by women-led businesses aren’t lost during this current, anxious national climate.


A company typically concerned with helping Canadian municipalities manage their $1.2-trillion in infrastructure assets, GoEvo has now utilized its software to help frontline workers. The company has built a self assessment tool for essential service workers that aims to help keep people and their workplaces safe during the pandemic. The new free to use app allows workers to self-assesses for Covid symptoms via a straightforward questionnaire, determining whether or not they should report to work.


Cinchy has found a few ways that their streamlining, data collaboration technology can be applied to help in these tumultuous times. Working with banking customers to help them develop robust and efficient systems for Covid-related loan approvals, as well as offering their enterprise clients a new and real-time Workforce Repatriation System to enable them to manage the re-introduction of employees. Cinchy is also engaging in talks with Federal and Provincial healthcare agencies to introduce “Data command centres” that would assist these agencies in connecting and protecting sensitive data and deploying it as secure, healthcare solutions.

Corporate Partners

OneEleven also benefits from strong corporate partners who have also stepped up to help combat the impact of COVID-19. In addition to their financial and philanthropic efforts, our partners have been providing direct advice, support and resources to our member companies and their founders through our remote programming channels and Expert-in-Residence remote meetings.


A OneEleven Partner, RBC has committed an initial $2 million in support of COVID-19 community response efforts. As a first step, RBC will be donating funds to respond to community needs in Canada, the U.S. and globally to charitable partners including Food Banks Canada, Feeding America and The World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. RBC is also offering a number of financial relief options to their clients including support for businesses through the Government of Canada Business Relief program, which will provide mitigation such as loan payment deferrals and credit increases.


Through employee and corporate donations, Rogers is providing 1 million meals to Canadians via Food Banks Canada and is leveraging their media and communication outlets to drive awareness and community support to help address the issue of food scarcity. They are also ensuring that Rogers customers can stay connected during this time of isolation by waiving long distance charges, providing flexible options for customers who are facing financial difficulty, and waiving data overage fees.


Crestcom has pivoted to offer their leadership training curriculum through a virtual platform, ensuring that those enrolled can still access the skills development tools they need to address the current challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Crestcom team have also begun sharing resources, like insights on ‘Working from Home Effectively’, and are hosting a free webinar series of topics such as ‘How to Create a Change Management Strategy’.


Deloitte has created a COVID-19 online resource centre with valuable information on topics such as Maintaining Customer Loyalty and Trust and Managing Cash Flow During a Period of Crisis. This resource centre also houses Deloitte’s updates on all of the different government support programs and incentive programs, plus a full schedule of Deloitte webinars for CFOs and CIOs that includes all past recordings. Deloitte has also created a live Dashboard that monitors the health, social, financial, and economic activity that will signal first steps toward the economic rebound.


Microsoft is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic on a number of fronts, including providing resources and technology to support remote work, providing strategies and innovations to help students learn online and providing technical support to startups and scaleups who are pivoting to tackle issues related to the pandemic. They have also joined forces with companies like Facebook, Slack and Salesforce to support participants in the #BuildForCOVID Global Online Hackathon and have made an initial $1 million donation to support community efforts in Puget Sound, where they are headquartered.

Silicon Valley Bank

Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) has committed $5.5 million to COVID-19 relief across the 8 countries and 15 states where the company has offices and launched the SVB COVID-19 Response Fund, in partnership with Founders Pledge with an initial $1 million investment. The fund will not only contribute to activities that aim to help slow COVID-19’s spread, it will provide relief to those affected, and better equip communities for future pandemics. The team at SVB is also providing debt relief options for their clients and providing resources through a partnership with Hello Alice and webinars for startups.

OneEleven Shifts to Virtual Programming

The Programming & Events team at OneEleven have launched a roster of webinars, virtual meet-ups, online wellness resources and other remote programming to help its community navigate the work from home mandates and social distancing protocols made necessary by COVID-19. The aim of this virtual programming is to keep the community connected, informed as well as entertained during what has become an isolating and anxious time for many.

Some of the programming being taken remote are pre-existing, regular events, such as Peer Groups and the OneEleven Community Lunch, while other offerings are brand new, developed by taking into account the unique set of circumstances the community, and the city at large, is under.

Part of helping the community feel supported while shifting to remote work was a focus on continuity. The OneEleven Community Lunch is an event that happens every two months in the main lunchroom at OneEleven and is a chance for the community to come together over food and mutual appreciation of community standouts. A “Golden Dongle” award (an HDMI dongle that is spray painted gold) is always handed out at the lunch, an accolade given to a member who has, in the eyes of their peers, gone above and beyond for the community. Even before the OneEleven offices were shut down by mandate of the province, an in-person lunch was impossible with the community at large practicing safe social distancing measures. Cancelling the lunch outright just didn’t seem like a viable option when keeping the larger connection of the community in mind, so the decision was made to take it virtual.

The new OneEleven community Slack channel designated for its work from home community was utilized and OneEleven Executive Director, Siri Agrell, began with her remarks, as she typically would, but this time she was typing them live from her front porch instead of in front of a crowd in the lunchroom. Gifs were in heavy rotation, so were emoji reactions from the community as they followed along. The OneEleven team took turns giving updates on the facilities, events, and the community and yes, the Golden Dongle was awarded via a digital graphic of a dongle, embossed with “111” and hued in gold. It was a shorter lunch than usual, but the community showed up for it.

Many of the spontaneous run-ins that happen in the OneEleven lunchrooms are centred around their constantly working coffee machines. But how do you account for those chance meet ups now that the physical point of contact has been removed? Using a pre-existing Slack channel that went into hibernation for a few years because spontaneous, in-person meetings were happening so frequently within the OneElven ecosystem, those chance encounters will now be virtual. Those who’d like to opt-in to the channel can do so, and the channel will then randomly match two people who can then schedule a coffee break.

More virtual programming aimed at social inclusion and community building will be establishing peer groups, such as one focused on staving off “cabin fever” during social isolation, while Ask Me Anything sessions will be set up to address concerns specific to the tech sector, calling on a rotating cast of experts within the OneEleven community to facilitate.

“We are working closely with our partners to ensure that OneEleven member companies can access the support and knowledge they need to navigate current challenges,” Amanda Filipe, Partnership Manager at OneEleven says.

The shift to virtual and remote programming has created new, unique opportunities for some of OneEleven’s partners to lend experts and insight from afar. “From remote Investor Office Hours to webinars with partners like Deloitte and Silicon Valley Bank, we are offering a robust calendar of programming to our members and are thankful to be working with a committed network of partners, willing to provide their time and expertise to our community.” Filipe says.

Social bridges to community are a crucial touchpoint in times of heightened social anxiety, so too is remembering to prioritize wellness. With this in mind, a new channel has been set up within the OneEleven community Slack with a focus on wellness. Through this, the programming team will offer access to a daily calendar of live workouts and tutorials led by remote instructors, playlists curated by the community and guest DJs, and other resources with a focus on staying positive, keeping active, as well as disconnecting when it’s needed.

“We started to work to bring the elements of what we offer in-person to our members, online, in the form of live streaming fitness classes, workshops, and peer groups. While also curating new experiences to make their home work stations a more productive environment through the introduction of playlists and daily tips for working from home such as free resources to practice mindfulness, experience art and learn a new skill,” Ismail says.

While this necessary pivot to virtual programming has come out of a time of uncertainty and distance, it will give the OneEleven community a chance to connect in an entirely different way.

“The main focus of our programming and events is to keep our members engaged. This is such an interesting and new time for us all and it is important to reinforce a sense of community. We are trying to ensure that the content we distribute is beneficial for the people attending and make the transition to working from home a little bit smoother,” Paul says.

As gaps and new demands materialize in the wake of COVID, so will these virtual events and programs adjust to meet them. It’s one way that the OneEleven team can continue to offer support, even remotely, to its companies and community when they need it most.

We need to keep the faith: Toronto Mayor John Tory in Conversation with OneEleven Executive Director Siri Agrell

“As usual, you’re driving me to drink,” Siri Agrell, Executive Director of OneEleven, said over a juddering video call with the Mayor of Toronto, John Tory, while 1,700 people watched remotely.

The occasion was TechTO Together, an online event featuring Toronto tech leaders sharing insights, advice and solidarity for the tech community during COVID-19. More than 2,900 people virtually attended by the time the two hour event wrapped, with a lively discussion between Agrell and Mayor Tory serving as the main attraction.

After a few long seconds of technical difficulties — Mayor Tory troubleshooting with his iPad, plus the inevitable lag nearly two thousand people actively chatting and following along can bring — the mayor’s window popped up. He’s on day nine of his own self isolation, using tech to connect to a tech event that was shifted remote because of COVID-19, after a business trip that took him to London, England to speak about tech in Toronto required him to self isolate. In a very weird way, it all felt full circle.

Mayor Tory said it’s the first time in his life he’d gone without seeing another person for this long. He’d been taking calls, holding emergency meetings and publicly addressing the city via remote video conferencing apps. The one exception to his isolation was a courier hand delivering the Emergency Declaration to his door for signing — those types of mandates can’t be made remote just yet — but when Mayor Tory made the declaration on Monday, he did it via Skype.

The benefits to technology during this period of mandated isolation?

“I now know how to go on live TV anywhere I want,” he chuckled. But more sincerely he spoke of how technology has helped bridge social gaps in this period of distancing and isolation, reminding him of old fashioned telephone trees where in times of crisis, people had a list of at-risk or occasionally just neighbours to check in on. Telephone trees, he mentioned, still have their use and are currently being implemented by the city as a way to contact the elderly, or vulnerable groups in the city without access to technology.

The initial back and forth banter between Agrell and Mayor Tory did more than set the stage, though, it added a necessary boost of levity for what has been a week of grim news, where time has started to lose shape and the distance between people is being felt almost as a kind of physical withdrawal.

Agrell, previous to her time at OneEleven, worked for the Mayor as his Director of Strategic Initiatives, where a large part of her job as part of his senior staff was focused on the government’s modernization and building the City’s tech sector. At the end of a day where Mayor Tory had declared emergency measures in light of COVID-19, the playful tone kept it casual, human, two people talking honestly about what had to be done and how tech could help.

“We need draconian measures to blunt the curve,” Mayor Tory admitted.

“You know I refer to you as draconian, so,” Agrell joked.

The focus of their discussion was what the Tech community could do for its city during COVID. Mayor Tory said the first thing people should so was focus on their individual responsibility, and then on the role of tech. Following the rules set out by government and medical officials on staying home and social distancing, and pressing it upon others to do the same were paramount. “You’ve got to do it,” Mayor Tory urged, “You’ve got to convince your friends to do it. Even old people like me are used to getting fresh food now,” he added, but said everyone must be limiting themselves to picking up essentials once a week.

It was when shifting to the role tech could play in the current crisis that an already engaged Mayor Tory appeared to zero in on the thousands of people watching, addressing them with the focus one would during a one-on-one meeting.

He said now was the time the tech industry had to work together, to help fellow entrepreneurs in the field and to find ways to help the community at large. He stressed that the city and province were working hard to protect the “goose that laid the golden egg” that the Toronto tech sector has turned into for the economy both municipally and nationally, while acknowledging the role tech has played in attracting many other industries to the city.

The final point in how tech could help was almost a plea. Mayor Tory said that any ideas the tech sector had now, or was working on since the advent of COVID-19 that could assist in curbing it in any way, should be brought to decision makers to utilize and implement it. Agrell offered to compile the suggestions and make them available to his office and City officials.

To wrap up, Mayor Tory encouraged everyone watching to remember that being together, even remotely, makes us feel better.

“This time is this much,” Mayor Tory said, pinching his fingers together right in front of his iPad camera to show what this crisis the city and world is so deeply feeling represents in the grand scheme, “in the span of a lifetime, or the span of a career. We need to keep the faith.”

Working Together While Staying Apart

As a company that has streamlined the way healthcare professionals handle and utilize medical data, Verto’s projects are full steam ahead during the current COVID-19 pandemic. But the company is also intent on maintaining its culture and supporting its team members through the current global crisis, and so its daily stand up now includes something new: a game.

“Michael [Millar, CEO] decided to introduce a different (but simple) game every morning to make sure we’re all awake during our stand-up. We also dress up (or down) for the meeting and share good news at the end. We find that it keeps us engaged, laughing and energized,” said Mahmoud Halat, a Product Manager at the company. “We have a video room running 24/7 for people to jump on and meet in for quick questions without having to formally book something. It also acts as a nice social backdrop for those that don’t have meetings during the day and want to listen in on what’s happening.”

The team also has virtual lunches for those who’d like to drop in, a shared Spotify playlist with good and guilty pleasure work tunes, as well as gaming sessions after the day has wrapped, including a large-scale World of Warcraft campaign a few are gearing up for.

As the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop, OneEleven member companies, like many others, have transitioned to remote work to help flatten the curve and social spread of the virus. But this physical distance has created new challenges when it comes to team connectivity, socially and professionally, as work-life balances have turned entirely remote.

John Laban, CEO and Founder of OneEleven company, OpsLevel, said that his team has always made it a point to eat lunch together, “It was a great way to all kind of mix together every day, chatting about life, what we’re working on — even when you’re not directly working with that given person that day. Now that we’re working from home, we find that some people might go days without seeing most everyone else.”

OpsLevel is a company of eight. With such a small, core team, the disruption of not seeing one another day-to-day might be all the more affecting. For that reason, Laban wanted to safeguard that time together, “We’re going to try out some strategies to try to maintain that sense of camaraderie at lunch… We’re going to set up a discord server so people can drop in over a part of their lunch break (if they feel like it) and play games together. We’ll start with some jackbox games that we play together, and go from there.”

It’s this sense of fluidity in crisis that has felt the most impactful for teams of every size. Setting up strict, work from home procedures are not necessarily the most helpful when the situation itself is changing every day.

“With the current COVID-19 situation, people know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we just don’t know how long it will take.” Lloyed Lobo, Cofounder of Boast.AI said, “Everyone is going to be affected directly or indirectly.”

With 32 employees stretched across Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, San Francisco and Romania, Boast.AI has long leaned on remote solutions. Along with long term planning like assessing immediate effects on his company and translating it to the “ability to run the business for the next 12 months”, Lobo also stressed looking internally for problem-solving.

“Save money, stretch every dollar. Learn to do things by yourself that you would otherwise outsource, do more with less. Difficulty leads to creativity. It’s a great time for the team to learn new skills. Plus, being occupied helps you stay away from negative thoughts.”

A big part of staying positive and maintaining a healthy work culture, especially in times of high public stress, comes down to focusing on community. On people.

“Treat relationships like gold,” Lobo said. “Do right by your people: colleagues, clients, and communities. It’s paramount that they feel comfortable. Host virtual team building activities. People feel better when they are doing things, plus it creates a sense of connection, so schedule things for them to do.” The Boast.AI team even schedules virtual murder mysteries, which Lobo says have been a huge hit.

Maintaining culture, strengthening a sense of community, while keeping it light is a balance the internal programming team at OneEleven has been adept at managing. Handling, on average, 25 events per month and 300 per year, the shift to working remotely with the onset of COVID-19 put many scheduled events on hiatus, with future programming in the space, at least physically, on pause. But it’s a challenge Omer Ismael, Programming Lead and Aisha Paul, Events Lead, have stepped up creatively to meet.

“With the majority of our community working from home, we are working to provide skills building, community building and wellness programming that our members can also engage with from the comfort of their own home.” Ismael said, of programming problem-solving in the interim, “Whether that means providing them with online yoga and pilates classes, facilitating our peer groups virtually, or working with Toronto based DJ’s to curate Spotify playlists so that our members can work from home comfortably.”

On the professional level, the OneEleven programming team is still providing support for its communities. Pivoting to remote options for peer group meetings, exploring the possibilities of taking its quarterly community lunch digital, and coming up with creative solutions for facilitated workshops and classes that would also go remote. OneEleven has also made consistent communication about its policies and procedures during COVID-19 a priority, setting up a community-facing FreshDesk portal with its COVID response plan, resources from other tech hubs, FAQs and guides to accessing emergency funding, and a growing online library of news and medical articles.

OneEleven partners are also offering resources with practical strategies to assist companies transitioning to remote work. Deloitte’s report, “Practical Workforce Strategies That Put Your People First”, includes findings the company utilized during past global crises, like SARS. The report acts as a potential guide for other companies to follow, offering a tangible approach to periods of uncertainty by framing action into three main points of focus: the work, the workforce and the workplace.

The OneEleven team, too, has transitioned to work from home. Daily morning stand up meetings give every person on the team a chance to outline what they plan to work on that day, while coffee and lunch breaks have been scheduled as no-pressure options of downtime to talk about news or nothing more than decor items in colleague’s homes. To end the first full week of going remote, the team took part in a challenge to put together the best outfit for their weekly Friday end of day drinks — now via Hangouts — judged by OneEleven’s Executive Director, Siri Agrell’s kids. A full-on costume contest resulted, ranging from straight up Halloween ensembles to gala attire for the prize of dinner, delivered.

“We’re all navigating this together and technology plays a major role in how we can support our teams, our loved ones and global health in this unprecedented time,” said Agrell. “We’re focused on supporting our members to ensure their on-going success, and that means increased attention to sharing best practices and information and keeping my own team healthy and engaged.”

How We’re Handling COVID-19*

*With the caveat that we’re all figuring this out together.

Officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, COVID-19 has created a public health emergency around the world and pressed the need for a coordinated, cohesive response to minimize impact at the individual and societal level.

Within this context, OneEleven plays a role in the health and well being of its team and community: 55 companies who collectively employ more than 1,000, working within a shared, 125,000 square foot facility.

OneEleven’s initial response was to work in tandem with its building manager, Oxford Properties, to prioritize the health and well being of our members and all those accessing the building. Focusing on increased cleaning of high trafficked areas as well as ensuring our facilities are well stocked with soap and cleaning supplies. We have also worked to provide a calm, rational, responsive and science-led decision making process, proactively sharing team and overall protocol and maintaining clear communication.

As many our our companies enact Work from Home protocol, we’ve shifted into a similar protocol for our core team. The OneEleven facility will remain open and accessible, and individual companies will ensure staff who would like to work within the space can do so. The safety of our community, along with the directive from Public Health to assist in “flattening the curve” of social spread where possible, have been our guiding principles in shifting to this next step. Frequent communication to the OneEleven community will continue as well as with other tech leaders, and our plans will be updated and shared on Freshdesk moving forward.

Programming at OneEleven is an important part of supporting our community, but we want everyone to be comfortable at any given event. We cancelled and rescheduled some events, and will be assessing our calendar on a week by week basis. We’ve also made changes such as ensuring food and beverage options are single-serve, accelerated cleaning and communication to participants, and monitoring attendance and engagement within the framework of a larger public health context. We will also be treating our vendors with care, ensuring we pay kill fees and attempt to lessen the impacts on the service and other industries that are a part of our ecosystem as well.

Good communication is key in these developing situations, and we encourage you to work to control the spread of information just as you work to control the spread of germs. When news is as frequently breaking and unprecedented as it is now, it is also important to occasionally remove yourself from what may feel like an overwhelming cycle. Take a breather by stepping outside, connecting with friends and loved ones, and treating your mental health with the same close attention we are currently paying to our physical selves. Kindness and patience can go a long way in times of crisis, and there are ways you can support those in more precarious situations. Consider donating to shelters or crisis centres in the city, call the elderly or more susceptible people in your life to check in. For those who are able, tip generously those who are engaged in gig or precarious employment. Events like COVID-19 can make us feel anxious and isolated, it’s important to look out for each other to maintain a sense of community and support.

What Newcomers Bring to Canadian Tech

Peace, friendship, allyship. Those were the deliberately spoken words of Ojibwe Elder, Wendy Phillips, at OneEleven, a dozen linen-draped roundtables filling the event space in lieu of the everyday ping-pong and hightop lunch tables.

It is not everyday that OneEleven hosts a smudging ceremony, or features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in its lunch room.

The citizenship ceremony held at OneEleven March 10, 2020 was offered by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) and hosted by OneEleven, a natural partnership when considering the hub’s supportive stance of newcomers in the tech sector.

The ICC, founded by the former Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, and Canadian writer, John Ralston Saul, holds 75 citizenship ceremonies per year across Canada. What makes these ceremonies unique is that they offer an inclusive experience for those about to be sworn in as new Canadians, with roundtable discussions, remarks from community leaders and a reception, all bookending the ceremony itself.

So why have one at OneEleven? Canada has increasingly adopted an open-arms approach to recruiting tech talent abroad. Programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs who are no longer seeking entrance to Silicon Valley or the United States more largely due to immigration policies are, in many cases, being fast-tracked visas — such as the Global Skills Strategy introduced by Trudeau’s government in 2017 — to work in Canadian tech cities, the largest being Toronto. The visas themselves offer direct pathways to permanent residence and eventually citizenship, the investment being on intellectual retention and its long term benefits to the Canadian economy. OneEleven, with its buzzing tech ecosystem of 50 companies and 1,000+ employees, many of whom are newcomers to Canada, is direct proof of such policies and the national shift in the importance placed on tech that’s accessible to all.

Tuesday’s ceremony saw 38 participants spread across a dozen roundtables, with members of their families seated beside many for support. With International Women’s Week underway, the sixteen facilitators participating were all women with different degrees of involvement in the tech sector or the tech community, some alumni of OneEleven. Roundtables can be awkward at the best of times, but throw in a group of people about to participate in an oath they’ve memorized at the end of what has likely been a long and arduous process, with incredibly diverse backgrounds, and engaging in casual discussion might be the last thing on anybody’s mind. One glance around the room and you could see small gestures of comfort: a mother smoothing a child’s already perfect clothes, fixing a friend’s hair, and people extending their hands curiously in the sage smoke curling up from Elder Phillips’s ceremonial bowl as she circled the room. But there was a sparkling quality around the nerves, too, one of excitement. With this underlying current, it took very little for tables to get comfortable, and then lively, with stories of how these imminently Canadian people got here, the challenges they faced, what it meant to them and to their families, and what they were most looking forward to once they were handed that certificate by the presiding judge.

A lot of talk was centred around the difficulty that came with coming to a new country and starting over. Whether that was through language, education, or career. Many held advanced degrees in math and science, and while admittedly thrilled to be there, also had frustration in having to leave fully realized careers behind in order to come to Canada. One of the focal points of OneEleven, through the work of the companies that call it home, is inclusion of newcomers to Canada and the ideas they generate within the technology sector. Ideas and knowledge sharing at OneEleven is, in this way, free from much of the bureaucratic processes that can sometimes bind and slow information coming into the country, as much as those who carry it.

“There is no country that can put borders around good ideas. They are born all over the world, they come from all over the world,” Siri Agrell, Executive Director of OneEleven said in her welcoming remarks to the group of new Canadians, “But in Canada, and at OneEleven, we believe in supporting those ideas and the people who thought of them, who believe in them.”

Agrell noted that the CEO and founder of OneEleven company Fable Tech Labs, Alwar Pillai, moved to Canada in 2018 and now leads one its most exciting companies. A core value of Fable is making the digital world more accessible to those living with disabilities, but this accessibility lends to a broader sharing of information and technology across municipal borders in the province, as well as nationally, shrinking traditional boundaries when it comes to who can access cutting edge tech. Another new Canadian in the OneEleven ecosystem, who was in fact there to swear her oath of citizenship, Melissa Nightingale, leads a company called Raw Signal Group. Her company offers leadership training for startups, big and small, with the onus on communication and developing tangible skills to make better managers, leaders and employers.

“So many of our great business leaders, our great entrepreneurs, our great minds, they weren’t born in Canada,” Agrell said, “but they looked at Canada as the place where they could succeed. You take so much risk to do something that’s important to you. You have to put so much on the line. Leave so many other options behind.”

When it came time for the ceremony itself, the 38 in attendance stood at attention, shooting big smiles over their shoulders at their family or friends standing huddled at the back of the room, phones at the ready to snap photos. Rodney Simmons, the presiding official, greeted everyone warmly and gave the room a chance to breathe before beginning the oath in English and French that 38 voices then repeated in unison. It went fast. A few family members recalled their own ceremony and joked that the group now the focal point of the room might be feeling like, That’s it? But with each certificate handed out by Judge Simmons, every slightly awkward, no handshake because of corona virus protocol but warm congratulations given by Agrell, Elder Simmons and ICC Managing Director, Amy Matchen, the 38 newly minted Canadians were met with cheers, hoots and heartfelt welcomes by everyone in the room. Peace, friendship and allyship were on display, and so was the practice of dismantling barriers, global or otherwise, on the stage of technology in Toronto.

“It won’t always be easy here,” Agrell acknowledged toward the end of her remarks, “There are so many challenges that we all still face… I hope you pursue your dreams, I hope you chase your big ideas. I hope that Canada lives up to its promise to you, and that you are welcomed and treated kindly.”

“And I promise you that for every person who is not kind to you, who is not welcoming — because there will be some — that there are at least 1,000 people right here in this building, who are rooting for you, who have your back and who are glad you are here, and that you are Canadian.”

There are no borders around great ideas

On March 10, OneEleven hosted an Enhanced Citizenship Ceremony in partnership with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. Executive Director Siri Agrell delivered the following remarks to 38 new Canadians, their friends and families.

Good afternoon.

Thank you so much, Judge Rodney Simmons, for being here and for letting us be a part of that amazing ceremony. And thank you Elder Wendy Phillips for being such an important part of this moment.

I want to welcome all of you here: to OneEleven and to Canada as official citizens.

It’s such an honour for us to host this event here today, and get to witness this important moment for all of you, and for our country.

I like to describe OneEleven as a place where smart people are doing hard things.

We’re home to 55 technology companies, founded by passionate men and women from all backgrounds. Together, our companies employ more than 1000 people, many of whom are newcomers to Canada, like you.

OneEleven is part of Toronto’s growing technology sector. And there’s a reason our companies and that sector are growing so quickly.

It’s because of people like you who have big ideas and big ambitions and the passion to bring them to life.

That’s what’s happening here, and that’s what’s happening in Canada. We are a place that believes in what’s possible.

There is no country that can put borders around good ideas. They are born all over the world, they come from all over the world.

But in Canada, and at OneEleven, we believe in supporting those ideas and the people who thought of them, who believe in them.

We believe in giving those ideas a home. Making sure they have the support they need.

Making sure they are given the care they require. We invest in them. We celebrate them.

We do this because it’s what’s right. But it’s selfish too. Supporting immigration and allowing amazing people to build their lives and their careers here, that benefits us all.

So many of our great business leaders, our great entrepreneurs, our great minds – they weren’t born in Canada, but they looked at Canada as the place where they could succeed.

It is not easy doing something new. You all know that.

You take so much risk to do something that’s important to you. You have to put so much on the line. Leave so many other options behind.

It won’t always be easy here. There are so many challenges that we all still face.

But I believe that technology and innovation can help us address some of those problems.

That our companies can create jobs and opportunities, and that all of you can create jobs and opportunities.

It’s especially meaningful that we are hosting this ceremony so close to International Women’s Day. Because just as no country can claim ideas as their own, neither can any gender.

OneEleven is proud to be home to companies founded by women, many of whom were also born outside of Canada and who came here with their families to seek out new opportunities.

Alwar Pillai, the founder of CEO of Fable Tech Labs, moved to Canada in 2018 and now leads one of our most exciting companies, which is working to make the digital world accessible to those living with disabilities.

And Melissa Nightingale, who became a Canadian citizen here today, is a great friend to our community and also leads a company called Raw Signal Group that is helping our companies and others be better managers, better leaders, better employers.

Liza Klimenko, who recently left our team to pursue a great new opportunity at Next Canada, used to be the person who sought out companies to join OneEleven. And she made it a big part of her role to seek out and support newcomer entrepreneurs, to partner with organizations that were supporting new Canadians and other underrepresented leaders. She also made sure we made immigration lawyers available for office hours within our community, to support those who are navigating the immigration process, just as she is. And I’m so happy she’s here for this today.

My own parents moved to Canada when my mother was pregnant with me, and I can’t imagine the bravery required to give up your support networks, your career, to move away from your family and start again somewhere new for your family.

I am so inspired by those women, and I’m so inspired by all of you.

I can not wait to see what they do next, and I can’t wait to see what you do either.

I hope you pursue your dreams, I hope you chase your big ideas. I hope that Canada lives up to its promise to you, and that you are welcomed and treated kindly.

And I promise you that for every person who is not kind to you, who is not welcoming — because there will be some — that there are at least 1,000 people right here in this building, who are rooting for you, who have your back and who are glad you are here, and that you are Canadian.

Thank you all, and congratulations. We’re so happy to have you here.

How Scaleups Benefit from Calling OneEleven Home

OneEleven is the kind of place where a game-changer moment for a startup happens in the lunchroom.

Case in point: In 2017, co-founders Roxana Zaman and Dr. Brett Beltchetz had just moved into OneEleven with their two-person startup called Maple. Back then, Maple was a direct-to-consumer product: a telemedicine platform that connected patients to Doctors through a mobile app. “We were still trying to grow the team and the company, trying to secure financing for our pre-seed round,” Zaman says.

But a chance encounter over brown bag lunch with a fellow startup founder named Dave helped grow their business in ways they’d never dreamed.

In his past life, before launching a software startup of his own, Dave had been an executive at Canadian HR and technology giant Morneau Shepell. As they got talking, he suggested Maple partner with the company — planting the seed for Maple’s expansion from direct-consumer to business to business.

“To this day, that’s one of the relationships we’re most proud of,” Zaman says. “And it purely [resulted from] having lunch at OneEleven with like-minded founders and employees.”

If there is anything OneEleven is proud of, it’s the way member entrepreneurs collaborate, share ideas, and help one another. Having more than 50 startups in 125,000 square feet of space means OneEleven hums with activity but is far from crowded. Companies have ample room to grow, private meeting spaces in which to hatch plans, and an impressive setting to host clients. Through mentorship programs, community events, or just that happenstance meeting at the coffee machine, advice is swapped, learnings are shared and crucial connections are made for companies in scaleup mode — and key problems are solved.

In recent interviews with more than a dozen scaling startup founders, one descriptor for OneEleven came up time and again: The place has a buzz.

To Michael Millar, founder and CEO of HealthTech company Verto, the buzz is evident from the way people move through the place. 

“I make a joke that you’re effective by [a measure] of how fast people walk around you. If you’re in a really dead-end job, you’ll notice people drag their feet. But people, they walk fast here!”

When Millar moved his then-eight person team into OneEleven from the co-working space they had been working out of, he no longer felt like the lone CEO overseeing every little decision — which, quite frankly, had been a problem until then. 

When they arrived at OneEleven, “the lightbulbs went on,” he said. The team instantly felt motivated and empowered (and less packed together like sardines, which was nice, Millar adds).

“As soon as we moved here, it gave us a want to grow, it gave us access to resources … I saw a productivity spike in everyone. It [was like] ‘We’re here, it’s real. It’s progression, it’s hustle.’”

Being around other entrepreneurs has also proved valuable to Verto — and Millar’s been impressed by the generosity so many have shown. That time Nudge CEO Paul Teshima set up a fundraising round and invited a number of OneEleven companies to watch? It was crucial to shaping Millar’s understanding of how to spring into that stage of his company’s growth, he says. 

Millar’s made sure to participate in OneEleven’s Hand-up mentorship program. He sees the way it helps his team meet their career development goals. “I always apply as a mentor myself, simply because I know how much my employees benefit.”

Not only does OneEleven support its member companies and their employees, they also use their technology. The Hands-up mentoring program, for example, is currently run through Together Platform, a member company since 2019. This is far from the first successful partnership between OneEleven and a member company. To name a few: OneEleven has been providing an Association Health Plan to its team and members since 2018 through alumni company Humi, member company FormHero has helped OneEleven optimize their application process through their smart form solution, and community member Keyhole provides Hashtag Analytics to support OneEleven’s social media strategy. According to OneEleven’s Executive Director Siri Agrell, “no one in Canada should be saying they support innovation without procuring innovative products from homegrown technology companies. Being a customer of OneEleven’s member companies is mutually beneficial for us and our community’s founders.”

It is this spirit that also helped Blockthrough founder and CEO Martin Kratky-Katz get his company into the space in the summer of 2017. After taking two failed iterations of their product to market, they didn’t quite meet the criteria at the time. But on the good word of founder Roy Pereira, whom Kratky-Katz knew, and after checking a few other boxes, the company was in. Blockthrough then pursued what would become the third failed version of their product, triggering an identity crisis of sorts for the company. “The fact that most of the companies here are in the scaleup phase, that really motivated me to keep pushing,” Kratky-Katz said. They barely had enough money to make their rent when the “Blockthrough breakthrough” happened: The company pivoted its approach to circumventing adblockers to working with them instead. That’s when they started to gain momentum and grow.

“I do credit OneEleven with psychologically helping with that turnaround,” Kratky-Katz said. Being in a community like OneEleven helped them solve the very problem that Blockthrough had been facing.

From the time his company started in the open concept area on the fourth floor, Kratky-Katz had his eye on the corner office — the first anyone sees when they walk into the building. 

“[The space] really does help with talent acquisition. It’s such an energetic environment,” he said. “People come into OneEleven and say ‘this is really cool, this is awesome.’ We’ve had people say that was a factor that led them to work with us.” 

The space, and the community, has also meant companies don’t want to leave — even when it really is time.

“We literally tried everything possible to continue to stay at OneEleven,” said Zaman of Maple. “We waited until the last possible moment [to leave].” Around the time of their departure, the company had grown to 40 people and was spilling out of the largest glassed-in office on offer.

Now that they’re in their own space up the street and around the corner, they’re happy to all be working together in the same area, though they’re wistful of not having to worry about security, which maintenance company to hire, or how to organize key fobs for their employees. Those didn’t become problems or anything to worry about until they set out on their own. But what they miss the most, Zaman said, is the community. Luckily, OneEleven has made itself a community hub for all tech startups in Toronto — and companies like Maple know they’re always welcome home.

Q3 2019 GTA Tech Ecosystem Report

At the close of Q3, we released our first GTA Tech Ecosystem Report in partnership with member company Hockeystick. Using a combination of public and private data, the report provides a unique snapshot of what’s happening in the GTA. In this quarter’s report, we see the strong growth of tech funding: up 16% vs. 2018 led by three mega-deals: Vena Solutions, (OneEleven alumni) Wealthsimple, and TouchBistro. In particular, the financial tech vertical is driving GTA funding growth, with a 63% increase in funding in the last year alone.

OneEleven and Hockeystick will release an updated report each quarter, featuring a profile of specific Toronto vertical and breaking down funding and investor activity. These reports are part of the unique vantage point and insights OneEleven offers its members, partners, and the wider Toronto ecosystem. Click here to view the current report.

Read the full report here