Planting a Southern California MAPLE in Ontario, Canada

Going international is not typically an initiative that start-ups undertake within the first six months of forming but when your mission is cross-border trade and investment, it figures more prominently on the launch calendar.

When my co-founder Robert Kelle and I launched MAPLE Business Council with our board of directors in May of this year, it was with a mission to connect businesses between Canada and Southern California bilaterally.  All are welcome in our sector- agnostic, stage-agnostic community of executives, entrepreneurs, investors and service providers.

With 12 organizations with Canadian ties now part of MAPLE, we embarked on a weeklong “trade mission” to Toronto, Canada in November. It has been nothing short of a remarkable experience. We have connected with established businesses as diverse as architecture, construction management, global logistics, banking, wealth management, entertainment, fashion, digital media and manufacturing. Businesses with missions, divisions and clients on both sides of the border.

Our visits to the vibrant and growing start-up communities in Toronto and Waterloo were a window on a remarkable innovation ecosystem of entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, government and start-up coaches eager to create the environment and supply the ingredients to help new ideas flourish - be they in life sciences, fintech, high-tech, big data… the list goes on.  From seed to scale, there is no shortage of passion to nurture, challenge and stimulate. To grow.

If there is a secret sauce in these communities it is collaboration across academia, government, investors and entrepreneurs. For example, the University of Waterloo and its coop program begins a path for student entrepreneurs that is continued through a rainforest of hubs, incubators and accelerators. And in Toronto, organizations such as MaRS and OneEleven have crafted impressive innovation communities.

And collaboration is at the heart of MAPLE too. While not a tree found in any rainforest, we are a growing organization with deep roots in Canada and Southern California. It has been a privilege to share the story of Southern California with Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs this past week as it will be to bring back to Southern California all the exciting work in Ontario.

It may be winter, but MAPLE is about to bloom.

Stephen Armstrong is co-founder of MAPLE Business Council, a non-profit senior executive council focused on promoting trade and investment betweenCanada and Southern California. Stephen is principal of The 360 Marketer, a marketing consultancy. For more information on MAPLE, please visit