Written by Andrew Seale
A fedora-wearing Vijak Haddadi swings his arms wide, his perma-grin at odds with his running back physique. He could be asking for a hug. Or maybe motioning to the sprawling Tract 9 Creative Factory tucked in a labyrinthine warehouse space in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.
But likely, it’s both: the hug and the space. Because that’s just the way the German-Persian startup evangelist is, an incessant spreader of the good word of innovation both great in small.
Vijak, who also is a Doctor of Philosophy, ended up in Toronto a year and a half ago by way of Berlin and London’s startup scenes.
“I always knew I was going to come here,” says Vijak.
Having founded multiple startups in both cities and fostered a career in coaching entrepreneurs, there was no question what he was doing in Toronto. But it was after abandoning his search for a space to partner with and instead striking out on his own that he realized his true vision.
“It took a little bit of a leap because I had to build all the connections and go to a lot of networking events,” he says.
In July, he officially opened the doors to Tract 9, a hybrid that transcends the usual definition of an incubator and instead functions like an all out creative factory where freelancers can come to work, corporations can come learn to behave like startups and entrepreneurs can bring their ideas to grow into bona fide businesses.
“We have an emerging focus on arts and culture, digital media, music, fashion – these kinds of startups but we’re open to everyone,” he says. And Toronto has proven to be fertile ground.
“I have friends from Silicon Valley who come (to Toronto) and say ‘we feel this has the same vibe, the same atmosphere as Silicon Valley twenty years ago… I don’t know, I wasn’t there twenty years ago but I take them at their word,” he says.
He points out that while Toronto is a stark contrast to the “risk taking, gung-ho, yeah let’s do it” culture of the Valley, it borrows a little bit from both Berlin’s fertile bohemian creativity startup scene and London’s money-talks financial-focused innovative sector.
“Here you have a lot of complexity and diversity in the ecosystem which allows you to have very refined and complex ventures and products,” says Vijak. “They can have global DNA right away, that’s a great strength to have.”
The serial entrepreneur has a grand vision for Tract 9. He sees a limitless space where corporations can shake off decade old bad habits and find their innovative new edge, where budding ventures can cross-pollinate and find their own ways forward. He sees an epicenter of experimentation, a place where entrepreneurs can come to find whatever it is they’re looking for: connections, advice, partnerships – anything.
And he doesn’t plan on waiting for Tract 9 to burst at the seams or outgrow its digs; he plans to bring his grand vision to Toronto’s startup community, to win over the ecosystem, as soon as possible.
“In an ecosystem you grow the pie together (that’s) the best strategy,” he says, still grinning. “We don’t have competition… just varying degrees of friends.”