These days, everyone seems to be talking about “big data”—and with good reason.

When people used to think of the word “data,” the first thing that came to mind was an incomprehensible series of ones and zeroes streaming across a screen in a Matrix-esque manner. That’s no longer the case.

Today, data is more than just those ones and zeroes; it’s large warehouses of information that tell the story of how we live and what we do. More than 2.5 exabytes (2.5 quintillion bytes) of data are created every single day.

We’re creating so much data, but there’s so little insight.

That’s changing. The big data movement is slowly becoming less about the information that sits in a database, and more about the insights gained from data that facilitate decisions and activities every day.

Right now, organizations like The World Bank, the BBC and the United Kingdom Government have established themselves as leaders in “open data.” Their goal is simple: to increase transparency and accountability for the policies that they create and the services that they provide in a manner that is both accessible and creative.

Big data doesn’t just include open data; data sharing makes data that may not be “open” relevant to all of us. “Open data” as defined by Open Definition is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone. According to a 1995 report by Tom Wright, the then information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, “data sharing” refers to the “exchanging, collecting or disclosing of ‘personal information’ by an organization with other organizations.”

The Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre has successfully implemented a data-sharing model converging disparate sets of geospatial data from a variety of community stakeholders to create and promote safer and healthier communities. Other not-for-profit organizations, businesses and governments have also come together to find solutions to enterprise and community-based geographic information system solutions. The tools they have created range from the altruistic, like one mapping Christmas Cheer Depots, to the practical, tracking West Nile Virus and mosquito trapping results.

What if we could use data to learn about entrepreneurs in Toronto?

As a first step toward this, the MaRS Data Catalyst team did some research and conducted some interviews to find out why startup companies locate where they do. Lo and behold, there were some very interesting insights that came from the exercise, and we’re hoping to use them to do even better work around the data in the Ontario innovation ecosystem.

In an effort to build the data layer of the innovation economy, we are initiating a pilot in the startup ecosystem to describe the entrepreneurs, investors, and government and innovation support organizations that comprise it. Think of it as market research on the startup community in Ontario.

Why does this matter to you?

There are numerous stories of successful ventures and there are many more untold stories of not-so-successful ones. As an entrepreneur and/or an investor, it is crucial to understand the factors involved in driving one company to success and another to failure.

  • How much funding did both companies receive and when? And from whom? 
  • How did early-stage seed funding affect their long-term growth? 

These are the kinds of questions that Data Catalyst is hoping to answer through interdisciplinary collaboration and data sharing.

By measuring and demonstrating their impact through good data collection, sharing and analysis, government and support organizations such as the Ontario Network of Excellence and the Government of Ontario can better understand where to best apply their resources to be able to create an environment in which entrepreneurship and innovation can thrive.

Want to learn more about what MaRS Data Catalyst does? Check out our website:

Sarah Ali

Sarah is the “Jill of all trades” at MaRS Data Catalyst. She works with internal and external stakeholders, vendors and team members across all project verticals to deliver high-impact results. If something needs to get done on the team, Sarah makes sure it happens. See more…