Scotiabank’s Acquisition of ING Direct Canada Threatens Toronto’s Startup Community
Posted by Dan Verhaeghe
on 2012-08-31 6:30:00 AMIn downtown Toronto, the ING Direct Café at Yonge and Shuter since opening up last April has become a hotbed for Toronto-based startups to work in a collaborative co-working environment.
It costs much less to rent a co-working space than an office in the heart of the city. It has produced startups like Michael Nus’ Epilogger. The second floor at the café, called Network Orange, has held hundreds of networking events and technology information sessions. It helps support the whole Toronto startup and tech community.
Will Scotiabank carry on ING’s incredible tradition of being a “rebel with a cause” in Toronto? Or is that too aggressive a line for a Canadian bank that certainly has debt issues in this traditionally conservative-natured country?
Many people in the Toronto technology scene have had long lasting impressions of what has occurred at the ING Direct Café in the past year or so as well. I thought I would tell you a story about the impact ING has had on me as a technology blogger.
I can remember the result of one afternoon that feels like eons ago now. I was summoned to the ING Direct Café last November in downtown Toronto with fellow Techvibes writer Andrea Wahbe by ING.
A little while later, much to my surprise, I got shipped the book “The Orange Code: How ING Succeeded By Being A Rebel With A Cause” from ING’s marketing and public relations department. The book was all about the founder of ING Direct Arkadi Kuhlmann and how he built ING with the principles of social entrepreneurship in mind.
A brief from Social Capital Markets: At The Intersection of Money and Meaning quotes Arkadi: “The world is changing at a meteoric rate. No longer can organizations spend years developing new products, getting everything right the first time. Today’s leaders need to make quick decisions that maximize new possibilities as they arise. Look at ING Direct, Facebook, Apple and Google. Leaders must be both business people and artists, comfortable making innovative decisions in the face of ambiguity, and these new ways of operating must be embedded in the cultural DNA of their organizations.”
You would have to be insane to try and build a new brand in the brutally competitive market of retail banking, but that is what they did,” said Dragon’s Den star Kevin O’Leary in Amazon’s book review section. “An incredible story of determination, focus … A must-read for anyone with the goal of building a brand or business.”
O’Leary’s latter line could not have been more correct. Just like for other socially entrepreneurial minded people, it would be a game changing book for me. I had the goal of continuing to build a Canadian presence after succeeding in the United States. Suddenly a lot more things made sense to me in business and the tech world on my way to Australia and California for a three-week reprieve. It allowed me to better understand what I could really do working as a high-profile Canadian technology writer.
The book allowed me to better understand the principles of social entrepreneurship. That would soon become transformative leadership for technology in Canada here at Techvibes. That was in addition to reading former media baron Conrad Black’s book that it was “A Matter of Principle,” rather than a matter of shameless self-promotion that most bloggers are initially after. This was especially important as Techvibes continued to become more prominent.
Black had started the National Post to show a different side of Canada. I had started out showing a different side of mobile technology beyond the industry’s love of mobile apps in the US and Canada. That was because mobile marketing was so much more than that. In Toronto’s tech world in mid-2011 it seemed like most people interested in mobile had caught app fever instead. Knowlton Thomas reported recently that 59% of apps do not generate enough revenue to break even.
At least I had become a rebel with a cause, much like Arkadi Kuhlmann, even if I have been told by friends and colleagues most marketers simply do not care that much. The public cares about how they are being advertised to though.
The best marketers are the ones that care. Former US President Bill Clinton spoke volumes about how the world’s most creative people could do wonders for the world. Clinton believed they needed to do a better job of leading change for good across the world at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in Cannes during late June. Marketing is changing at an alarming rate. As a result, helping marketers keep pace with technology seems important.
I do not think any traditional bank, even Scotiabank, would suggest being a rebel with a cause. That was what made ING so special in Toronto’s technology community. People could look up to Arkadi and want to become a disruptive innovator and social entrepreneur like him.
Other big banks may support entrepreneurs, inspire Canadians to save, and provide the capital to potentially launch dreams. However, they certainly have not gone the unique route of ING with co-working spaces like Network Orange. I would only hope that Scotiabank continues living up to ING’s reputation in their acquisition of a company that truly understood the meaning of social entrepreneurship.