Google’s Sabrina Geremia: There’s something unique about Toronto
Sabrina Geremia is a born-and-raised Canadian who worked in Italy and the UK for many years before coming back to Canada. Now, as the head of Google Canada, she is focused on making ecosystems more helpful for startups. Read on to see her global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I studied Business Administration at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. I studied abroad in Italy during my last year of university and ended up staying there for seven years.
I was working in Rome in the late 1990’s for a multinational CPG marketing group, which was a dream job in a dream city for me at the time. I had some friends who were working in Silicon Valley as the Internet was starting to take off, and I remember the first time someone came to talk to us about the Internet and this new company, Amazon.
Perhaps the only sports metaphor you’ll ever get from me: I always wanted to “skate where the puck was going,” and be at the forefront of what I thought would build the future – for me, that was the Internet.
My first foray into tech was a mobile startup that I joined in London in early 2000, but given that it was just before the dot com bubble burst it made for a very short startup career.
That being said, the experience gave me the bug for wanting to be in tech.
I continued working in London for a few years until I found myself at Google in 2006. I moved back to Canada in 2007, and have been with Google ever since.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
Three hours isn’t much time! I’d definitely keep it local.
We’d start just before sunset and go to Riverdale Park on Broadview Avenue in the East End. You can watch the sunset going over the skyscrapers, and it’s just beautiful.
Then we’d go for a rooftop drink at the Broadview Hotel or a bike ride over to the Distillery District for a drink.
If we had time after that, we’d pop over to Kensington Market so I can take them for a slice of pizza at my favourite pizzeria in the area.
I actually took a friend on this itinerary when he visited Toronto, and by the end of it he said he wanted to move here. It was a surprise to me because this friend had travelled all over the world and had a lot of access to great destinations, but he fell in love with the uniqueness of Toronto.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
I believe in diversity from all different angles, from cultural to identity to experience. The cultural diversity in Toronto is so vibrant and it really does represent the world.
Tech also has such positive momentum behind gender diversity and showing young girls and women the power that tech can have in their lives.
I’m excited by the potential of learning to have a positive impact on the careers of young women, having ridden that wave myself.
Since tech is going to be impacting everything in the future – not just computer science, but also arts, film, and other careers – it’s such a critical skill for everyone to learn, and a focus on diversity pushes that forward.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
My global idea is to look for win-win opportunities where different actors within an ecosystem can collaborate in a way that makes things better for startups.
This is something unique about Toronto, I find, because we are so forward about how we’re better together and how we want to collaborate.
As an example, I was at an event where Harley Finkelstein of Shopify mentioned that he shared Shopify’s IPO plans with other startups after they had gone public. This was huge to see information, that many would consider proprietary, shared so openly just because Shopify wanted to help other entrepreneurs be more successful.
We’re also seeing this on a city level, with Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo collaborating on a demo day to bring foreign investors in to see top startups coming out of accelerators and incubators in the area.
Whether it’s accelerators and incubators, founders, or other ecosystem actors, if you focus on making things better for startups and putting innovation first, the collaboration opportunities are amazing.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
The world needs to know that Toronto has a shared sense of community and identity. We have shared ambitions, shared interest in collaboration, and a tight-knit community.
The mentality of having open arms and a willingness to work together is a big differentiator for Toronto, and you have to see it to really understand how great it is and how proud it can make you as someone who gets to be a part of it.