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The Review

How the DMZ is helping Toronto startups crack the U.S. market


For Canadian entrepreneur Ami Shah finding a space in New York City to call home while she networked with local business leaders and pounded the pavement in town was never really an option. Sky-high office fees, a weak loonie and the city’s competitive rental market meant finding something long-term was almost impossible.

When she and her team would travel to Silicon Alley they would have no choice but to work out of crowded coffee shops. In most cases hopping from one table to another in an effort to find a working outlet or in some cases just huddling around a computer, often with luggage in tow, trying to broker deals or hold conference calls.

“It was a nightmare,” the successful co-founder of education software company Peekapak explains. “I was always moving between coffee shops; buying just enough coffee so I could use their Wi-Fi. Have you ever had to rely on a coffee shop to livestream a meeting while someone in the background blends coffee or yells on the phone beside you? It’s not good.”

In the past, a lack of office space was a headache-inducing barrier for Canadian entrepreneurs, like Shah, looking to put down roots in the U. S. or dip their toe in an international market close to home. But all that will soon change. As part of a collaboration between the DMZ and Primary, a New York-based coworking office, entrepreneurs affiliated with the DMZ accelerator or its network of partners across the country will get 10 desks on site to use in NYC anytime, free of charge.


Companies that apply and chosen to take part in the program will get access to desks at Primary’s 25,000 square foot facility in lower Manhattan and a combination of wellness and startup services, like free fitness classes, tickets to weekly in-house events, private offices and concierge services. DMZ startups will get up to four free months and non-DMZ companies up to 30 days.

Such a collaboration will open up huge doors for Canadians in the booming city and give entrepreneurs a chance to make vital connections with local talent, broaden their investor pool and, more importantly, meet future clients.

For a successful entrepreneur like Shah, this space’s real value lies in its strategic location and it’s not hard to see why. The city is already home to several venture capital firms—attracted by the city’s booming tech industry—and headquarters for educational companies like Scholastic and Pearson, an education and publishing company.

The DMZ news also couldn’t come at a more fortuitous time for her. Peekapak left the DMZ in June for a brand new office in Toronto’s west end and earlier this year was invited to attend an influential meet-and-greet in New York City with the city’s local tech influencers. Cementing any relationships she’s made at the event will take time and a dedicated place where she can bring potential clients will help.

The upside of having a DMZ-branded office in New York isn’t lost on Addo Smajic, co-founder of Reportin either. He plans to take advantage of the Primary’s offerings later this summer.

In fact, the entrepreneur, who counts Microsoft and Google as startup supporters, is already well acquainted with how important the New York scene can be for a startup’s prospects. He’s made valuable connections during his time in the U.S., met investors that back his products and even managed to finagle his way into getting his very own 2-1-2 area code.

 “You have to put in the work to be an entrepreneur, but you also have to be in the right spot as well,” he says. “This, the DMZ, will put you in the right spot.”