How do I find talent?

One of the most important steps for startups is to develop a great team: one that rounds out your skill set, shares your enthusiasm and is driven by rewards beyond a regular paycheque. Recruiting talent is no easy task and for startups, it can be especially daunting as they have a unique set of challenges. Entrepreneurs need to:

  • Establish a partnership with a co-founder who will complement your strengths and offset your weaknesses
  • Attract top talent for minimal compensation
  • Find skilled developers who solve problems and build solid products
  • Compete against more established companies to attract interns

The following resources guide startups through the process of finding, hiring and retaining talent as the company develops.

This page consists of the following sections:

I. Finding a Co-Founder

II. Finding Developers

III. Attracting Talent: From Interns to A-Players

IV. Funding for Talent

V. General Online Tools and Resources


I. Finding a co-founder

Finding the right co-founder is one of the most crucial steps for a startup as the initial business idea evolves into a real venture. Tapping into existing business or social networks or exploring new leads can all yield success―there is no single correct approach to accomplish this goal.

One role co-founders must fulfill, however, is to supplement your skill set and to fill in any gaps of knowledge and experience your startup might have. In the very best of cases, co-founders create a value that is greater than the sum of their individual contributions.

Advice from web articles and blog posts

The following articles and blog posts provide advice and viewpoints on what it takes to find a co-founder.

10 Steps to Finding the Right Co-founder (Entrepreneur, 2015): Martin Zwilling, founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, describes how the key to finding a co-founder is choosing someone with a complementary skill set.

How to Find a Co-founder (Guy Kawasaki, 2015): Guy Kawasaki, chief evangelist of Canva, explains that finding a co-founder is the second most important relationship you’ll ever make and examines why you should select a co-founder based on similarities and differences.

How to Recruit a Technical Co-founder (StartupSmart, 2016): Before investing in recruiting a tech co-founder, StartupSmart says you should consider the possibility that you may not require one yet—you may just need a software developer?

What Makes a Good CTO Great? 8 Qualities to Hire For (Forbes, 2015): According to Yair Flicker, president of SmartLogic, the one thing successful businesses have in common is excellent leadership. In this article, Flicker discusses the top qualities that distinguish a great chief technology officer from a good one.

Finding a co-founder: online tools and resources

The following tools and resources assist startups in their search for a co-founder.

CoFoundersLab:This online matchmaking service gives startups access to a large group of entrepreneurs who are looking to find a co-founder or join a startup. Entrepreneurs can create profiles of themselves and their startups and send messages to prospective partners.

Founder2be: This networking site allows users to post profiles or to browse profiles based on members’ professional expertise, location or submitted ideas.

Co-Founder Equity Calculator: With this tool, entrepreneurs can evaluate the suggested equity of each co-founder upon answering a series of questions about each member’s role and contribution to the startup. The formula largely draws on anecdotal information from conversations with different entrepreneurs, and should be used as one data point among others.


Many payment-based co-founder matchmaking services and social networks can be found with a quick Google search. Use keywords such as co-founder, founder, matching, matchmaking, network, dating, hookup and startup.



Face-to-face networking is another good way to meet a co-founder.

Startup Weekend: 54-hour-weekend events are held internationally around the year to attract business managers, developers, designers and others as they form teams to build potential startups. Ideas are pitched, teams are formed and working prototypes are built and presented all in the span of one weekend.

Co-founder Meetup Groups (Meetup): This portal website aggregates meetups for entrepreneurs wishing to network or find potential partners. The search engine allows you to search and browse local events.


Hackathons are a great place to meet potential co-founders (as well as developers), as the genesis of ideas and the formation of companies often take place at these events. Search Google using your (nearest) city plus the keyword “hackathon” to find events in your area.

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II. Finding developers

Finding the right developer can be problematic for startups that do not have a technical co-founder. One way around this is to have an interim technical consultant from your social or professional network help oversee the hiring of technical staff and the development of your product. Getting to know the developer community early in the process will help you develop valuable contacts with programmers. Even if they do not come to work for you right away, it’s useful to build a network of technical talent that you can tap into later.

Advice from web articles and blog posts

The following articles and blog posts provide advice and insight into issues unique to finding a developer for a startup.

How to Find a Talented Programmer for Your Startup (The Mercado, 2014): Agu De Marco, CEO and co-founder of Wideo, shares his advice on how your startup can attract a talented full-time developer.

7 Simple Rules for Hiring Great Developers (JavaWorld, 2014): As the demand for talented developers outstrips availability, this article advises startups on how to stand out and compete for top-level developers.

4 Reasons Why Your Small Business Should Hire an Intern (Frontier Business Edge, 2016): This article discusses the benefits a small business can reap for hiring an intern.

15 Characteristics of a Good Programmer (Entrepreneur, 2014): Entrepreneur John Rampton reflects on his hiring experience to showcase some of the characteristics of the best programming talent he has been able to attract to his startup.

Finding developers: online tools and resources

These tools and resources are specifically geared towards the developer community and its recruiters.

Interview Zen: Interview Zen enables startups to set up programming challenges and monitor how potential job candidates solve them online. With these challenges, startups can evaluate a coder’s thought processes, coding speed and revisions before the interview stage.

Masterbranch:With Masterbranch, developers can create a coding profile, which is automatically updated through their open-source coding activity (from sources such as GitHub, Google Code and CodePlex. Startups can assess candidates for positions by examining these profiles.

The following websites allow startups to post projects and outsource specific jobs to freelance programmers. Note that the listings are not exclusive to coding projects.

Upwork: The Upwork platform lets users post projects, find programmers, and collaborate on and monitor projects. Upwork takes a percentage of the candidate’s payment. Using, programmers can offer bids on projects and startups can select the most suitable fit. There is no charge to post projects, although premium subscribers pay a membership fee.

Guru: Through Guru, companies can post a project and find developers around the world. Basic membership is free; greater levels of access can cost up to $49.95 per month.

oDesk: oDesk helps businesses post a job, find a developer and track the progress of a project. Jobs can be posted for free. oDesk’s blog contains extensive entries about entrepreneurship, the future of work, and online collaboration.

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III. Attracting talent: from interns to A-players

Attractive incentives are more than the right salary or stock options. Potential hires are drawn to startups that have innovative ideas, strong business goals, potential for growth and a healthy organizational culture. As new startups are at a financial disadvantage when drawing top-tier talent, they need to maximize other enticement strategies.


Hiring interns can be critical for a startup’s survival, as they come at a low cost and can bring enthusiasm and energy to a fledgling company. A mistake that many companies make is underutilizing interns: a lack of experience does not mean one cannot make a significant contribution. Ensure your startup is an attractive placement by giving interns meaningful professional experience. Invest in them just as much as you expect from them. This will also build a solid reputation for your business amongst interns, which will serve you well as you compete with bigger companies that may seem more attractive.

Career Edge Organization: Career Edge Organization is a non-profit group that connects companies to qualified talent for both entry-level and professional-level roles. They offer three paid internship programs:

  1. Career Edge (for recent grads)
  2. Ability Edge (for graduates with disabilities)
  3. Career Bridge (for international professionals establishing a career in Canada


When seeking an intern, a good place to start is the career office of post-secondary academic institutions. You can also contact academic departments where talented prospective interns are enrolled. Many universities offer formal co-op programs that students complete as part of course requirements. Employers can use the database of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada to search for complementary programs and to post available internships.



Lean startups cannot afford bad hires: never skimp on checking references. Hiring top talent who can fill multiple roles is essential for a startup’s survival and is one of the bigger challenges for businesses with no name recognition. When trying to lure A-players, startups must understand and leverage what it is they can offer that larger firms cannot.

Advice from web articles and blog posts

The following articles and blog posts provide tips and perspectives on issues unique to finding and hiring a leading, experienced team.

19 Recruiting Strategies to Make Hiring Your Top Growth Hack (Betterteam, 2017): This article outlines strategies that will help you attract the best talent and keep your startup top of mind for star recruits.

It Is the Attitude, Not the Aptitude, That Takes You to the Altitude (Entrepreneur, 2016): Vikram Upadhyaya, founding board member of the Indian Angel Network Incubator, makes the case that while skills are important in the startup world, it is mainly attitude that makes one a winner.

The One Thing That Matters More Than Perks to Attract the Best Talent (Fortune, 2016): According to this article, culture is the foundation of a company’s reputation and helps businesses of any size attract, retain and grow great talent.

Recruitment and selection for startups: Key steps to hire the best candidate: This MaRS Resource provides information on some key steps in the recruitment and selection process to make sure you hire the best possible candidate.

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IV. Funding for Talent

Numerous funding programs and tax incentives assist startups in hiring the right talent. Below are some funding resources that entrepreneurs can access to help raise funds to secure talent.

Funding for Internships

Mitacs: Mitacs offers various research and training programs that connect the following stakeholders: graduate and post-doctoral students, their academic institutions, government, and industry partners/companies within the student’s field of research. For most programs, Mitacs provides partial internship funding, with the industry partner (company) contributing the remainder of the intern’s salary. Its various programs include:

  • Mitacs-AccelerateThis program is a four-month internship for a research position. The project receives $15,000 in direct funding, with the industry partner and Mitacs each providing $7,500.
  • Mitacs Elevate Postdoctoral FellowshipThis annual award consists of a research grant of $57,500 for a full-time internship for a recent PhD graduate, based on a one-year contract. The industry partner must contribute $25,000 toward the salary of the intern.


Funding for Student Hires for R&D

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) – Grants Program Overview: NSERC’s mandate is to foster discovery and innovation in natural sciences and engineering by supporting university students in their advanced studies. It promotes investment in discovery research, connecting Canadian companies with academic institutions to spur the development of post-secondary research projects. NSERC provides many grants for which startups are eligible and it can assist with the hiring of new talent. Some of its programs are listed below.

Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) Grants: The CRD grants were created to give Canadian companies access to the knowledge, expertise and educational resources available at Canadian universities and colleges, and to train students in the essential practical skills required by industry. CRD grants are awarded to specific projects undertaken by academic institutions and the private sector. This program provides up to $200,000 for any project that is consistent with the university’s research, training and technology transfer mandate.

College and Community Innovation Program – Applied Research and Development (ARD) Grants: NSERC provides ARD Grants for companies looking to connect with students and academic institutions on well-defined applied R&D projects. The grant can be used across a spectrum of disciplines, including natural and social sciences, engineering, humanities and health. The grant covers the cost of a student’s salary and benefits, for a project running from six months up to three years. The funding ranges from $25,000 to $150,000, depending on the nature and duration of the project.

College and Community Innovation Program – Innovation Enhancement (IE) Grants: The objective of the IE grants is to stimulate innovation through applied research by fostering collaboration between Canadian academic institutions and small- and medium-sized businesses. Specifically, the purpose of these partnerships is to facilitate commercialization, technology transfer, and the adaptation and adoption of new technologies.

Engage Grants: This program has a two-fold purpose. It is intended to give Canadian companies access to the specialized knowledge and expertise available at Canadian universities and to foster new collaborative research partnerships between academic researchers and companies. Engage Grants offer up to $25,000, for a period not to exceed six months, to cover the salary of an academic researcher for a short-term R&D project that addresses a company-specific problem in the natural sciences or engineering fields.

Idea To Innovation (I2I) Grants: The I2I program accelerates the development of a promising technology originating in academia and it promotes the technology transfer to a new or established Canadian company. The grant provides funding to college and university faculty members to support R&D projects with recognized technology transfer potential. The funding is delivered through phases focusing on the early stages of technology validation and market connection. For Phase I projects, funding is available for up to 12 months, to a maximum of $125,000. It is non-renewable, and NSERC assumes 100% of costs.

Industrial R&D Fellowships (IRDFs): This fellowship was designed for doctoral graduates to engage in R&D for an industry partner within the Canadian private sector. NSERC provides $30,000 per year, for a maximum of two years, on the condition that the partner organization contributes a minimum of $15,000 per year.

OCE Programs

Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Collaborative Commercialization Programs and Talent Programs: OCE’s programs connect small- to medium-sized enterprises with college and university graduates to promote and develop entrepreneurial and business skills. Its suite of programs includes:

  • Industry-Academic R&D Collaboration -These programs bring industry and academic researchers together to address specific innovation challenges identified by industry.
  • Commercialization – These programs accelerate the commercialization of Intellectual Property (IP) coming from publicly funded Canadian academic and research institutions.
  • Entrepreneurship – These programs foster student entrepreneurship and support entrepreneurial activities by students and youth across Ontario.


The Ontario Targeted Wage Subsidy program offers temporary wage subsidies to enable employers to hire those they may not otherwise be able to consider hiring. Eligibility requirements vary.


Tax Incentives for Employers

Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit: This non-refundable tax credit is equal to 10% of the salary of eligible apprentices. The maximum credit an employer can claim is $2,000 per year.

Ontario Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit: This is a refundable tax credit for businesses that employ apprentices for certain skilled trades. The maximum credit for each apprenticeship is $5,000 per year. The maximum credit over the first 36-month period of the apprenticeship is $10,000.

Ontario Co-operative Education Tax Credit: Corporations that provide a qualifying work placement at a permanent establishment in Ontario for a student enrolled in a post-secondary co-op education program are eligible for this tax credit. Employers may claim a refundable tax credit for each qualifying work placement: 25% to 30% of eligible expenditures, to a maximum of $3,000.

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V. General online tools and resources

The following general online tools and resources can aid startups in finding talent across a broad spectrum of requirements. Specific HR tools and reports are included here as well.
AngelList: AngelList is a well-known service that helps startups connect with investors and raise angel funding. The AngelList Talent feature helps connect job candidates with startups, and vice versa. provides businesses with tools and resources to better recruit, integrate and retain skilled immigrants in the Canadian workforce. The Resources & Tools section on its website offers news, statistics and reports on diversity hiring.

HR World: HR World produces free white papers (registration is required) that detail trends in recruitment and HR outsourcing. It also offers calculators to measure the impact of hiring decisions, including the:

Finding talent through social media

Whether prospects are active job seekers or passive candidates, more and more employers use social network sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to locate and recruit potential employees. The resources listed below can help you effectively search for talent using social media.

2016’s Guide to Using Social Media for Talent Sourcing (Manila Recruitment, 2016): This guide evaluates popular social media outlets and their effectiveness as recruitment tools.

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