Invest Canada 2018 – How Canadian Entrepreneurs Are Changing The Country’s Economy
As an entrepreneur and investor, I truly enjoy learning about the countries and cities around the globe that are driving forward the startup economy. It’s no secret that I’m particularly impressed with what’s going on in Canada. In fact, I recently attended Invest Canada 2018, which is created as the country’s premier private equity and venture capital conference. This was my first time going to this annual conference and my admiration for the Canadian support for entrepreneurs only grew from my experience there.
I found myself mingling among the who’s who of Canada’s investment and startup scene. The keynote address was given by Stephen Harper, former prime minister of Canada. He addressed international trade, the advancement of Canadian business and how the country can capitalize on the progression of technology.
There were a number of thought-provoking concepts discussed during the multi-day conference, but the key takeaway I got is that Canadian entrepreneurs are changing the country’s economy in three ways:
1. They are actively looking to the next big industries while still innovating in the traditional ones.
2. They are building their own innovation economy their way.
3. They are coming together to eliminate discrimination and create a level playing field for all entrepreneurs.
The energy, specifically oil and gas, and the auto industries have traditionally been pillars of the Canadian economy. They currently account for about 50-percent of Canada’s GDP. While some might argue there will always be a market for oil/gas and automobiles, new advances in technology are starting to limit the life expectancy of these traditional industries. Peter Tertzakian, Chief Energy Economist and Managing Director for ARC Financial Corp, did a keynote speech addressing this very topic. He believed that the oil and auto sectors will continue to play a major role in the country’s economy, but recognized that innovation historically alters or entirely replaces traditional industries.
His message was backed by some of the other speakers in the conference who sited the fast-growing technology industry and talked about the rising importance of entrepreneurship. A recent report from Canadian software and data firm, Hockeystick, revealed there are more than 500 governance programs in Canada encouraging entrepreneurs to build new companies. As a result, there are nearly 10,000 startup companies in Canada creating new solutions for up and coming industries, including financial services, healthcare, information technology and the enterprise.
While Canada’s traditional bread and butter will not change drastically overnight, the country is poised to do what it needs if—and when—that change happens. One big reason for this is because Canada is investing in its own innovation economy. It is building a magic chain of innovation through the hard work of existing entrepreneurs and the education and inspiration of the next generation.
Not only are Canadian entrepreneurs working just as hard, if not harder than, their counterparts in Silicon Valley or New York, the pure number of entrepreneurs is also rising. The typical work day is just one example of the work they are putting in. During the 20-years that I’ve worked with Canadian entrepreneurs from Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, I’ve seen them shift from a 9-5 day to making a 24/7 commitment to their jobs.
The other main building block of Canada’s innovation economy is the education of future entrepreneurs. Universities are no longer just educating students for big, corporate jobs. They are preparing them to develop new ideas and start new companies. Incubators funded by government grants at every university are tasked with inspiring students to start creating and inventing. There are more than 200 incubators across the country helping entrepreneurs build the foundation for their dream. Thus, the cycle is begun– go to school to learn STEM, come up with an idea, get help to incubate and create viable companies that hire other innovators.
The third element driving change in Canada is the cooperation of entrepreneurs to create a level playing field for everyone. This was the focus of the last day of the conference. The morning of passionate discussions and great speakers, moderated by Whitney Rockley, Co-Founder & Managing Partner for McRock Capital (https://www.mcrockcapital.com/team.html) focused on diversity and inclusion. Four Canadian medal-winning Olympians tackled ways to overcome bias and discrimination using international sports as an example. In that arena, color, creed, religion, gender and sexual orientation do not factor into who is on the team. This results in incredibly diverse teams that deliver exceptional results. They applied their lessons to the Canadian financial industry, which still struggles with diversity and inclusion.
One element that stood out for me was that women across the board—from major corporations to mid/small-sized companies—were calling for more equality and respect in a single voice. Rather than pointing fingers, though, they talked about solutions. One of their solutions was to include white men in the conversation. Without that element, they said any solution will be more academic. I believe big changes are on the horizon for the Canadian entrepreneurial community that will lead to a level playing field for everyone. Canadian women are hardworking and determined to make this change. Given the size of Canada’s economy and its multicultural society, I believe they will succeed.
The conference was over all too quickly, but I learned a lot about the ways Canadian entrepreneurs are changing the country’s economy. Their ability to work together to boost up new industries, the next generation of entrepreneurs and women and minorities is impressive. It’s something we all can look to for inspiration.