Watching two heavyweights in the Canadian startup sector wage war in the media should not go unnoticed, as there are major implications for the sector in general, especially in a newly uncertain and volatile provincial political environment.
On one side is a MaRS-led contingent that is startup-focused, largely apolitical, (despite promoting a we’re- not-Trump-based new positioning to attract tech talent to the city), and sees the brain drain as an issue of the past.
On the other side is a Canadian Council of Innovators CCI-led group of CEOs of medium to large tech companies who are mainly at the scale-up stage, see talent as a significant issue and want greater focus on retention of IP as a matter of national urgency.
It’s hard to argue with the latter. Canadian federal governments have been notoriously slow to embrace innovation until this one; the Harper government’s long promised digital economy strategy never really materialized. Many Americans businesspeople were left stunned by the failure of the government to step in and save Nortel or bolster BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion).
Despite this lack of historical support, it’s hard to argue with the explosive success the startup sector is now experiencing, with billions invested, and hard to imagine Ontario’s decade of and the Trudeau government’s innovation-friendly policies have not made a difference.
But do we need to take a slightly more critical eye on the startup sector and more focus on the job builders, the quiet growing behemoths that we need four or five of to hit the numbers and scale for the industry to be considered a reliable pillar of national economic success?
What is the role of government in this, if any, especially given the current volatility of our largest trading partner? Yes there’s a ton of of investment pouring in, but there’s also a new minister of economic diversification, demonstrating just how concerning current conditions are. Let’s hope we’re not talking in five years about the good old tech boom days.
In order that we are not, CCI and companies make great points about what we need to prioritize — an industry is only an industry when there’s real revenue to support it, not just investment.
Companies that get bought too early leave little impact; companies at the scaleup stage have proven themselves.
We need to ensure that growing companies in the startup sector get the profile and support they need to turn into job creators and pillars of the future, at scale.