Is Canada finally getting its innovation house in order? Two recent developments offer encouraging signs that federal (and provincial) policy is beginning to address past shortcomings at both ends of the innovation spectrum, acknowledging the importance of fundamental research and ensuring that rapidly expanding tech firms grow while remaining in Canada.
Firstly, the appointment of Dr Mona Nemer is a positive move by the Trudeau government to bolster the nation’s science base by availing itself of top-flight advice on a range of issues surrounding federally supported science and providing connective tissue to the rest of the research ecosystem. Perhaps most importantly, Nemer will be given the flexibility to shape the position as she settles into her new role.
At the other end of the spectrum, three major players in Quebec’s business support ecosystem — Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Investissement Québec and iNovia Capital — have invested $208 million in Montreal’s Lightspeed POS Inc, a rapidly growing developer of point-of-sale software for the restaurant industry. Lightspeed has been primarily backed by US venture capital out of Silicon Valley. Buying out a key stake held by Palo Alto CA-based Accel dramatically improves the likelihood that the firm will remain — and grow — in Canada with all the ancillary benefits that entails.
Growing world class tech firms is a complex and risky venture, especially for smaller nations such as Canada. Bombardier’s decision to hand over control of its much-vaunted and maligned C-series jet aircraft to European behemoth Airbus is just the latest example of how risky global ambitions can be.
But with properly targeted policy initiatives and inspired investment decisions by public and private venture capital, Canadian tech firms will at least have a fighting chance to demonstrate their value in the global marketplace.
Mark Henderson, Editor