Innovation minister Navdeep Bains appears to understand that a key issue facing emerging Canadian tech companies is their ability to scale up without losing control or selling out to foreign buyers. After a decade of contraction, the Canadian tech sector is in serious need of a handful of large anchor firms to help brand Canada internationally and establish clusters of deep expertise and capacity to grow an economy struggling to rebound from the collapse of commodities prices.
The current mantra surrounding scaling up, clusters and networks bodes well for the forthcoming Innovation Agenda, which Bains will lead. The agenda commits to “redesign and redefine how it supports innovation and growth” and the Budget has provided $800 million to help with its implementation starting next year.
But its impact will only be enhanced through the meaningful and transparent input of industry, other levels of government, academia and the not for-profit sector, which Ottawa has pledged to engage.
“We really want to help companies scale up and stay in Canada because if we create these large, global, successful companies they also help with the supplier base, they help mentor other companies, executive management and members go out and start other companies,” Bains told the House Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology last week.
Bains’ tone and language are a refreshing change. But unless the execution is forceful and laser sharp, Canada’s ability to grow another Nortel or Blackberry will be compromised, leaving us once again at the mercy of volatile commodity markets.