Sunday April 02, 2017

'We have to stop comparing ourselves to Silicon Valley,' says Canadian tech leader

Innovation is on the radar thanks to the 2017 federal budget. But what does it mean for the tech sector in Canada?

Innovation is on the radar thanks to the 2017 federal budget. But what does it mean for the tech sector in Canada? (Michelle Parise)

Listen 14:56

Ah, Springtime. A time to open up windows, clean the carpets and... release the federal budget!

Yes the Canadian government recently released the 2017 federal budget, and the Spark team took notice.

Why? Because one word came up literally hundreds of times in it!

And that word was innovation.

But what does it really MEAN to be innovative? And what does it mean for the tech sector in Canada to be innovative?

351 Abdullah Snobar

Abdullah Snobar. (Ryerson University)

Meet Abdullah Snobar, the Executive Director of the DMZ, Ryerson University's business incubator for tech startups in Canada.

Last week, the DMZ hosted a post-budget roundtable meeting with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, and 16 companies form the Toronto-Waterloo corridor.

"It was an honest, candid discussion," says Abdullah.

"It wasn't just about saying 'Great job we're happy to see where things are going'."

But plenty of tough questions were asked of the Minister about the current state of innovation in Canada, and how the government plans to improve it.

A big issue on the table was the lack of diversity and women in the venture capital world.

"So, how do you provide better engagement opportunities and more incentives, and how do you build more transparency in organizations to really showcase that they're actually building diversity within their plants?" Abdullah says.

"How do we ensure that women have a better bigger say and a bigger say around the table in what's actually happening."

There was also discussion about how Canada can build a more collaborative and less competitive community, "so that we as a small country of 35 million people are able to work together on each others' strengths."

351 budget innovation

A big chunk of the federal budget is dedicated to innovation.

Abdullah says if Canada wants to be a global powerhouse, it needs to be more strategic and focused in specific areas.

"That's what's going to turn everybody's heads globally and say, 'Look at Canada, look what they're doing, these guys are fantastic. They're focused and know exactly what they're after'."

In order to create an innovation mindset here in Canada, we have to know what we're good at, and focus on those areas.

"And to be honest with you, we have to stop comparing ourselves to Silicon Valley," Abdullah says. "We're better than that, believe me.

"Imagine what we can be doing as a nation over the next ten years. If we continue to take risks, embrace innovation and defy the status quo? We're going to be doing extremely well for ourselves."