I know Canada is a far, far better place in which to grow a business than many other places in the world. And yet I can’t help thinking that anyone with the courage to get a tech company off the ground in Canada deserves some kind of medal. Or a straitjacket. That’s because you gotta be a hero or a fool to even give it shot.
The five entrepreneurs profiled in this issue’s special Tech 100 report no doubt belong in the former category. Our cover boys are dynamic, young (or, at least, young at heart), and have shown they can identify and exploit growing markets for their technologies. They are operating just the kind of enterprises this country should be encouraging, from conception through startup to commercialization.
Would that there were more of them. By now, the challenges facing Canada’s innovation industries are familiar, and we’re all grown-up enough to realize that the difficulties IT startups face — financing, management expertise, market size — do not all have to do with policy. But Canadians should not let policy-makers off the hook, especially now, when governments are making life-or-death decisions over entire industries.
I, for one, have questions. For instance: If government is saving GM, why didn’t it save Nortel? At least it’s a homegrown entity, whose Canadian roots stretch back to 1882. Nortel was once the country’s biggest company and employed many thousands; it was also, as recently as last year, Canada’s largest private-sector contributor to R&D spending. Just as importantly, Nortel was for decades a breeding ground for IT and telecom entrepreneurs — one big reason those industries have done as well as they have in this country.
Another question: If Ottawa is spending mega-billions on making all of us automakers, why not pledge a mere billion dollars in financing (not even a handout) to mid-level IT companies, as the Information Technology Association of Canada has proposed, to help get them through a recession in which venture capital has all but disappeared?
One more: How can provinces like Ontario, whose economy is clearly in transition, continue to spend so little on education — the driver behind workforce and private-sector adaptation — and yet set aside hard choices on health care to spend more on it every year?
To all of the above, there’s an obvious answer — expediency. But that points to the most important question for our leaders: Where’s the vision?