Skating to where the puck will be

It was great to see the comments from people in Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo discussing the strength of, and differences between each community. It’s a testament to the connection between the Ontario’s tech centers. What’s missing – beside Montreal – is this same discussion on core problems that affect all Canadian tech companies – like funding (tax treatment and education I’d say) and discussion of intercity methods of sharing knowledge and supporting innovation (camps and communication infastructure).

What’s happening is that the world (I’ve heard similar things from the London, Leeds, and Manchester) is beginning to recognize that if we are ever going to upset the dominance of Silicon Valley – an area that treats the world is as its innovation hinterland – we have to build on the strength and diversity of our regional communities – rather than surrendering the best to American investors
 
What I mean by regional is a strategy based on communities co-operating and upper levels of governments enhancing that co-operation with connectivity and funding.  Why for instance should Entrepreneurship 101 not be broadcast throughout Ontario using funding to enable web casting and a local partner to provide local instructional support and facilitate inter and intra community interaction? This builds local and regional community, entrepreneur’s knowledge while at the same time building a network of organizational relationships at the regional level. The same thing could be done with OCRI and Communitech programs – as well as DemoCamps and other industry events. The alternative is to spend $500.M of public money duplicating MaRS in Ottawa – an idea that lies at the heart of Innovation HUB proposal

We need to develop a sense of extended community that allows people and businesses to identify partners and opportunities outside their geographic area. This is important because economic benefit occurs is where problem knowledge, technology application and business insight intersect. At one time it could have been argued that this was the domain of cities – because of the density of interactions – however the emergence of community around blogs/forums/video has shown that technology can serve as an intermediary for connection instead of geography. At the same time the scale of competition has increased dramatically. Countries like China and India have massive population advantages that statistically increase the probability that it will be them, not us, who discover and exploit new opportunities. A single city is no longer big enough to form a global competitive advantage.

As I see it we these trends will guide many new business models.

– cheap and rich communication
– the adoption of networked business models  (outsourcing being but one example)
– a decrease of vertically integrated companies
– more innovation occurring at the intersection of fields of knowledge
– globalization (competition for customers & innovation) reaching into smaller and smaller market niche
– rising energy and carbon offset fees increasing the costs for physical travel and shipping  

They also provide a framework for regional economic development that can rival the world’s mega cities in terms of the diversity and connection – while being economically efficient, providing program excellence and diversity, and serving every company type – even if the threshold in a local are doesn’t warrant local provision of that service.

Of course the devils’ in the details, but the place to start is to explore how pervasive broadcast of local events through the broader region builds community and connections that wouldn’t occur otherwise.

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10 thoughts on “Skating to where the puck will be

  1. Peter,

    Entrepreneurship101 from MaRS is broadcast all over. You just need to register! Check out the list of past events including the webcasts at http://www.marsdd.com/Events/Event-Calendar/Ent101.html#pastevents

    I think as entrepreneurs we should stop looking to the government for operational help. We need support from with respect to education and taxation, but the involvement of government in startups and innovation! Do I really need to laugh out loud? Get the Ontario and Federal governments to clean up the taxation for non-resident withholding, barriers to liquidity for Canadian investors, and stronger academic programs. Read http://www.wellingtonfund.com/blog/2007/12/06/deloittes-study-on-canadian-vc-crisis-is-well-timed/

    Only in Ottawa would you think about looking to gubment rather than just doing it.

  2. Thanks for the MaRS link.

    I’m asking for government support for communication infrastructure (or services) to connect events in the different cities – not operational help.

    I believe innovation comes from connecting people – especially from slightly different backgrounds – and connecting city events increased the population base and therefore opportunity for people to connect – especially as the area of interest gets more esoteric.

    I also think that a natural outcome of cross city connection will be a concerted and coordinated effort to change tax treatment and educational policy.

    Finally while it’s nice to think that as entrepreneurs we should just do it – the truth is that every level of business beyond start-ups takes advantage of government programs (think the auto industry, GreenTech, Bombardier, and less directly the trucking industry … etc. etc.). You’re just tying your own hands when you ignore the government’s role in addressing infrastructure and services that support the growth of the Canadian economy.

    But I’d agree get them involved in innovation and operations – No.

  3. A lot of that is already being done. As David pointed out, MaRS’ Entrepreneurship 101 has been on the web for ages and other events are webcast, either live or as an archive (including Communitech’s Entrepreneur Week events).

    While I’d like to see more, I think a lot of the value that comes from these events is the community feeling they help build, and you don’t get that as strongly through a webcast as you do when you’re in the room. It’s rare that anything gets said in a presentation that you couldn’t find many times over on the Web or in books, and usually in far greater detail. The Web provides a lot of opportunities to meet other people and feel a part of something, but I don’t think that webcasts of presentations score very highly in that regard.

    There are people close to the government who are trying to push the use of province-wide webcasts, but I don’t think they will have much impact. Certainly no substitute for local events or for having resources in the community to provide startups with the mentoring and feedback they need.

    If anything, I think the provincial government and the folks managing programs for the government are too focused on inter-community links, because their idea of creating links is typically to run things in Toronto and let other communities plug in. I don’t think it’s an approach that will benefit Ottawa or Waterloo.

    Startup folks in Waterloo and Toronto have strengthened their links considerably over the last year or two, but it’s been through grassroots initiatives in both communities, not through government programs. I’m happy to have government funding for these initiatives, but the push lately has been for the government to appoint organizations to run the programs across the province, and I think that would be a disaster for something like StartupCamp.

  4. What I’m arguing for is a large scale program to connect communities and grass roots groups via IP infrastructure. This isn’t a plan to replace local events with webcasts but to augment local and grass roots events with intercity connection and shared events. No one gains if people don’t meet physically.

    That said because of regional proximity the chance that a presenter in a one city has personal connection with someone in the audience of another city is pretty good so local networking can lead to trusted introductions – especially if that is facilitated buy the local organizer. Same goes with ‘training’ where I’d suggest standardized material and some discussion be streamed – but that this be augmented by local interaction/material in a physical space so participants can physically interact.

    And I’d agree that the local community has to see the value – otherwise there is no point. But I think we all can agree that a shared DEMOCamp – with presenters form Toronto. Waterloo and Ottawa would resonate with presenters and audience alike – and that the increased visibility might help commercial relationships form that wouldn’t happen otherwise because no one was searching. (I think attention and accidently connection are more important than we realize)

    What we’ve done so far is run a few, poorly promoted programs – each run in isolation so we don’t learn (as fast as we could) how we could approximate being there. We haven’t engaged groups about how they might use expanded audiences to deliver programs. And we haven’t thought about how this might help businesses connections and knowledge transfer within the region – and how local groups might facilitate that process.

    And if this turns into centralized programs run out of a single center it will die – no doubt about it. I’d argue that if it doesn’t support competition it’s too centralized and based on political decisions and picking winners (neither of which have a vey good track record). We don’t decide which trucks can use the road and we should decide which groups access this infrastructure.

    We’ve built some paths. Now we have to learn to build highways.

  5. Peter

    Good timing for your article. MaRS and OCE have been tasked by MRI to develop a program that knits Ontario’s resources together in a wider network. As a group of 16 or so organizations in the province we are offering Advice, Research, and Money to technology companies in Ontario. Our objective is to build on community based skills to bring the best from each community and make it available to all technology companies. You can check out http://www.marsdd.com/mrp to get more of an idea of what we offer and how we do it.

    On the issue of wide area – community broadcasts we have done that with Entrepreneurship 101 (as noted in prior comments) and will be doing things like that in the future. You would have enjoyed being at MaRS Experience Tech several weeks ago when we were linked into an IDC conference in Boston via simultaneous broadcast and we held independent breakout sessions in Toronto.

    You obviously have some great ideas and I would love to have your input on what we are doing. Give me a call and let’s get together to see if there is a way we can meld our visions together.

    Charles

  6. Peter,

    Agree with David Crow. In Ottawa, we must just get things done ourselves instead of relying on government. We have done things successfully in the past and should do more on our own.

    We have a large and diverse group of people (including your buddy Ian) working on initiatives to strengthen tech entrepreneurship in Ottawa. This movement is as grass roots as they come. The contributors will meet 3rd week of June. Come join us.

    The puck has moved away from government to:
    http://www.talentfirstnetwork.org/wiki/index.php?title=Blood_on_the_tracks:_6_years_of_technical_entrepreneurship_in_Ottawa

    Join the brains and hearts of Ottawa’s tech community, and …contribute.

    Tony B.

  7. I’d welcome the chance to contribute – can you send me the details.

    I checked out the link you posted and note that the top 5 initiatives ranked by size of pay-off require government involvement, as do the to 2 in terms of time to pay-off.

    The grass roots has done what it can in terms of proving that it can generate viable businesses and identifying the new role for government – the next step is to move this into a policy initiatives and fiscal commitments.

    I’d also note that in the differences between the Bay Area and Ottawa Entrepreneurs that 2 of the 9 differences can involve government – the size of the Entrepreneurs network (which is the subject of this post) and the orientation of government towards small business.

    I’m not suggesting for one moment that we abandon grass roots initiatives and wait for government intervention but rather that it’s time to turn some of our efforts to getting program and policy changes that reinforce our work.

  8. Peter,

    Yes, you can sign up to contribute at:
    http://www.talentfirstnetwork.org/wiki/index.php?title=Blood_on_the_tracks:_6_years_of_technical_entrepreneurship_in_Ottawa

    Once you sign up you will receive the emails regarding the June meeting. We are looking for good people to contribute.

    Grass roots initiatives need government support. This is not happening today. I agree 100% with your point that what we need to do is spend time to get gov program and policy changes that reinforce the work of grass root groups.

    See you at the opening of the Code Factory at 5:30 p.m. today. Very supportive of Ian Graham’s efforts and delighted that Acorn Partners are working with Ian. For those who wish to know about the Code Factory go to: http://thecodefactory.ca/

    I’ll bring a bottle of champagne to celebrate Ian’s and Acorn’s milestone.

    Regards

    Tony B.

  9. Hi Pete,

    FYI, I’ve just launched my personal blog at http://renaud.ca/nonsense which hopefully will help contribute to or at least help stimulate the discussion on core technology problems from an Ottawa-based perspective.

    With your permission, my blog will link to this one.

    Regards,

    Paul Renaud

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