4. Communities & Networks

“Entrepreneurs should be in the drivers seat and the rest of us need to get out of their way and understand that our role is to feed their success – because when they succeed, we all succeed. We need to develop vibrant entrepreneurial communities and a connected and collaborative national ecosystem to accelerate Canadian entrepreneurship.” Harley Finkelstein, CPO at Shopify, at the Startup Canada Launch, Ottawa, ON May 2, 2012.

4.1  Creating a Unified, Collaborative Network

The Canadian enterprise support community is fragmented, although the degree of fragmentation varies significantly from province to province.

We need to aggregate and consolidate all the support tools, programs and services provided to entrepreneurs, and allow entrepreneurs input into rating the support available to ensure the best value for money. The Canadian enterprise-support community needs to work together to share best practices so that we can ensure that our programs are learning from successes and improving uniformly.

Where possible, programs can be combined and funding streams can be aligned around particular firms or entrepreneurs once they have been deemed to be worthy of support. While programs may be managed by different departments, we need to create one unified and standardized approach to engagement, decision making and performance measurement, and we need to encourage collaboration by providing funds in support of collaboration, best-practice sharing and aligned efforts. Everyone in the ecosystem needs to commit to connecting, communicating and collaborating to better serve Canadian entrepreneurs and feed a vibrant entrepreneurial network.

What’s working?

  • Ontario Network of Excellence (Ontario) – A collaborative network of organizations across Ontario designed to support the commercialization of ideas.

4.2  Government Engagement, Vision and Coordination

Entrepreneurship policy is housed across many departments. Coordination from the government through a properly resourced locus that can organize an overall strategy will be necessary to foster collaboration, understanding and education. Indeed, policy direction will be essential in encouraging change, and we need to begin to measure performance now, so that advocacy for change is based on facts.

An entrepreneurial culture needs to be cultivated from the grassroots – from the entrepreneur and citizen level – to really take momentum. Paired with high-level government vision, coordination and a strong commitment to work in partnership with those driving changes at the grassroots, consensus can be reached and all parties can move forward together to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs have called for government to play the role of organizing the best environment possible for people to live productive lives and build businesses that create necessary and enjoyable products and services. Entrepreneurs see government’s fundamental role as a shaper of a healthy environment that fosters and speeds innovation, enabling new industries and markets to emerge. This requires government to employ an entrepreneurial lens to policymaking, an entrepreneurial approach to its operations, and a collaborative effort through cross-party and cross-departmental efforts.

4.3  National Capacity Building

Furthermore, much more support needs to be provided at a national level to key national associations – such as the Canadian Association of Business Incubators and the Association of University Research Parks Canada – that have the potential to be powerful instruments of change, as they are in other countries. The crux of the matter is that these national organizations are run by volunteers and do not have any institutional capacity to engage in advocacy efforts, run innovative programming and push the bar on thought leadership, best practices and collaborative projects. We need to invest in core institutional funding for key national nodes in the Canadian entrepreneurship landscape to provide them with the necessary capacity to advance a more entrepreneurial Canada.

Whilst investing in strengthening some of the key national drivers of our Canadian entrepreneurship agenda, we must mandate increased collaboration and alignment amongst them to create a more holistic, aligned and interdependent community.

We need to incentivize and strengthen private, public and industry sector collaboration and partnership, nurture and strengthen both national and local innovation and entrepreneurship clusters, and align as much as possible to create a well-functioning national entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem.

4.4  Creating Vibrant Startup Communities

While we need to strengthen our national entrepreneurship infrastructure, healthy and vibrant entrepreneurial communities at a local level are the heart of inspiring, supporting and accelerating the growth of startups.

At the community level, we need to invest in entrepreneurial leaders who act as connecting agents between the enterprise support actors and entrepreneurs; particularly outside of Canada’s major city centres. These entrepreneurial champions tend to have excellent rapports with the enterprise-support community and if empowered to, can convene community enterprise meetings to facilitate the development of network activities and exchanges that promote dialogue, learning and partnering. They can ensure that key community activities – such as entrepreneur mixers, boot camps, Startup Weekends, Startup Digest and Demo Camps – are in place. They can evaluate overlap, gaps and the overall quality of the entrepreneur support infrastructure, tie the local community into the national infrastructure, and connect entrepreneurs with relevant support. Indeed, these catalysts create the foundations for healthy startup communities.

Canada needs to connect and empower community champions with the tools, resources and networks to drive grassroots transformation and fuel vibrant entrepreneurial communities from the ground up in partnership with institutional and community actors.

We also need to broaden the traditional understanding of startup communities beyond the tech sector to include social entrepreneurship, biotech, the creative industries and others. These startup communities exist side by side yet rarely interact with one another. A vibrant entrepreneurial community is one that is open, inclusive and always ready to collaborate.

Bringing together the startup community through Community Enterprise Partnerships (CEPs) in regular, organized and collaborative forums that include higher- and further-education institutions, larger public companies, investors and other feeders of the community would further serve to strengthen the community’s connectivity and support for entrepreneurs.

What’s working?

  • Startup Edmonton (Edmonton, AB) – Startup Edmonton kick starts and activates local startups through education, workspaces and accelerator programs, bringing together the startup and startup support community.
  • Communitech Hub (Kitchener, ON) – Supports technology companies to start, grow and succeed and in doing so, connects with the wider K-W ecosystem. 
  • Acccelerate Tectoria (Victoria, BC) – Provides access to the Victoria, BC and Cascadia startup ecosystem and provides a structure venture development services and space to support high-growth early-stage startups.

4.5  Thought leadership / Data Collection

Canada needs to develop a unified research base on Canadian entrepreneurship to inform policy makers and program managers and to improve the effectiveness of programs, policies and services for entrepreneurs. Part of this effort must be to contribute to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and to assign the GEM administration to a consortium of university entrepreneurship centres from each Canadian province. The GEM itself can be leveraged not just to collect data, but also as a nation-building and community-building exercise, creating centres of knowledge and excellence in entrepreneurship across the country.

With dozens of annual conferences, reports and white papers issued, Canada needs an aggregator of thought leadership, findings and best practices to disseminate findings nationwide to those leading on policy, programs and services on the ground through a quarterly or annual ‘Thought book’, blog or online community.

4.6  Foundational Leadership / Advocacy

Lastly, Canada needs a third-sector philanthropic foundation, similar to the Kauffman Foundation in the United States, endowed by one or more successful entrepreneurs. This foundation would invest in the entrepreneurial knowledge base and infrastructure and would be mandated to drive forward Canadian entrepreneurship by providing strategic investments toward research, programs, infrastructure and advocacy as a strong, independent national voice for Canadian entrepreneurs. Successful Canadian entrepreneurs across Canada, the Canadian private sector and individual Canadians need to rally resources together to create a self-sustaining foundation to invest in the future of Canadian entrepreneurship.

4.7  Summary

We need to fuel Canadian entrepreneurship from the bottom up by supporting the development of vibrant entrepreneurial communities that are led by entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial Startup Community Champions and bound through Community Enterprise Partnerships and grassroots network events and activities. These Startup Communities can form the basis of a national entrepreneurship network supported through a virtual one-stop shop.

To strengthen the impact of this grassroots entrepreneurial landscape, we need to invest in increasing the capacity and voice of key national institutions, consolidate and streamline support where possible, mandate communication, collaboration and coordination when issuing funding allocations, and ensure that top-down government entrepreneurship efforts are working with those driving real change on the ground.

To build a truly entrepreneurial Canada, we call on all entrepreneurs nation wide to be part of the solution and give back. The time is now to step up to start up Canada.