“Canada needs to develop a culture that produces citizens that expect success through hard work and their own ingenuity and who believe that they can create innovations, companies and organizations that will drive new industries and create social impact. This must be a priority for everyone.” – Tonya Surman, Founder of the Centre for Social Innovation at the Startup Canada Social Innovation Garage Brainstorming Session in Toronto, ON, May 9, 2012.
2.1 Branding Canadian Entrepreneurship
Unity and identity are themes that have permeated our history as a nation. Canada boasts its internationalism, its multiculturalism, its strong education system and its rich natural resources. Nevertheless, as global competition increases and global dynamics shift, Canada needs to re-imagine itself and re-brand itself by positioning entrepreneurship and innovation as core values in Canada Inc. In doing so, Canada will re-discover its entrepreneurial roots as a nation built by entrepreneurial immigrants from all over the world.
We need to build a strong Canadian entrepreneurial brand to celebrate and inspire the nation with an entrepreneurial spirit – one that is inclusive, creates a sense of community, is action-oriented, is mainstream, empowers individuals to be entrepreneurial and think bigger, changes attitudes about risk, and values entrepreneurs as heroes, change makers and nation builders. This brand can provide entrepreneurs across Canada with a platform and a voice that leverages the critical mass of entrepreneurs and their experience to help create the conditions necessary for entrepreneurial success in Canada.
What the “Own the Podium” campaign did to rally Canadians behind their athletes, we can do again to inspire our nation to recognize and celebrate entrepreneurs and innovators as nation builders, so that “entrepreneurial spirit” becomes synonymous with Canada and entrepreneurship becomes the unifying value of Canadian nation building in the 21st century.
Example of what’s worked:
- Own the Podium – A not-for-profit organization, funded by the Government of Canada, that prioritizes and determines investment strategies to national sport organizations in an effort deliver more Olympic and Paralympic medals in Canada.
2.2 Entrepreneurship for Everyone, Everywhere
In Canada there is often a stigma associated with the word ‘entrepreneur’. We need to do more to celebrate entrepreneurship as a mindset, philosophy and a way of acting to combat misconceptions of entrepreneurship being only for the elite few. While not everyone can start a business, entrepreneurship is for everyone to understand and experience.
Global, national and community-wide campaigns have the potential to further elevate awareness, showcase entrepreneurs, and position starting a business as a desirable career option. By publicly showcasing and celebrating Canadians who start businesses later in life, boomer entrepreneurs, aboriginals, newcomers, women, those in the skilled-trades and creative industries, social innovators, and ‘intrapreneurs’, we can celebrate the diversity of our entrepreneurs and create relatable role models.
Promotion and discussion of entrepreneurship should not take place just within incubators, accelerators, associations, business schools and startup communities. Libraries, schools, community centres, government offices, careers offices, parks and high-traffic public places can be transformed into hotspots for ideas, innovation, entrepreneurship promotion and learning.
Examples of what’s working:
- Global Entrepreneurship Week – An annual weeklong global celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.
- Kingston Entrepreneurship Day – The Mayor of Kingston proclaimed September 5, 2012 Kingston Entrepreneurship Day in celebration of the Startup Canada Tour in Kingston.
- Windsor-Essex Scavenger Hunt – A city-wide scavenger hunt and social media campaign to introduce the community to 100 local businesses.
- YouInnovate – A national tournament to challenge Canadians to innovate using an every-day item.
- Small Business Saturday – A day where we celebrate Canadian entrepreneurs by shopping and supporting our small business neighbours.
2.3 Fuelling an Entrepreneurial Culture – Role Models, Media and National Institutions
Love it or hate it, the Dragon’s Den television series on CBC has possibly done more to increase public awareness of entrepreneurs than most publicly funded ad campaigns. However, rather than positioning temperamental investors as the face of Canadian entrepreneurship, Canada needs a national entrepreneurship campaign that leverages mainstream media to celebrate and increase awareness of the vital role that entrepreneurs play and positively positions Canada’s leading entrepreneurs as national role models.
Role models have inspiring stories to tell of success, failure, effort and personal growth. Role models can be celebrated through television spotlights featuring Canadian entrepreneurs. Special television reality shows can follow the journey of Canadian entrepreneurs and tell their stories. Television and radio talk shows can feature up and coming entrepreneurs. There can be awareness ads at movie theatres and daily entrepreneurial features on the evening news and in newspapers. Televised achievement awards showcasing Canada’s top entrepreneurs would go a long way to position Canada’s entrepreneurs as leaders and role models.
When mainstream media reports on business, it tends to focus on large financial institutions and large corporations rather than entrepreneurs and startups. Rarely does an entrepreneurial story make the front page. Despite the fact that there are a number of startup and entrepreneurial online and print publications – Techvibes, Sprouter, BetaKit and Profit Magazine to name a few – the entrepreneurship community in Canada tends to talk within itself rather than to the mainstream public. Canada could benefit from an entrepreneurship news network to create news releases and multimedia content to tell the stories and celebrate the successes of Canadian entrepreneurs for use and publication by mainstream media partners. This would make it easy for media to cover stories that inspire the nation and elevate the status of entrepreneurs in society.
Furthermore, Canada’s cultural institutions can be encouraged to further promote entrepreneurship as an integral part of Canadian culture. A special exhibit on Canada’s pioneering entrepreneurs at museums of history and heritage, a Canadian innovation exhibit at the Canadian Science Museum, a special series of coins produced by the Canadian Mint or stamps produced by Canada Post featuring great Canadian entrepreneurs – such as Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil or Joseph-Armand Bombardier founder of Bombardier Inc. – could showcase entrepreneurs as role models for the nation. Promoting entrepreneurial role models through media and national institutions will increase awareness of entrepreneurship.
Examples of what’s worked:
- Canadian Heritage Moments – Sixty-second, short films illustrating important moments in Canadian history, which have themselves now become part of Canadian culture.
- Clt-Alt-Compete – A documentary that takes a revealing look at the startup and emerging business scene through the eyes of five founders and their teams, and tells a story of the passion, fortitude and insanity involved in bringing a startup to life.
2.4 Leveraging Social Media
Just as the Canadian intercontinental railway system connected Canada from coast to coast, access to broadband internet and social media has widened, deepened and accelerated the proliferation of knowledge, data and networks, and has transformed the way in which we send, receive and digest information. The internet is the great equalizer and connector.
In addition to leveraging mainstream media, igniting and growing a national entrepreneurial culture can be accelerated by using and building online social networks through social media channels. Canada needs a robust social media campaign fuelled by leading Canadian brands and celebrities. From videos, podcasts and entrepreneurial spotlights, to daily inspirational messages and updates on the latest Canadian entrepreneurship news, the innovative, dynamic and appropriate use of social media networks, apps and channels can ensure that a grassroots entrepreneurial movement reaches more Canadians at an unprecedented speed.
2.5 Driving Youth Entrepreneurship
As new markets emerge and the nature of employment evolves, many young people will be entrepreneurs out of necessity. While organizations like the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), Shad Valley, Junior Achievement, Next 36, Impact and Enactus work to support youth leadership and entrepreneurship, much more can be done to align efforts; increase mainstream social appeal, awareness and understanding of entrepreneurship; educate parents on the value of cultivating entrepreneurial acumen; and, provide young Canadians with avenues to cultivate entrepreneurial skills and mindsets.
Entrepreneurship needs to be seen as cool and accessible if we are to drive youth entrepreneurship. We need to develop more online and offline games, learning tools, apps, books and stories to teach parents and youth about entrepreneurship and equip them with the skills and networks to start ventures. Canada needs to design an infrastructure that supports the development of young entrepreneurial leaders. Employing incremental projects, milestone achievements and skills-building social activities, as well as providing mentors and a supportive online and offline community can help to facilitate youth entrepreneurship.
To cultivate entrepreneurial awareness and increase the social status of entrepreneurs, local and national public broadcasting stations like TVO and CBC can develop broadcast programming for young Canadians, with young entrepreneurs as leading characters, and develop youth talk shows and programs to showcase and tell the stories of young Canadian entrepreneurs who are making an impact. An online Startup Magazine for children and teens can help to inspire young Canadians with stories from across Canada.
Canada needs to develop a Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative, similar to Shell Live-Wire in other countries, that provides young enterprising Canadians with programs and opportunities to start a company by providing small seed fund grants ($500-$1,000), training, conferences, social events, online resources, mentorship programs, scholarships, fellowships, PR campaigns and information on available opportunities and options for enterprising young Canadians. The initiative could run in partnership with key organizational stakeholders in the youth entrepreneurship community – Junior Achievement, Enactus, Impact, Shad Valley, CYBF, The Next 36, Encounters with Canada, Rotary Club and YMCA Programs. Youth themselves must play a leading role to drive the initiative in creating a peer-led community of young entrepreneurial Canadians.
Furthermore, increasing awareness of, and access to, entrepreneurial internships in startups through the development of work experience programs will provide young Canadians with opportunities to work in fast-paced growing firms, build their knowledge, skills and networks, and cultivate their entrepreneurial mindset. Given the synergies between volunteerism and entrepreneurship, a Canadian Startup Corps – modelled on Volunteer Corps – can be developed to provide young Canadians with entrepreneurial work experience through volunteering within sustainable community micro-business projects in developing countries to cultivate globally-minded and entrepreneurial young Canadians.
Global mobility programs that support young Canadians in accessing global entrepreneurial opportunities – similar to Europe’s Erasmus program – have the potential to facilitate global linkages amongst budding entrepreneurs across the world, enabling young entrepreneurs to access global mentors, events, training, opportunities, fellowships, conferences and entrepreneurial work placements.
- GoVenture – Series of educational games and simulations that are experiential, social and gamified.
- CYBF – A national organization that provides loans and mentoring to aspiring young entrepreneurs age 18-39.
- Ontario Summer Company Program – Provides returning students between 15-29 with a $3,000 grant, coaching and mentorship to help them to start a business over the summer.
- NACUE UK – Youth-led organization supporting the growth of student-led enterprise societies and initiatives to advance youth entrepreneurship across the UK.
- Enternships.com – A service providing entrepreneurial work placements by connecting students and graduates to startups.
2.6 Building Entrepreneurial Campuses
While Canadian colleges and universities have different roles to play in society, they both need to continue to reimagine and reinvent themselves as feeders of the entrepreneurial community, magnets for entrepreneurial talent, and a pipeline for talent back into the community. The challenge, however, is that entrepreneurial engagement is not rewarded, there’s a lack of resources for entrepreneurial programs, and cross-campus collaboration is not in the DNA of most institutions.
Entrepreneurship needs to be a campus-wide experience with an understanding that some things cannot be taught traditionally and must be learned by doing. From explicitly citing entrepreneurial values and objectives as institutional policy to cultivating entrepreneurial awareness and culture in employees, faculty and student networks and altering traditional pedagogies to employ experiential learning techniques, building more entrepreneurial colleges and universities requires an overall effort, whereby entrepreneurship is embedded into the governance, roles and institutions, curriculum and programming, extracurricular programming and external relations and liaison.
Competition may help to advance the entrepreneurial ambitions of Canadian campuses. The stakes for developing an entrepreneurial campus can be altered through a standardized maturity model for entrepreneurial higher education institutions to measure and benchmark the state of entrepreneurship within each institution, develop strategies for advancement, measure progress through standardized external audit and evaluations, and comparatively rank the entrepreneurial culture, structures, outputs and activities. In this way, we could alter the incentive structure to match the focus of basic research and learning to industry relevance, innovation and commercialization. Students would be able to make informed decisions as to which university to attend based on national entrepreneurial rankings.
We also need to look at how funding councils and government requirements incentivize higher- and further-education institutions to invest in economy-building initiatives, forge industry and community partnerships to cultivate a seamless flow of industry-ready graduates and innovations with validated market potential, and build a vibrant culture of entrepreneurship and innovation on campus through funding stimulus. These councils can allocate funds to invest in fellowships for scholars to probe more deeply into issues such as high-growth entrepreneurship, building entrepreneurship ecosystems, risk capital in the 21st century and cultivating an entrepreneurial culture to position Canada as a global leader in entrepreneurship scholarship.
Annual entrepreneurial campus ratings in a reputable magazine, certification programs to equip college and university leaders with the knowledge and skills to champion and build entrepreneurial institutions and global delegation visits to some of world’s most entrepreneurial campuses can all go a long way to increase the aspirations of Canadian universities and build more entrepreneurial campuses across Canada.
Canada has many best-in-class programs, initiatives and ground-breaking findings in the areas of entrepreneurship education and policy. The Canadian entrepreneurship research and education community successfully convenes each year for the Canadian Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (CCSBE) Conference, which brings together the community to share best practices, approaches and findings and to forge national ties across Canada. However, much more can be done to share, disseminate and promote thought leadership and best practices throughout the wider entrepreneurship support and policy community. Additionally, at a national level, institutions, programs, educators, researchers and champions of entrepreneurship within Canadian education should be recognized for their impact through National Entrepreneurship Education Awards.
- CCSBE Conference – Annual conference wherein educators, academics and practitioners share research and best practices and discuss small business and entrepreneurship.
- Times Higher Education Awards – Awards that shortlist and single out those who uphold and exceed the standard of excellence in education outside of research, including awarding the Entrepreneurial University of the Year.
- Campus Enterprise Audits – An evaluation to measure and benchmark the level to which higher- and further-education institutions are entrepreneurial and foster entrepreneurship.
- National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education, UK – Works to raise the profile of entrepreneurship in education across the further- and higher-education sectors, stimulate cultural change in institutions, support institutional capacity building and provide university leadership training.
- Student Ambassador Program – Program provided by the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick where student ambassadors are empowered to champion peer-led entrepreneurial networks and activities and promote a culture of entrepreneurship on campuses across the province.
2.7 Re-Designing K-12
While Canada’s K-12 education system is one of the most effective in the world, there is much more that can be done to increase awareness of entrepreneurship as a viable career option and cultivate the entrepreneurial, leadership, creativity and financial literacy skills of young Canadians through experiential learning, bringing students into the entrepreneurial community and bringing the entrepreneurial community into the school.
Successful entrepreneurs lament on how they never fit in in school and often struggled to complete their programs, if they completed them at all. Education in Canada creates risk-averse, obedient students, who think inside the box and colour inside the lines. Entrepreneurs are rebels, risk takers and value creators who see opportunity everywhere. In the education system, children who exhibit these attributes are often classified as ‘problem’ students. We need to identify these children as early as possible and provide them with mentorship, support and experiential learning opportunities to harness their interests, acumen and energy towards productive creation, and equip them with the knowledge, skills and positive reinforcement they need to succeed.
At the primary level, teaching entrepreneurship through story telling and class projects has proven to be effective. Examples include running the school tuck shop, organizing book fairs and designing and selling school merchandise. Progressively difficult projects and the use of entrepreneurial games like GoVenture can teach students that failing and learning from failure and mistakes is acceptable. School trips to local business incubators, accelerators and local businesses can increase awareness of entrepreneurship and make these spaces more accessible and relatable to young Canadians. Speaking with entrepreneurs about their experiences and tales from the trenches can teach students about the importance of vision, determination, leadership and following their dreams, and how they can embrace entrepreneurship to have a positive impact on their communities and the world.
In addition to providing business and entrepreneurship courses within basic curriculum, educators in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), technical, business, social science, arts and creative subjects can embed entrepreneurial elements and teaching pedagogies within their courses to help students to understand the commercial and real-life applications of various subject areas. For example, science fairs can present projects that have demonstrable commercial application and art shows can see the students market and sell their own pieces. Progressive schools provide training and support to teachers to employ entrepreneurial teaching techniques in the classroom tailored to different age groups.
Guidance counsellors in schools require support and training to familiarize students with entrepreneurship as a viable career option and to connect interested students to available community resources. High schools can provide co-op and apprentice opportunities for students to shadow entrepreneurs, start a company or engage in entrepreneurial projects for credit. Community bulletin boards in high-traffic areas at schools can celebrate and showcase entrepreneurial students, entrepreneurial opportunities and courses, and entrepreneurial alumni. Startup fairs can see students showcase entrepreneurial projects. There can be school-wide entrepreneurship events and competitions such as a Paper Clip Challenge or Make Your Mark with a Tenner. A section in the library can be equipped with books and information on entrepreneurship, great Canadian entrepreneurs and starting a business. Initiatives like these can all go a long way to unlock the entrepreneurial potential of students.
Creating more entrepreneurial schools needs to be a top-of-mind preoccupation of School Boards across Canada. School Boards can partner with local business-support organizations to connect with the entrepreneurial community. Each school can appoint one staff member as its Entrepreneurial Champion (EC) to drive forward a school-wide entrepreneurial agenda. The ECs of each school within a region can meet regularly to share experiences and new ideas, such as entrepreneurship information sessions for parents and entrepreneurial Olympics between schools in a region. Additionally, each school can be assigned an Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR), a local entrepreneur who volunteers a few hours a week to speak to, mentor and inspire students and staff. Bringing in young entrepreneurs to speak to and work with students can help to create relatable and accessible role models. Indeed, the local enterprise-support community can be called on to support a student-led entrepreneurship club, Junior Achievement activities and student entrepreneurship and innovation awards. School Boards can partner with the business-support community to run regional Youth Entrepreneurship Forums and Conferences to expose students to a diverse range of entrepreneurs, build entrepreneurial skills through experiential opportunities, and connect with mentors.
In Quebec, the US, the UK and Singapore, foundations have begun to create entrepreneurial models for public and private schools focusing on ensuring that students, and in some cases students from disadvantaged backgrounds, are equipped with the knowledge, skills and networks necessary to create meaningful entrepreneurial futures.
- CEFA Early Learning – An early-learning program with an enriched curriculum featuring a unique partnership of core subjects, providing children with the freedom to learn and grow through play.
- l’École d’Entrepreneurship de Beauce – A private school dedicated to training the next generation of entrepreneurs with courses taught by entrepreneurs.
- Shad Valley – An intensive one-month university-based development program for high-potential secondary school students that seeks to unleash the entrepreneurial and innovative potential of exceptional youth.
Canada needs to rediscover its entrepreneurial roots and embrace entrepreneurship as central to its national culture. By leveraging media, national institutions and social media channels and celebrating and showcasing a diverse range of entrepreneurial role models, it can own the podium for entrepreneurship and show that entrepreneurship is for everyone. Creating a vibrant culture of entrepreneurship requires that we reimagine the role of universities and colleges as feeders of entrepreneurial communities; cultivate entrepreneurial awareness, skills and mind-sets amongst Canadians of all ages and backgrounds; and, build an infrastructure of experiential learning principled on empowerment and giving back. As a nation, we need to celebrate and cheer on our entrepreneurs, because their success advantages us all.