This report is the voice of Canadian entrepreneurs. It is a summary of the conversations coming out of the largest and most extensive entrepreneurial consultation in Canada and is a call to action to everyone who wants to contribute to creating a stronger and more prosperous Canada. It provides a menu of reflections and ideas on how we can better support Canadian entrepreneurs and foster a culture of entrepreneurship.
1. Culture & Education – All change begins at the level of the individual
Canada needs to re-discover its entrepreneurial roots and embrace entrepreneurship as central to its national culture. We need to celebrate and cheer on our entrepreneurs, and ensure that our media, communities and campuses enable entrepreneurial activity.
- We need to build a strong Canadian entrepreneurial brand to inspire the nation with an entrepreneurial spirit and to provide our entrepreneurs with a platform and a voice to create the conditions necessary for entrepreneurial success in Canada.
- We need to enhance the value of entrepreneurship and celebrate entrepreneurship as a mindset, philosophy and way of life. Entrepreneurship is for everyone.
- We need to value learning from and cultivate a culture of mentorship.
- We can showcase the diversity of our entrepreneurs and create relatable and inspiring role models by publicly celebrating all entrepreneurs in including boomers, aboriginals, newcomers, women, creative and social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.
- We need to bring entrepreneurship into our public spaces. Libraries, schools, community centres, parks and high-traffic public areas can be transformed into hotspots for entrepreneurship.
- We need a national entrepreneurship campaign that leverages mainstream and social media and our cultural institutions to position entrepreneurship as a key part of Canadian culture and to broaden the reach of the entrepreneurial message.
- We can do better in driving youth entrepreneurship by aligning existing efforts, increasing mainstream social appeal, awareness and understanding of entrepreneurship, educating parents and educators, and providing young people with avenues to cultivate entrepreneurial leadership, creativity and financial literacy skills through experiential learning and bringing the entrepreneurial community into the classroom.
- Unleashing newcomer and boomer entrepreneurship represents a tremendous opportunity for Canada. We need to harness the passion, energy, experience and networks of our newcomers and those starting businesses later in life and provide them with support and recognition as important players in our entrepreneurial communities.
- Universities and colleges can be important feeders of entrepreneurial communities. We can build more entrepreneurial campuses by ensuring that entrepreneurship is embedded into institutional governance, roles and structures, curriculum and programming, extracurricular activities, and external relations efforts and by incentivizing efforts through the provision of resources, ratings and recognition.
2. Bigger & Better Businesses
Canada needs to cultivate a large and healthy crop of early-stage startups to produce major high-growth companies with a more ambitious global reach that can become anchors in their communities. It also needs to create sustainable companies that seek to solve real-world challenges and create social and environmental impact through their business practices and innovations.
- By better connecting entrepreneurs with the support, networks, resources, mentors and infrastructure available and helping them to navigate the ecosystem through the creation of a one-stop shop and Canadian Startup Path, we will be better able to identify high-potential young firms and equip them with the support they need to succeed.
- Mentorship is a critical element of any entrepreneurial ecosystem. We can do more to increase awareness of existing mentorship programs and opportunities, connect mentorship programs together to facilitate the sharing of best practices and leverage resources to accelerate entrepreneurial development.
- New entrepreneurs need learning opportunities to better understand the continuum of startup finance, lean principles, the virtues of bootstrapping and having ‘skin in the game’, and the importance of real clients, users and customers.
- We need to solve the risk capital problem through private sector and individual leadership, and explore models that incentivize private investment into young ventures.
- Canada needs to explore new funding models, such as crowd funding and investment incentives because traditional financing mechanisms are no longer responsive to the changing nature and culture of Canadian startups.
- We can leverage the critical mass of entrepreneurs to work with large providers to secure discounted rates, incentives and insurance offers to reduce costs of starting up and bringing on first employees.
- Providing online communities and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect with and learn from each other, investors, potential partners, clients and mentors – particularly outside of major urban centres – helps to create a dynamic and reinforcing community where entrepreneurship is accepted and expected.
- Recruitment, retention and succession are top of mind for many Canadian entrepreneurs. In addition to student startup co-op and entrepreneurial internship placements, we can explore a private sector aligned Startup Visa Program to make Canada an attractive destination for global entrepreneurial talent.
- To engage newcomers in the Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem, we need to provide them with access to education and training, welcome them into local business communities, and recognise their credentials.
- For Canadian firms to grow, they must be prepared to do business globally. They need a good understanding of their foreign target markets and must be able to demonstrate added value. We need to continue to support the creation of global market connections, global mobility and the market preparedness of Canadian firms.
- Entrepreneurs support efforts to reduce unnecessary red tape, administrative burdens and response-time issues with regards to government services, reporting, regulations and taxation.
- Entrepreneurs need affordable spaces and places in their communities to grow their ventures, connect with and contribute to the wider entrepreneurial community.
- As the social innovation and entrepreneurship sector in Canada continues to grow, social entrepreneurship policy has to keep pace. We need to increase service provision for social businesses and sustainable non-profits that do not neatly fit within current programmatic confines for training and support and enhance the provision of social entrepreneurship education, awareness, financing and workspaces.
3. Creating a Unified, Collaborative Network
We need to fuel Canadian entrepreneurship from the bottom up by supporting the development of vibrant entrepreneurial communities, led by entrepreneurs, as the basis of a national entrepreneurship 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 of the support tools, programs and services and everyone in the ecosystem needs to commit to connecting, communicating and collaborating to better serve Canadian entrepreneurs and feed a vibrant entrepreneurial network.
- An entrepreneurial culture needs to be nurtured from the grassroots – driven by entrepreneurs – to really take on momentum. Paired with high-level government vision, coordination and a strong commitment to work in partnership with those driving change at the grassroots, we can accelerate entrepreneurship and innovation.
- We need to invest in strengthening some of the key national drivers of the Canadian entrepreneurship agenda and in doing so, mandate increased collaboration and alignment amongst them to create a more holistic, aligned and interdependent community.
- 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 connect and empower community enterprise champions who are catalysts for core grassroots entrepreneurial events and activities and who connect entrepreneurship community players together.
- We need to broaden the traditional understanding of startup communities beyond the tech sector to include social entrepreneurship, biotech, the creative industries and others to facilitate collaboration and the sharing of experience, networks and knowledge. 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.
- We need to better understand the state of entrepreneurship in Canada and measure progress by not just collecting data, but by also connecting measurement activities and centres of knowledge and excellence in entrepreneurship across the country.
- We can accelerate Canadian entrepreneurship by sharing best practices and leveraging existing resources, networks, and committing to partnership where it makes sense, rather than starting from scratch and re-inventing the wheel.
- Canada needs philanthropic leadership to invest in Canada’s entrepreneurial knowledge base and infrastructure.
Entrepreneurs believe that there is a need to come together around a common vision and strategy, whereby we achieve more than the sum of our individual efforts and entrepreneurs are empowered to build success for themselves and for the country as a whole.
We need to shift our culture to one where entrepreneurial achievement is admired, entrepreneurship is celebrated and supported, and where valuable experience is derived from failure. We also need to facilitate a national network based on local startup communities, led by entrepreneurs themselves, to form the foundations of an intensely connected and collaborative social network. This network should be based on shared values and driven to leverage what already exists. It should work as a connector, enabler and communicator, always accountable and adapting to the needs and priorities of Canadian entrepreneurs.