It takes a community to build a culture for entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish and to genuinely stimulate and support the emergence and growth of our entrepreneurs. No one actor can do this alone – it requires everyone pulling together in concert.
On May 14, 2012, the Ontario Startup Canada Tour kicked off at the OCE Discovery Conference in Toronto, a conference, which annually brings together more than 600 organizations that support entrepreneurship in the province and more than 2,500 innovators, entrepreneurs and members of the business enterprise support community.
The event itself was not only a showcase of some of the leading innovations and entrepreneurs in the province, but it was also a celebration that engaged the entire enterprise and innovation community across the province. From universities, accelerators, regional innovation offices and industry partners to members of the media, students, entrepreneurs and investors, the conference provided the community with a platform to convene, reflect, collaborate and advance forward with a unified vision.
The event featured an exhibition of entrepreneurs and organizations; breakout sessions; student competitions; pitch competitions; a speed mentorship session (earning Canada a place in the Guinness Book of World Records); an entrepreneurs’ panel; and, a speech from Minister Duguid among other innovative sessions. The show floor displayed cutting-edge technologies and interactive exhibits that inspired and dazzled.
The Startup Canada Team had the opportunity to interview and showcase some of the entrepreneurs and organizations present, participate in the conference and speak with the leaders of the RIC Centres from across Ontario. This is what we learned:
- Convene to collaborate – Enterprise support organizations need a platform to convene regularly to increase mutual awareness, collaborate and to ultimately offer greater value to entrepreneurs and to collectively work toward a common vision. Just as it can be a lonely journey for entrepreneurs, enterprise support organizations often also work in siloes and with increasingly limited resources to achieve greater outcomes – collaboration is an imperative.
- Pause, Reflect and Celebrate – In our fast-pace world, we are always thinking about what’s next? Speed is everything. The enterprise community needs the opportunity to reflect and celebrate accomplishments, achievements, failures and learnings to further build the community – to take a pause. We are all constantly focused on outputs, outcomes, ROI – sometimes by just convening to reflect and celebrate, taking that pause with no expectations, it rejuvenates the community, reminds us of what it is important and inspires us to continue in the pursuit of excellence in driving forward Canada’s prosperity.
- Government Engagement, Vision and Leadership – An entrepreneurial culture needs to be cultivated from the grassroots – entrepreneur / citizen level – to really take momentum; nevertheless, paired with high-level government vision and leadership and a strong commitment to work in partnership with those driving changes at the grassroots, magic can happen, consensus can be reached, and all parties can genuinely move forward together to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship. One without the other is insufficient.
- Mentorship – Mentorship is one of the key ingredients to driving forward entrepreneurship in Canada. We need to cultivate a culture of mentorship, increase awareness of existing mentorship programs and opportunities and explore how we might create a national platform to support mentorship activities. Speed networking events, intensive one-to-many networking events, and one-to-one mentorship are some of the countless ways in which to structure mentorship activities.
- Women in Innovation & Technology – Where are the women in technology enterprise? In meeting the entrepreneurs, and watching pitches and award ceremonies we couldn’t help but to observe the absence of women technology founders. Even the selection of the panelists for the entrepreneur panel – where are the women? This is no fault of the conference, rather is something that we see throughout Canada. We need to better understand the barriers that prevent women from being tech entrepreneurs and to work together to bridge the gap
- The Value of a Laser-Focused Network – The Regional Innovation Centres, the ONE Network and the Ontario Centres of Excellence are unique organizations that provide a laser-focused vision to bringing together, aligning and building capacity across the innovation community in Ontario. This works because there are resources allocated towards mandating organizations and teams to drive this forward. Without resource capacity, networks remain “nice to be part of” rather than meaningful catalysts and instruments of change. This is a message of equipping organizations with the resources and tools they need.
- Arms Wide Open – Ontario has organized its innovation community in a unique way – we don’t see this structure anywhere else in Canada. The logical progression will be to connect now the innovation community with the wider entrepreneurship community through engaging the Chambers of Commerce, Trade Boards, Industry Associations, Youth Organizations, CFIB Members, and Social Innovators among others to encourage the cross pollination of ideas across industries, to promote innovation, R&D and technology adoption in traditional industries, and to inspire our innovation sector with new ideas, approaches and ways of thinking.
Thank you to OCE, MaRS and the ONE Network for warmly welcoming and embracing Startup Canada into Ontario’s innovation and entrepreneurship community.