Posted by victoria on June 18, 2012 |
By Victoria Lennox (@vlennox), co-founder of Startup Canada, blogging on the road from the Cross-Country Tour.
“Can I comment off-camera?” is a phrase that we heard on nearly every stop of the Startup Canada Tour across more than 20 communities in discussing the fragmentation of the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem. It is one of the greatest barriers to the advancement of Canadian entrepreneurship, but we are too polite to talk about it. The enterprise support community has seen the Startup Canada Tour and Town Halls as an opportunity to air their concerns. This entry is a summary of what we have heard from those on the inside – those on the ground.
The enterprise support landscape across Canada is highly fragmented and siloed in terms of region, sector, industry and generation. To survive, enterprise support organizations rely on funding – most of which comes from government. These organizations are often measured by the number of clients they have, the number of “bums on seats”, the number of jobs created rather than the actual quality of service provided to their clients – Canadian entrepreneurs – collaboration with other actors in the ecosystem, and support of new initiatives and ideas.
In their efforts to meet their metrics, to remain relevant and carve out their territory to justify their continued funding, the raison d’être of many organizations has gone somewhat by the wayside as territorial politicking, heresy rumours and egoism distract organizations from adding greater value to our entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship is a highly social activity. It requires trust, cooperation, collaboration in a spirit of abundance and opportunity rather than scarcity and fear. Entrepreneurs need different types of support at different stages of their entrepreneurial journey and without question, the loudest message coming out of the tour to date from thousands of entrepreneurs is that the enterprise support ecosystem needs to get its act together, work together, and provide a more seamless process for enterprise support.
A healthy enterprise ecosystem has the potential to accelerate the growth of entrepreneurs; however, a broken-one where organizations are unwilling to work collaboratively for fear of loosing ground, can have the opposite effect.
Entrepreneurship is not a win – loose sport. It is a win-win-win sport where a commitment to collaboration will empower and enable everyone to be more successful.
Startup Canada, as much as it is a campaign and a conversation, is also an anthropological experiment in creating a more entrepreneurial Canada through bringing together the Canadian entrepreneurship community with a common vision and spirit. As part of the methodology, communities self-organize to host the Startup Canada Tour as it moves throughout the country. We learn just as much from the process as we do the conversation – which communities work well or not so well together, which organizations have a cohesive vision and culture, which national HQs are detached from reality, and which organizations actually ‘get’ the community that they serve and are making a difference.
In all provinces, there are a number of enterprise support organizations that support entrepreneurs at many stages in their entrepreneurial journey; nevertheless, entrepreneurs continue to be unaware of the diverse support available. Enterprise support professionals do not have the necessary communications budgets to “get the word out” about the availability of support, resulting in useful knowledge and learning sessions going to waste with only 25 percent attendance.
The enterprise support community also desires greater coordination, cohesion and collaboration, so as to prevent entrepreneurial events targeted at the same community from taking place simultaneously. To better support entrepreneurs in their communities, organizations need to come together, align, distinguish their mandates and coordinate their offerings to add greater value to entrepreneurs in their communities. Further, they need to think like entrepreneurs and be sensitive to the demanding schedules that entrepreneurs have to manage – e.g. scheduling value-added sessions for entrepreneurs during meals, evenings and weekends rather during the day when entrepreneurs are running their businesses.
Entrepreneurs reach out for and look for answers and solutions as and when they need to. Enterprise support organizations need to communicate their support more widely and clearly so that they become top of mind when an entrepreneur is seeking support. It is about creating a clear and steady drumbeat.
Startup Canada has now been through half of Canada’s great provinces and we have seen both a deep desire to create greater alignment as well as some excellent progress in moving forward to that end.
The OCE / ONE / Regional Innovation Centre structure in Ontario creates a single point of access for entrepreneurs in Ontario to access the support that they need. Of course these structures focus primarily on the tech community and there is still room for improvement in connecting with the Chambers, social innovators and more general business owners; nevertheless, this framework is one that has the potential to do more in supporting all types of entrepreneurs in Ontario.
In New Brunswick, while the provincial landscape itself remains complex, through the vision and leadership of a number of the key individuals on the New Brunswick Business Council, industry is beginning to align more concertedly with academia. Alignment efforts are being spearheaded by some of the province’s leading entrepreneurs fuelling the development of programs and centers of excellence to provide entrepreneurs in New Brunswick with a central point of contact to access not only support, but entrepreneurial network – i.e. the Wallace McCain Institute, 21 Inc, Propel ICT, etc.
The province of Manitoba has recently pressed the reset button. After a decade of relatively little coordination of the innovation community, the Government of Manitoba has mandated a new non-profit organization called Innovate Manitoba, spearheaded by industry leaders, to begin the not-so-easy, but absolutely essential role of bringing together the enterprise and innovation support community to create a one-stop-shop for Manitoba’s entrepreneurs to access the knowledge, tools, networks and support that they need to succeed and grow.
In Saskatoon, community leaders are developing Kolo Saskatchewan, a 24-month initiative to launch in November 2012 that will bring together the enterprise support community in Saskatchewan with a number of clear objectives and activities that the community can rally behind. Whilst the drivers of Kolo are deeply passionate about collaboration, they choose to be involved in the project on an anonymous basis, as they are well aware that due to organizational politicking, the only way to bring together the community is through anonymous, volunteer-based, efforts – positioning well-known local entrepreneurs as the face of the organization.
In order to create an entrepreneurial culture, enterprise support organizations need to be entrepreneurial; avoid operating in silos and perpetuating territorial politicking; and, leverage their resources to do more and do better together.