When it comes to technology and innovation, you'll find Canadians everywhere.
There are 2 to 3 million Canadians living, working and studying outside our country – and 10 per cent of them are in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley. This kind of diaspora strategy is how many countries such as Israel, Singapore, and India are taking on the world in a more networked and digital age.
No group better epitomizes that approach than the C100, an association of Canadian expats in the Valley that has helped build Canada’s tech ecosystem. For the past decade, it’s taken on our national innovation challenge and helped drive policy change, develop talent streams, and connected Canadian entrepreneurs with the world.
“Our ambition really is to build the preeminent global community of Canadians in tech and to take this model that we have built in Silicon Valley to markets everywhere,” said Laura Buhler, Executive Director of the C100. She joined the RBC Disruptors podcast, along with C100 Co-Chair Andre Charoo, to discuss how Canada has transformed into a global tech leader and how it can sustain its momentum.
The last five years saw sustained year-over-year growth in venture capital investment into Canadian tech companies. And in 2019, the volume of VC invested in Canada had its greatest uptick ever with a 40% increase over the previous year.
Buhler said it comes down to Canada’s entrepreneurs. “In order to have investment, you need a founder or founders and an ambitious team who are talented enough and passionate enough about a problem to go build it and solve it.”
Few companies have attracted more investment into Canada than Ottawa-based Shopify, which has been heralded as Canada’s quintessential talent magnet.
“Having Shopify and its enormous growth … is really important for flows of capital,” said Charoo.
And coming up behind Shopify is a whole generation of promising tech companies founded by Canadians returning home after experiences in Silicon Valley –
Michael Katchen of Wealthsimple, Ray Reddy of RITUAL, and Andrew D’Souza of Clearbanc, to name a few.
It’s likely why we’ve seen an explosion in tech jobs. Over the past five years, 80,000 new tech jobs have been created in Toronto alone – more than San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. combined.
What can the Canadian tech ecosystem do to build on its impressive growth? Here are five takeaways.
1. Expats are an asset.
Canadians in every part of the world have the ability to network and plug our entrepreneurs into their local ecosystems. We need to tap into our diaspora networks to create strategic opportunities that accelerate the growth of our companies and our talent.
2. Seize the moment right now.
The restrictions that the United States is putting on immigration are a big opportunity for Canada to attract top global talent. It’s time to step up and show that in Canada, we do things differently. We value inclusion and we can foster success.
3. Pay up for talent.
Top tier tech executives in the U.S. get paid a lot more than in Canada. And to bring that world-class talent here and keep it here, we need to think about how to match ambition with compensation and ensure that we’re not undermining success. That includes our tax system.
4. Buy Canadian.
Procurement is a recurring theme on our podcast, and there’s never been a better time to support Canadian businesses. Large corporations and governments can invest locally to develop a thriving ecosystem that can compete on a global stage.
5. Innovation is happening coast to coast to coast.
It’s not just a Waterloo or Vancouver thing. From Whitehorse to St. John’s, Canadians are building sustainable and innovative businesses that are solving big problems. Some of the most successful, scalable companies are found in our smaller centres. So wherever you are, don’t be afraid to look beyond your own backyard. You might see exactly what you’re looking for.
John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada's leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization's research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. His latest book is Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future, which explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don't live here but exert their influence from afar.
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