Earlier this week, I suggested that newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should do nothing to support Canada’s startup community.
In part, it was a reaction to entrepreneurs who would like Trudeau to jump-start the startup ecosystem. In part, it reflects my belief the government’s role should mostly involve waving the flag for Canadian startups.
In thinking more about what Trudeau could do and, as important, what the startup ecosystem needs, it struck me that cohesiveness and coordination are two good places to start.
In a recent blog post, OMERS Ventures’ John Ruffolo talked about the startup community having a single voice. A key part of his argument is the startup community’s ability to tell the government what it wants and what it doesn’t want. You would think the government would know, but I would suggest their approach in recent years has been, at best, scattered, unfocused and reactive. It is almost as if the government was surprised how quickly the startup ecosystem moved forward.
One of the best ways the startup community can help itself is creating a united front with clearly articulated goals and objectives. Rather than operating in regional or vertical silos, startups would be better served by working together to determine their key growth priorities. This could include ideas, needs and programs around financing (private and public), tax credits, immigration policies and global trade opportunities.
As well, it would be great to see startup leaders from Vancouver, Waterloo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax come together for a leadership summit to get everyone on the same page.
A coordinated approach would let the startup community rally around important issues, but also provide the government with an industry-led wish list. With this insight and direction, the government could then develop policies that reflect the startup community’s needs, rather than political goals. Hopefully, this would lead to a better plan than the Conservatives’ Digital Canada 150, which Michael Geist described as a “digital strategy without a strategy”.
Here’s what I think Trudeau should do:
- He should meet with people who operate in the trenches of the startup community – entrepreneurs, investors, service suppliers, etc. – to learn first-hand what’s happening and what needs to happen to establish Canada as a global startup leader. This should not be a stuffy government summit but a forum where insight can be delivered without being throttled by processes and bureaucracy.
- With the startup community’s help, a review/audit should be done of the ways that government supports the startup community. I suspect there are hundreds of programs that operate with little or not coordination between themselves or other levels of government, or direction or input from the startup community.
- Invest some in-person time with entrepreneurs to get a better sense of the activity and excitement within the startup community. It is hard to appreciate what’s happening unless you can see it first-hand.
- Re-think the $900-million plan to support incubators and innovation. There are enough incubators thank you very much, and better ways to support innovation than financing it directly. I would suggest that creating well-grounded economic incentives for the private sector to drive innovation is a better approach.
- Stop providing capital for venture capital. The Venture Capital Action Plan is well-intentioned, but the federal government should not be a VC.
In the last edition of my startup newsletter, I created a poll to see what people think Trudeau should do. Here are the results:
More: If the startup community is going to work together, it should think about better planning around conferences and events. In a recent blog post, William Mougayar looked at the flurry of startup events happening during the same week. It was the World Series, Stanley Cup and Super Bowl simultaneously.
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