President and CEO John Reid discusses the main obstacles surrounding innovation in Canada

February 4, 2013

President and CEO John Reid discusses the main obstacles surrounding innovation in Canada and sets out CATA’s strategies focused on boosting the economy in order to rebrand the country as an innovation nation

Firstly, can you outline the core remit of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA)?

CATA has two key value propositions: to support the competitive performance of our members globally and to advance Canada as a competitive and leading innovation nation.

At the micro level, we focus on three areas: money, markets and people. These three areas are crucial to boosting the whole growth ecosystem.

In Canada, capital has always been a challenge and finance is a key part of our messaging and advocacy. We have been actively encouraging the regulators, province by province, to adopt a Canadian crowd-funding platform – this would provide a way for smaller companies and innovators to access some start-up capital in order to prove up their technology.

In terms of people and talent, we have a practical business service and a national job board. We also work closely with legislation and have encouraged the government to fast-track key skills into the Canadian marketplace.

When it comes to markets, there are always obstacles – we act as a voice to address issues as they come up.

What would you consider to be the main issues surrounding innovation in Canada?

We can be very weak at commercialisation: we can create ideas but tend to lose a lot of the commercial activity, or the intelligent property (IP) tends to be exploited outside of the country. At the moment, we are pushing a campaign called the Innovation Box, which will create better conditions to commercialise technologies in Canada.

Another challenge is the creation of test beds in Canada. We want to create the infrastructure so that Canadians and global players will come here to test bed their products – this would involve bringing industry, government and the public and private sector together to create the pool of resources required for people to see Canada as a place to trial products.

Canada: a competitive innovation nation

The core planks of the Innovation Nation advocacy programme are:
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  • The development of a national brand for Canada based on regional strength
  • The establishment of an industrial strategy for Canada
  • The provision of support to strengthen competitiveness of Canada on the global stage
  • Continuation of best practice aspects of Canada’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentive programme
  • The recruitment, retention and training of the best talent, as well as fostering executive leadership
  • The promotion of gender equality within the technology market
  • The creation of guidelines for public safety and national security
  • The provision of measures to speed up implementation of new technologies by the public and private sectors, with a focus on SMEs

By what means will CATA and the Innovation Nation platform foster executive leadership? Why is this aspect of the platform so important?

It is the leaders that we are calling on for their insights to help define and advance the platform. We are interviewing CEOs, public sector leaders and educational leaders as part of the Innovation Nation engagement. Leaders often identify the specific issues for the Innovation Nation platform because they are in the global marketplace seeing opportunities and understanding barriers to success. For example, we recently interviewed the President of Cisco Canada on innovation, mentorship and corporate citizenship – videos of this interview are available on our website.

Without leadership, the three pillars of money, markets and people stand still. Leaders are the catalysts and the role models for our next generation – that is why we stress mentorship to help grow Canada’s leadership talent for the Innovation Nation.

Can you profile the range of business services you offer?

In many ways, we are a shared services organisation, with databases, social networks and other tools, which are customised to each of our different members. We do audience acquisitions for major companies, help them to distribute their white papers to our market place and organise webinars. Business services become part of a shared pool that each company can tap into to advance its own value proposition.

Who do you count among your members? What sectors are represented?

We work with multiple sectors; technology cuts across all fields and, at times, all technologies work together in a solution. Our members are not only corporate – we are working with mayors to help their cities become smarter in the application of technology.

What is the CATAResearch Division? Could you note some of its most significant contributions or achievements from recent years?

CATAResearch was established in order to meet the need of companies for hard and readily-available information in order to maintain their competitive edge and grow their businesses. The Division provides professional and timely research, as well as offering support and opportunities for collaboration to research projects.

Our business model is symbiotic with the university community; in order to be the most credible advocate, you have to have the most credible research. Therefore, we work with the research chairs in universities and create our own research in key areas to support our advocacy. Our research repository contains some 150 documents that deal with topics ranging from specific market places like China, Australia and Latin America, to commercialisation obstacles, to public safety and security.

In what capacity is CATA involved in policy making with the Canadian government? How are you ensuring that the right policies are being put in place to ensure the country’s high-tech industries can flourish?

Working with the government is a significant line of our business. When we do an advocacy campaign, we determine which ministries are involved and who the key officials are, before mapping the consultation approach. For example, we are currently working on the modernisation of the government under Shared Services Canada. We have conducted research into how other countries have modernised and we have fully engaged with everyone from the bureaucrat to the political engines to assess what it would take to create a modern 21st Century government structure in Canada.

Advancing women within Canada’s technology sector

Crucial to the success of CATA’s Innovation Nation programme is the promotion of women in the Canadian technology sector. Leading these efforts is its Canadian Women in Technology (CanWIT) division.

CanWIT is a national network dedicated to supporting the progression of women in technology. The network administers a range of initiatives both nationally and regionally, with mentorship, networking, professional development and advocacy being the core areas of focus.

As is the case in most countries worldwide, Canada’s technology sector suffers from an underrepresentation of women, particularly in senior positions. CanWIT uses mentorship programmes to directly tackle this issue, and places emphasis on the development of leadership skills.

CanWIT National eMentorship

CanWIT’s flagship programme is its National eMentorship platform (canwit.workingrooms.com). Funded by Status of Women of Canada, it is a customised social network that puts young women working or interested in technology in touch with mentors who are already established in the sector. Matches are based on the compatibility of both parties, and success stories are starting to come out of the platform from those who have completed year-long mentoring relationships.

www.canwit.ca


By what means is CATA making it easier for high-tech Canadian firms to secure the talents of the world’s very best young professionals?

We work closely with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada to promote exports and also lobby for improved immigration legislation. We also created our own national job board engine, which is linked to social media. Companies have been able to find key personnel through using this outreach; it is part of the tool kit which goes back to money, market and people.

How might you suggest that Canada’s position as an exporter of high-tech products be maximised?

Going back to the innovation nation, this could be improved through rebranding. Finding the right partners who are already present in key markets and making sure that they understand the attributes and benefits of products would also help. I also think that all of our local, provincial and federal leaders should take a more active role as spokespeople for our expertise – this is not embraced as much as it should be and needs to be boosted.

What is your vision for the year ahead?

Our vision is a significant adoption of some of the new financial tools to fund enterprise start-up in Canada – including crowd-funding and a significant expansion of our venture networks.

In addition, when we go out and measure the social media commentary, we would like there to be a significant increase in the use of the words ‘innovation’, ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘leadership’ in association with Canada, reflecting the innovation nation.

‘Innovation’ is a real buzz word at the moment. How would you succinctly define it?

It is the simple, lower-cost way of performing an activity better. If we can develop a simpler, more cost-effective way of doing things, we will be more successful in the end – that is innovation.

If we do find less expensive ways of doing things, does that put pressure on jobs?

By creating these more affordable tools, we have a whole new creative cycle. I’m in Ontario with a lot of the automotive industry and other manufacturing industries and it is a tremendous challenge maintaining the employment levels in traditional industries. Easy access, affordable tools are needed to let each one of us create value and foster new enterprise.

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