This is yet another excellent article questioning the Canadian tech industry’s appreciation of its significant deficiencies and challenges. It reflects my own view after much research and many interviews. It is also the view of UoT Professor Richard Florida who published a similar article in the Globe & Mail recently. Venture capital is anemic, but many also believe that there is a lack of scale-up management talent. Another factor is deeply-embedded Canadian conservatism, as evidenced by the bizarre entry of high street banks’ debt offerings to entrepreneurs.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s vow to make France a ‘start-up nation’ amid the uncertainty over Brexit is raising the question of whether Paris could supplant London as the capital of European tech. Since his election, Macron has wooed tech entrepreneurs with a string of initiatives in the form of lavish tax breaks, subsidies, and credits for research. In March 2018, he promised to invest €1.5 billion into artificial intelligence research through 2022. Some of these initiatives, in addition to Macron’s dynamism, have lured British tech companies who are looking to gain a foothold in Europe.
In one of the more bizarre recent articles on the state of the Canadian venture investment market, The Globe & Mail offered this story of the entry of Canadian commercial banks like CIBC, RBC and TD into the world of entrepreneurial finance. Not more than a few weeks ago, Toronto University Professor Richard Florida also published an opinion piece in the Globe & Mail, in sharp contrast which is entitled “Canada is losing the global innovation race”, describing the long term decline of Canadian venture capital and decades of poor investment in basic R&D compared to its other OECD industrialized nations. Recently, a colleague in Canadian venture capital told me of his retirement, citing the enormous difficulty his firm had raising capital from the Canadian financial industry. This is prima facie evidence of how disconnected Canada is from the reality of entrepreneurial finance and venture capital. The Canadian financial industry mindset is Problem One. Name another major entrepreneurial ecosystem that operates like this.
I was very interested yesterday to read the article in the Globe & Mail by University of Toronto Professor Richard Florida, and Ian Hathaway, Research Director for the Center for American Entrepreneurship, and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute. The article by Florida and Hathaway draws the same conclusions as my research, providing even more precise data to support their disturbing conclusions. It is not hard to find many additional articles on these issues. Ironically, also yesterday, a LinkedIn connection shared a post by Sciences, Innovation, and Economic Development Canada with a very upbeat, positive assessment of venture capital for startups in Canada. This is the essence of the problem. Since I came to Canada years ago now, I have seen a pollyannaish state of denial about the true situation for entrepreneurship, immigration policy, and the lack of “smart” venture capital for Canadian startups. No amount of counter-evidence has changed this mistaken rosy outlook. Without a recognition of these problems, nothing will change.
At its inception, Uber touted itself as a shining example of the “sharing economy” described by Jeremy Rifkin, in this now famous book, The Third Industrial Revolution. As time has passed the reality has been radically at odds with a sharing economy. Among the many issues that have emerged has been the legacy of Uber’s ugly corporate culture, secret apps used to confound regulators, and to intimidate journalists, a Justice Department investigation of illegal practices, including 200 Uber employees conspiring together to attack Lyft’s operations. The proverbial chickens have come home to roost, as municipalities around the world have begun to regain control of transportation policy within their jurisdictions, and the inflated valuations of these unicorns begin to deflate.
Another Silicon Valley reckoning is on the horizon. We have seen cyclical events like this before, the 2001 bubble burst being the most recent memorable reckoning. The talk in 2001 was about too much “dumb money.” The coming reckoning, however, is on a massive, unprecedented scale, fueled by the same excess of global capital that has fueled the bubbles in housing markets in attractive locations around the World. The problems with Uber, Travis Kalanick, and the now obvious difficulty of the Uber Board of Directors to exercise meaningful governance should have been the “canary in the coal mine.” CNBC’s reporting on the excessive Silicon Valley “unicorn” valuations and media reports that New Enterprise Associates would divest $1 Billion in startup investments that cannot be made liquid have made the situation blatantly obvious. After a long silence, the Wall Street Journal has finally joined the reporting on the crisis. What more does one need to take to the exit?
Amid another leak of documents revealing large-scale international tax avoidance, the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said Monday that tax avoidance was fast becoming a thing of the past. “When we’re talking about the ‘Panama Papers’ or ‘Paradise Papers’we’re talking about a legacy that is fast disappearing,” Angel Gurria said. Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London, Gurria said governments were working hard to stop tax avoidance and evasion.