Tobi has struck a vulnerable nerve with his painfully accurate comment that Canada has a cultural problem, a “go for the bronze” mentality.” He is not the first to point out Canada’s lack of clothing WRT commitment and investment in innovation and entrepreneurship. Canada frankly has never been keen on risk capital. It’s just not Canadian, eh? Tobi joins Richard Florida and other Canadians in making similar awkward observations. The greatest irony is that Tobi’s remark that we need an “Own the Podium” program for Canadian innovation, was first proposed by former UBC President Arvind Gupta in a Vancouver Sun editorial some 10 years ago. Predictably, nothing has happened since then, and nothing will likely happen now.
This issue has driven me absolutely nuts since I first arrived in Canada from Silicon Valley. It did not take me long to figure out that things did not work they way they did in California, and that there wasn’t much of a true entrepreneurial economy here. Since then, I have also been appointed to the Canada Foundation for Innovation grant process, providing me with insight into how R&D funding works in Canada. I have seen many issues in Canada that have impaired the nation’s ability to develop an entrepreneurial culture, among them is the inherent Canadian conservatism and short term horizon of investors unfamiliar with technology venture investment. But none has been worse than Canada’s decades-long neglect of adequate funding for research and development nationwide.
I am both encouraged by and skeptical of these subtle changes to research funding, and glaring problems remain. As the writer, UBC Mathematics Professor, Nassif Ghoussoub, himself points out, the largest portion of government research & innovation funding is “business as usual.” The $500 Million earmarked as an Automotive Innovation Fund, is an almost laughable attempt to disguise as subsidy as funding for innovation. Distinct changes in policy and procedure are reported, as recommended by UBC President Toope, and MITACS CEO, Arvind Gupta. But with this federal government, only time will tell what will actually emerge.