Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why does Canada need more startups?

Last week while I was touring Alberta with the founders of the new non-profit, Startup Canada, some friends in Calgary asked what we were trying to accomplish. Why was I donating my time to this cause? I explained that Canada needs more entrepreneurs.

They replied, “How do you know?”

What a great question! And it's one I hadn’t really asked myself. So it seems fair to explain how I know we need more entrepreneurs – even in Alberta, where the economy is booming and just about anyone can get a well paying job.
Across Canada (with the possible exceptions of Alberta and Saskatchewan), our unemployment rates are too high. Our innovation record is dismal. And our export efforts are still pitifully dependent on raw resources rather than processed goods. In many cities, even in Alberta, our downtowns are dingy and depressed. Many of our biggest corporations are scaling back jobs and operations in Canada, and many growth industries, such as retail and services, offer lower-paying jobs in their place.

The Conference Board of Canada rates us 14th out of 17 in a survey of innovation performance among comparable economies. Young people today in most provinces can't find summer jobs, let alone full-time work. Meanwhile, health care and public service costs are soaring, and the demographics say that in a decade or two there will be too few workers to pay the bill.
In short, our fundamental ability to fund a decent lifestyle and a prosperous economy for all is at serious risk across Canada today.

But there is hope. Lots of it. The motto of Startup Canada is “Entrepreneurship Empowers Everything.” We believe that if Canada can become more entrepreneurial, we can solve all the problems the world economy can throw at us. Entrepreneurship isn’t just about running a business – it’s an attitude. A way of thinking.
Entrepreneurs see opportunities where other people see problems. They're visionaries with practical purpose. Entrepreneurship is about analyzing problems and devising innovative solutions that create new value for others, reaching out to diverse groups – whether it’s partners, bankers, suppliers, advisors or customers – and persuading them to believe in your dream, marshalling resources to solve a problem, doing more with less, leading with confidence, leveraging technology, committing yourself to constant learning, and never being afraid to change course when the times require it.

These are the attributes of great entrepreneurs. When they exercise their abilities, they create jobs, bring new economic vitality to the deepest corners of our towns and cities, spin off new businesses, and infuse others with entrepreneurial spirit. And of course entrepreneurship is not confined to business. We need more infusions of entrepreneurial thinking and innovation in government, in health care and education. We are certainly already seeing more and more entrepreneurs committing their time to other causes, such as charities and public service. And a new breed of social entrepreneurs is changing the way businesses calculate success and erasing the line between doing well and doing the right thing.

Best of all, when you embraces entrepreneurial values, you take responsibility for your own life, your own career. You no longer sit around, as so many of our young people do, waiting for someone to take care of you, or just offer you a job. You accept responsibility for your own future – and thus encourage others to do the same.
The global economy will only get more competitive. The businesses that survive and thrive will have to be formidable competitors and endless innovators. Because only people with entrepreneurial values will succeed by finding new ways to create value for others. And in doing so, they will create economic activity, jobs and hope for all Canadians.

Canada is fortunate to have an abundance of natural resources. But as pioneers such as K.C. Irving, Ted Rogers and Mike Lazaridis have proven again and again, our greatest resource is our people, and their ability to think and serve, entrepreneurially.
(Adapted from my presentation to the launch event/press conference in Lethbridge: June 7, 2012)