Compete in a Digital World Roundtable

August 19, 2016—Montreal, QC
Compete in a Digital World and Entrepreneurial and Creative Society
Hosted by Austin Hill

Area of Focus

Generate new and creative ideas to allow Canada to compete in a digital world and become an entrepreneurial and creative society:

  • How can the Government support and engender an entrepreneurial society?
  • How can Canada attract, retain and develop high-end talent?
  • How can the government ensure that Canada, its students and companies can compete in a digital world?
  • Is there a role for Government to help encourage investment in specific sectors of the digital economy?


Canada has a strong research base but must do more to retain and attract back its most talented researchers, entrepreneurs and international talent. Support for Research and Development must be supplemented by resources for commercialization to achieve results. We must invest in the national digital infrastructure, facilitate data sharing, and foster more competition in the wireless communications industries to allow Canadian entrepreneurs, businesses and universities to work together, be more creative and achieve a global reach.

Summary of Discussion

Entrepreneurship: We need to ensure that youth and researchers are ready to be entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship skills should be an integral part of the curriculum, as early as high school, and throughout university. Canada can learn from other countries how to foster an entrepreneurial society—Sweden successfully did so by creating and investing in entrepreneurship/innovation district, attracting talent from all over Europe and convincing major companies with global reach to work with smaller companies.

Commercialization: A cultural change is required so that applied research is valued as much as fundamental research within the university system. Expertise must be shared between business and academia.

Digital infrastructure: Investments are required to improve the national digital infrastructure. Canadian providers of wireless services could offer more bandwidth (100 Mb/s). Connectivity is the building block of the future. Maker facilities (3D printers, robotics, etc.) are abundant but not sufficiently known by potential users.

Digital skills: Young Canadians are great users and adopters of new technologies but they are not taught or enabled to create. Canadian businesses must adopt more of the existing technologies.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Commercialization: Commercialization efforts, such as the objectives of the Computer Research Institute of Montreal need increased support to scale up. In attracting multinationals, Canada must foster collaboration that will engage Canadian businesses, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SME). This will contribute to growing the national entrepreneurial ecosystem and create spillovers in the rest of the market which will help scale up and accelerate the commercialization of research results.

Culture: A cultural shift is required so Canada can build an environment where researchers and entrepreneurs can achieve their dreams without having to leave the country. We must create a sense of belonging and offer financial incentives to attract Canadian researchers back to Canada and help start-ups to achieve global reach and succeed.

Funding mechanisms: Investment funds and Government funding organisms could take advantage of the changes in the digital society and to allow small and medium sized enterprises to invest in digital technologies. Extra tax incentives should be offered to companies that invest in Innovation Zones. Canada could look at capital gains transfer mechanisms similar to those of the United States.

Top Ideas/Outcomes

Innovation Zones: The Government should create and invest in innovation zones or districts in major urban areas (Montréal, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, etc.) to allow businesses and universities to work together, to test discoveries and to improve the commercialization of research results. These zones would promote collaboration around common objectives and would include working groups comprised of small and medium sized enterprises, start-ups, universities and other stakeholders.

Knowledge sharing: A mechanism is necessary to allow SMEs and others to share knowledge to spark information technology (IT) adoption and generate ideas on how to deal with technological changes and survive them. The Government could initiate a forum (like Singularity University) that brings CEOs together to understand long-term global trends, discuss "disaster plans" and develop innovation strategies for the future.

Talent/Education: Entrepreneurship skills and digital literacy must be taught early and be an integral part of the education system. Continuing education is essential to allow entrepreneurs, researchers and businesses to keep up with rapid technological advancements. Creating linkages between students and small and medium sized enterprises would help disseminate digital skills and knowledge. Cultural changes, financial incentives, and more flexible immigration policies are needed to retain and attract highly talented individuals.

Digital Infrastructure: The national digital infrastructure must be improved to allow businesses and universities to innovate, share data and compete internationally. We need to create the conditions that allow people and businesses to be creative—build high-speed highway, make high speeds widely available, build infrastructure, facilitate data sharing and management.

Regulations: Telecommunications foreign ownership rules could be relaxed to increase the funding available to improve our digital infrastructures. Data sharing regulations should be similar to copyright regulations. The Government should be at the forefront in updating regulations on IT technologies to ensure competitiveness and fairness in their application across industries.

Data sharing: Open data and data sharing are essential for innovation but Canadian regulations might be a deterrent for foreign parties bringing their data here. Companies need to have interoperability capabilities and smart cities must be interconnected and have a strong and reliable infrastructure. Universities could act as "open labs" to allow companies and start-ups to test new technologies. There is an opportunity for the Government to finance such initiatives.

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