Entrepreneurial and Creative Society Roundtable

September 7, 2016—Halifax, NS
Entrepreneurial and Creative Society
Hosted by Arvind Gupta

Area of Focus

To foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, build skills to embrace global changes, leverage Canada's diversity and attract top global talent.


Need for innovation within educational institutions; engaging youth and indigenous populations; develop programs that foster idea generation; leverage the potential of the Silver Economy; immigration reform; review of federal programs; better data collection.

Summary of Discussion

A new federal/provincial education paradigm is needed to foster innovation at a younger age and encourage applied skills development.

Canada's immigration system can help retain international talent.

Align and optimize existing strengths and increase risk tolerance to build a culture of innovation so Canada can compete globally.

Encourage innovation by improving and expanding federal programs and through better data collection.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Immigration Process: Participants noted the immigration process is lengthy, complicated and can be cost-prohibitive for applicants. It's critical that for skilled immigrants and for international students we stream-line the process.

Talent Retention: Highly skilled employees leave Canada for larger international markets due to the small market size and limited opportunities to grow in their careers.

Education: There are limited linkages between education systems and industry needs. Investments in education are made in silos. Entrepreneurial activities including coding should be included early in the K-12 curriculum. A program based in the UK "Investing in Innovation" Education Fund (i3), was cited as a program that could be developed and mirrored in Canada to facilitate innovation in primary- grade 12 education. Better educational attainment for aboriginal youth is needed.

Federal Programs: Programs are too exclusive and not well known to everyone who might qualify. Need to find a way to reach underrepresented groups. Support is strong for start-ups but lacking for companies seeking to scale up.

Top Ideas/Outcomes

Youth Education: Need a new educational paradigm to promote skills development and innovation. Leverage existing creativity in youth and implement programs to boost digital literacy through the development of coding skills, computer literacy, and other applied hands-on-learning the traditional education system lacks. . Need more safe places such as MakerSpaces to help generate and implement new ideas within and outside of academia. Linkages must be made between the education system and industry needs. Participants proposed a competition for innovative ideas, such as an X-Prize, or a mechanism to get more people involved in finding solutions to the education conundrum.

A Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Diversity Program: A program based on the U.S.' TechHire Program, a program to hire under-represented groups in information communication technologies (ICT) and STEM, such as First Nations, African Canadians and Persons with Disabilities, could be mirrored in Canada.

Data collection: Need better data collection of individuals progressing through the education system and their lifetime use of financial supports. British Columbia is currently the only province that collects educational data and this could be used as a model across Canada. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) was also seen by participants as an example of robust data collection. Need better synergies between labour market information and Statistics Canada data collection.

Broadband: Internet access should be accessible to all Canadians (offer subsidies where needed). Digital access promotes inclusiveness and connectedness and is an enabling tool for underrepresented and rural communities.

Federal Programs: Federal programs should be evaluated to determine their usefulness, with clearly defined benchmarks to determine their success. Multidisciplinary programs will allow businesses and researchers across sectors to work together. Existing programs such as Mitacs and the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) could be expanded to ensure they respond to industry demand, foster innovation and apply to international students. The Canada Summer Jobs program could be re-envisioned as a continuous year-round application process with a particular focus around jobs that build innovation skills.

Experiential learning and Applied Research: Incorporate entrepreneurship and innovation into experiential learning opportunities and industry/academic collaboration. Need a national approach to research, particularly applied research and social entrepreneurship. One mechanism could include the expansion of existing voucher programs. Participants highlighted the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) versus STEM.

Immigration Reform: It was suggested that Canada should adopt a new streamlined but effective visa and immigration program similar to those being introduced in leading jurisdictions around the world (e.g. the UK "Tech Nation Visa", the Netherlands "Highly Skilled Migrants" visa, Israel's "Innovation Visa for Foreign Entrepreneurs",  and Ireland's "TechLife" and "Critical Skills Employment Permit".  It was also suggested that Canada's immigration policies need to encourage international students who have invested their time in Canada to stay in Canada.

The Silver Economy: There is significant potential in leveraging the older population and their entrepreneurial skills and abilities to spur innovation.

Continuous feedback: Engagement with industry should be an ongoing conversation. Government can provide the beacon to industry in order to have a deeper conversation that is ongoing and around specific issues.

Indigenous communities: Improve access to broadband and innovative educational programs to enable increased participation of individual communities. Encourage partnerships between civil society and First Nations communities to try new education paradigms.

Government as Innovator: Government should lead by example and provide a convening role as an enabler and an inspiration for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Procurement: Allocate a greater portion of government procurement for SMEs and for purchasing innovative goods and services.

Innovation Program for Researchers: Canada should adopt a program similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)'s highly successful Innovation Corp (I-Corps) program for researchers. The I-Corps Program is offered by U.S. universities and funded through the NSF, and aims to foster entrepreneurship that will lead to the commercialization, typically through start-ups, of technology that has been supported previously by NS-funded research. The program prepares researchers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and broadens the impact of NSF—funded projects into social issues or the commercial world.

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