Powering an innovation economy

I have been traveling in Israel, a country that is frequently called the “Startup Nation.” The book, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, examines how Israel – a country with about 20% of Canada’s population, in a constant state of war since its founding in 1948, with no natural resources – produces more start-up companies than larger nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK.

Over the past week or so, I have tweeted somewhat facetiously from some of the better restaurants in Israel about how it is the food that powers the country’s innovation economy.

Last week, the Canadian Government announced its “vision to build Canada as a global centre of innovation“.

To achieve this vision, the Government of Canada will focus on six areas for action:

  • promoting an entrepreneurial and creative society
  • supporting global science excellence
  • building world-leading clusters and partnerships
  • growing companies and accelerating clean growth
  • competing in a digital world
  • improving ease of doing business

According to Minister Bains, “We don’t need another report on what our challenges are. We need fresh ideas and a joint action plan that will make innovation a national priority and put Canada on a firm path to long-term economic growth.”

The government plans to launch an interactive website to allow Canadians “to offer their suggestions on positioning Canada as a global leader in innovation.”

In addition, round-table discussions will take place across the country. They will be hosted by leaders who are innovators in their own right. These leaders represent the private sector, universities and colleges, the not-for-profit sector, social entrepreneurs and businesses owned and operated by Indigenous people. This collaborative approach is essential because the Government cannot act alone. Every sector of society must be mobilized for action. Each sector must also have a stake in determining what the targets to measure progress should be and how those targets should be tracked and reported.

What kinds of government action promotes an innovation economy? What kinds of government actions deter an innovation economy?

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post called “Don’t do stupid stuff,” in which I wrote “Increasingly, it appears that Canada needs a digital conscience in Ottawa.”

Real innovation needs government to get out of the way, allowing successful businesses to thrive and letting unsuccessful ones fail.

We need to be concerned about governments’ propensity for handing out cash – picking winners and choosing which firms are deserving of state welfare. I wrote about this a few months ago when Sandvine apparently needed a $200,000 per job subsidy in order to continue growing its already profitable development centre in Waterloo. I asked if picking winners might actually create more losers.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are not terms usually associated with government. Knowing (and being willing) to get out of the way, may be the biggest challenge in the development of the government’s action plan.

My travels in Israel indicate that it takes great food to help power an innovation economy. Canada has some of the basic ingredients: Saskatchewan is already a world leader in chick pea production. It is time to harness more of our natural resources to develop a creamier Canadian humous!

Now that’s an idea I would like to see make it into the action plan.

Canada should take a close look at what factors have led to Israel’s successes in innovation and fostering a startup economy. We have great opportunities to collaborate and learn.

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