Using innovation and digital storytelling to both foster inclusivity and break down silos between the arts and business communities appears to have been the key message to emerge from a recent joint effort to discover what’s necessary for building a creative and entrepreneurial Canada.

Google Canada, Startup Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) recently embarked on a three-month national dialogue series tapping 1,000 Canadian artists, content creators, cultural entrepreneurs and leaders within the innovation, entrepreneurship and academic communities, organizing forums in six cities, a digital consultation, and dozens of in-person interviews to discover ideas that were common across the country.

Storytelling is key, and telling stories that reflect the diversity of a given community will challenge and broaden local definitions of innovation, entrepreneurialism and creativity, particularly when it comes to Indigenous entrepreneurship, according to the report.

At the same time, innovation takes place across sectors, so it’s important that the barriers between the arts and business communities are removed – startup communities and innovation clusters should welcome groups on both sides.

Entrepreneurship is not limited to big cities, either: rural, remote and small communities are diversifying their economy through entrepreneurship, with tech often leading the way.

This brings us to a recurring theme that has existed long before this dialogue began: Canadians in rural and remote areas of Canada face challenges as it relates to innovation infrastructure. While 87 per cent of Canadian households have Internet access, connectivity continues to create a digital divide between urban and rural areas, the report noted, as 100 per cent of urban households have access to broadband Internet, compared to 84 per cent in rural areas, where the service is also slower, more expensive and unreliable.

Without dependable, high-speed and affordable Internet access, rural and remote regions are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining creative talent, investment, and empowering community members with the tools to start and scale successful creative, let alone digital, enterprises, according to the report, which emphasized that the government of Canada and industry have the opportunity to work with rural and remote communities to provide this service not as the “last mile”, but as the “first mile” for a more creative and entrepreneurial Canada.

Beyond the clear need for reliable Internet connectivity for all corners of the country, Building A Creative and Entrepreneurial Canada outlined a variety of initiatives that need to happen based on the three-month dialogue, as well as the top 20 ideas from participants, including:

  • Canada’s creativity, innovation and entrepreneurialism should be reflected in national branding and in public spaces and showcase that the country is brimming with creators, innovators and risk-takers to instil confidence and pride in Canadian-made content, products and services.
  • Turn Canada into a “first adopter nation” by reforming procurement processes (something recently highlighted by ITAC, as well) and opening up public and private sector first adopter sandboxes to rapidly test and provide feedback on early stage technologies in environments. Sandboxes are also needed within government as part of a network of “entrepreneurs in residence” across every department and agency.

Further to themes of diversity and inclusivity, the report recommends developing “newcomer startup services” to provide information and support to newcomers and entrepreneurship education as part of settlement service offerings across Canada, as well as providing access to capital for Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Just as Internet connectivity was raised as a challenge to be addressed, not surprisingly, skills were also identified as a key theme. Citing data from the World Economic Forum, the report noted that one-third of all jobs will require complex problem solving skills by 2020, and that critical thinking, analytical, digital data and interpersonal skills will also be core requirements.

This requires a re-imagining what and how skills are taught in educational institutions at all level, with partnerships needed to ensure every student has access to this skills training.

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