Toronto’s recipe for ICT success: management, talent, money

More competent managers, a larger IT talent pool, more start-up funding, and greater collaboration are needed to boost Toronto’s tech posture, according to speakers and attendees of Technicity 2011.

These were the critical issues that kept bubbling up in keynote speeches and breakout session during the IT World Canada and City of Toronto event aimed at bringing together entrepreneurs, tech companies, government agencies, and other organizations to explore strategies for developing the greater Toronto area as a global technology hub.

“We are under investing in management,” lamented Jim Milway, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI), Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, during his presentation titled Innovation, Collaboration and Leadership. He said improving the quality of management is critical because various research shows that regardless of industry, better managed firms tend to have more educated managers.

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Milway said the quality of management can be gleaned from the number of hours Canadians spend at work in relation to their productivity. While the average Canadian works nearly as long as their counterparts in the United States, surveys show that productivity of firms south of the border is higher than Canadian companies. “To succeed at trade, we need high value added products and services and creative skill sin our firms – in other words strong management.”

Much of the management gap is at the graduate level, he said.

Nineteen per cent of American managers have graduate or professional degrees, compared with 14 per cent in Ontario and 12 per cent in the whole of Canada. But 35 per cent of American managers hold bachelor degrees compared to 27 per cent in Ontario and 25 per cent for the rest of Canada. “This means nearly half of U.S. managers have a degree or higher education compared to about 37 per cent in Canada,” said Milway.

He said successful Canadian startups report that access to management is a key challenge in their development. “Yet federal funding virtually ignores the business discipline.”

Designers in short supply

The rapidly growing field of mobile technology is spawning numerous areas of opportunities to GTAs startups and small and medium sized tech companies according to Dr. Sara Diamond, president of the Ontario College of Arts and Design.

Among the opportunities she mentioned were: mobile learning, mobile health, mobile payment, mobile entertainment and mobile commerce.

Bob Vaez, president and CEO of EventMobi, a Toronto-based mobile game developer that specializes in gamification products for corporate events, said his business has found relative success in U.S. markets, but a tech talent supply shortage was one of his company’s challenges.

“I find the Toronto area to have a very short supply of designers,” Vaez said during a breakout panel discussion.

He said the Toronto region is an ideal location to set up a technology company because of the region’s large IT talent pool, the variety of research and development government funding and tax credits aimed at tech companies. Ironically, this healthy environment has also attracted a number of larger game studios with more financial resources who compete with smaller local firms for IT talent.

“In many cases, talent move south of the border where they get higher salaries or to bigger foreign firms like Ubisoft that have facilities in Toronto,” said Vaez.

Government funding levels playing field

Access to venture capital was a common challenge for speakers in the Play panel discussion.

The GTA has many universities that can provide technology graduates “but a major downside for the region is that there is no venture capital in this city,” said Kevin Leflar, president of and CEO of, a firm that builds standalone e-businesses for established recording artists.

He said an aversion to risk seems to inhibit investors from banking on tech startups. “There is very little risk capital available to help businesses take on the global market.”

MOBC (Ontario Media Development Corporation) and SRED (Scientific Research & Experimental Development) funding, were key to our growth,” said Adam Telfer, vice president for game development at XMG Studio Inc., a game studio located in Toronto.

Collaboration is essential

Collaboration among the business, government and education sectors is vital in the development of the GTA as a tech hub, according to Omar Rachid, director for local and regional government at Microsoft Canada Inc. Rachid, was also the facilitator for the Integration and Collaboration panel discussion yesterday.

For instance, he said, a larger company can provide smaller tech firms access to their technologies. In return, small companies can develop products that add greater value to the larger firm’s technology.

Participants also raised the need for more collaboration with government agencies, trade associations and the education sector to develop a larger IT talent pool, ICT (information communication and technology) clusters and startup incubators.

“Technicity is a good example of building collaboration. In fact some participants asked if perhaps Technicity could be expanded to include other cities such as Chicago and New York,” said Rachid.

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