Canada should view and present itself as one startup ecosystem rather than separate hubs like Toronto and Waterloo, Wattpad CEO Allen Lau said Monday as Startup Canada’s national tour wrapped up in Toronto.

Following Lau’s keynote address at the event, an audience member asked him what can be done to accelerate Canada’s startup scene. Reflecting on the size and concentration of startup funding, talent and experience south of the border in Silicon Valley, Lau said it would make more sense to treat Canada as a single entity rather than as a collection of smaller, separate markets in various cities.

“Canada is a very large country so we’re seeing a lot of different ecosystems popping up. We have to do it more holistically. We can’t view Toronto and Waterloo differently,” said Lau, who founded Toronto-based Wattpad in 2006. The social network for authors and readers now has 40 million users worldwide.

“Stop treating us as silos”

Wattpad founder and CEO Allen Lau at Startup Canada’s national tour stop in Toronto.

“There’s only one Silicon Valley. So stop treating (Canada) as silos. Treat us as one holistic ecosystem,” Lau said.

In a July report released by Compass (formerly Startup Genome), Vancouver, Toronto and Waterloo all slid down in the global rankings of startup centres, with Silicon Valley again taking the top spot.

“Growth in Canadian startup ecosystems has slowed relative to the rest of the world,” the report concluded.

Government support

At Monday’s event, Lau also urged Canadian startups to look at government as more than just a source of financing.

“Government support is important but not necessarily from a funding perspective,” Lau said. “We don’t necessarily want their money but to make sure their policies are working (to support entrepreneurs).”

As an example, Lau pointed to the way Facebook Inc. and other large American tech firms directly lobby the U.S. federal government on issues that affect their operations and global competitiveness, ranging from taxation rules to privacy laws. By contrast, he said Canada’s digital entrepreneurs could do more to lobby Ottawa on something like copyright law, “which has to adapt for the Internet age” in order to help “Canada compete more effectively globally.”

New council of CEOs

Lau said the newly formed Canadian Council of Innovators is a step in the right direction. Lau is a member of the group, formed last month by BlackBerry co-founder Jim Balsillie to lobby Ottawa on business and technology related matters. Balsillie chairs the organization, whose other members include Shopify Inc. and Hootsuite Media Inc. Balsillie recently signaled the council’s approach by publicly dubbing the new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact “the worst thing that the Harper government has done for Canada.”

Although Lau didn’t mention the election that ousted Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, Monday’s event was attended by Bardish Chagger, the newly elected federal minister of small business and tourism. Chagger didn’t make any funding or policy announcements during her speech there. But Startup Canada co-founder and CEO Victoria Lennox said her chat with Chagger at the event gave her a sense that the new government will take “a really open and collaborative approach” to startup support.

Startup Canada co-founder and CEO Victoria Lennox.

“I haven’t seen an indication with this government (of) what their strategy or policy is going to be with entrepreneurship and small businesses beyond tax reduction, which they’ve committed to, and advanced funding for accelerators and incubators” as set out in the Liberal campaign platform, Lennox said.

“What I see is that their priority right now is just consultation and listening, figuring out what’s working and what’s not working. It doesn’t seem like they’re rushing into anything or have any preconceived notions of what needs to be done.”

Information gathered from Startup Canada’s cross-country tour will be formulated into a proposed national entrepreneurship strategy and presented to Chagger in early 2016. The Toronto event was the last in the tour, which also stopped in Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Calgary and Ottawa.

Lennox announced Monday that Peel Region and Sarnia-Lambton have joined the official network of Startup Canada communities, bringing the total to 24. In addition, Startup Canada said it will help provide entrepreneurs with access to co-working facilities in seven Ontario cities. Launched in 2012, Startup Canada is a non-profit organization offering funding, mentorship, work space and other resources to Canadian entrepreneurs.

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  • “A Community of Communities”- wasn’t that Joe Clark’s assessment of Canada?

    Perhaps the new Minister Of Small Business can start the “ONE CANADA” perception Allen Lau requests by removing some of the interprovincial trade barriers, many of which have been around since Prime Minister Laurier’s Sunny Ways days. Ever wonder why you see all these trucks stopped at the weigh stations on the 401, Transcanada Highway? (perhaps Amazon and UPS will pressure Mr. Trudeau who too has to wait for his “colis” a few more days than folks across the 49th. or in Europe for that matter)

    Lets start with productive things WE can change in Canada NOW rather than trying to convince SIlicon Valley VC’s and other American’s that we are in their big leagues etc. First step, go and visit Quebec City or Halifax to see where we and North America started out in 1600’s.

    How about electricity for Ontario? We’re are at about 24cts per kilowatt hour after all the “distribution charges” etc. If I recall Ontario government “unemotional Loyalists” turned down Quebec four times in 10 years while Vermont, New York secured electricity at 4-5 cents per kilowatt hour via a new 735kv transmission line. IMHO it would take $2BILLION to build a 735kv transmission line from James Bay to feed into the Ontario grid near GTA.

    Electricity is the third highest input cost for most manufacturing facilities including car parts, Aerospace, datacenters and offices full of “knowledge workers” (and financial services clerks.)

    In 2014, the newly elected Ontario and Quebec Premiers have finally agreed to do mutually beneficial hydro deals, but the capacity is just too limited in Eastern Ontario to feed into.

    The “emotional” Mexican car parts businessmen must wonder why Canada would miss out on the obvious synergies between Upper and Lower Canada. So do the VC’s in Silicon Valley.

    Perhaps we should all read Conrad Blacks recent history of Canada and then go do some business with another Canadian located at least 500 miles from where “we are standing on guard”.


  • kleurvision

    Putting the message out there ensures that people will listen. Now is the time to act on it before the message becomes a spec in history. Startup Canada is ensuring that the message of one startup nation is heard — everyone who wants to see this change needs to pick up a torch and pitchfork and join the mob.