Toronto-Waterloo corridor could be Canada’s own Silicon Valley – by Iain Klugman and Kevin Lynch (Globe and Mail – August 19, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

But it takes more than geography and statistics to build an innovation ecosystem
capable of driving national productivity and growth. It requires an incredibly
intensive interplay among world-class university research, targeted government
support for technology development, industry R&D, venture capital and astute
early adopters of the newly created technology. (Iain Klugman and Kevin Lynch)

Iain Klugman is CEO of Communitech. Kevin Lynch is vice-chair of Bank of Montreal.

Each September, thousands of new students stream into Ontario’s universities, carrying their clothes, books and increasingly global ambitions. The question for Ontario and Canada is: Where will those ambitions ultimately take them?

If they are technically brilliant, entrepreneurial and highly motivated, as many of our graduates are, Silicon Valley will beckon – and it has only a little to do with the California weather.

With a population of just more than three million, the single corridor between San Francisco and San Jose has the greatest concentration of high-tech jobs in the United States; is the headquarters for technology companies with billions in sales and trillions in market capitalization; accounts for 40 per cent to 50 per cent of all U.S. venture capital investment; and embraces talented immigrants who account for about one-third of its scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and startup founders.

While there are other highly ranked innovation centres in the United States, such as Boston, New York, Seattle, Chicago and Austin, these are actually losing ground relative to Silicon Valley – such is the pull of innovation gravity. Similar forces are at work elsewhere, be it London-Cambridge or Tel Aviv-Haifa or Singapore, where densely concentrated high-tech ecosystems have shown a similarly disproportionate capacity to shape the innovation performance of their countries.

These innovation “super ecosystems” share key attributes: an entrepreneurial culture where geeks are gods, deep talent pools, great research universities, abundant risk capital, enormous scalability of new innovations and the brand power to continually refresh themselves from globally mobile capital and talent.

Furthermore, the co-location of startups and existing large firms in a single, dense region gives early-stage companies access to risk-savvy big-name customers, while large companies benefit from the nimble and dynamic culture of experimentation and iterative thinking that drives high-growth startups.

So, where does this leave Ontario and Canada?

While this country is home to several globally competitive innovation centres, including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Waterloo, only one region – the Toronto-Waterloo corridor – carries the unique potential to develop as Canada’s answer to Silicon Valley, and in the process, significantly move the needle on our national economy.

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