Rich McBee is on his second Canadian tour of duty. After serving as general manager of Tektronix Canada roughly 20 years ago, he returned in 2011 to take the helm of Kanata’s Mitel.
Some things have stayed the same, namely the high levels of innovation among the country’s entrepreneurs, a largely stable economy and a multicultural population, according to McBee.
However, he’s also seen changes that he believes make it more likely that today’s entrepreneurs can capitalize on those strengths.
“The difference this time is that government is getting involved,” McBee said in a keynote address this week at the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance Innovation and Leadership Awards. “The government is saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to help incubate these businesses.’”
While McBee didn’t name any specific policies, his remarks came two months after the federal government’s self-proclaimed “innovation budget” that pledged billions of dollars for high-potential industry sectors and introduced the term “superclusters” to the economic development lexicon.
McBee then challenged the gala’s attendees, saying he was confident that “the next billion-dollar idea is sitting in this room.”
While he professed to be confident in that fact, McBee said he questioned whether the person with that idea will do anything about it. Are they willing to fail – multiple times – to make it a reality? Will they draw upon all the available resources to be successful?
“If you look in this local area, there are a lot of things going on. A lot of things … are happening to facilitate and foster (startups),” he said, naming Kanata accelerator L-Spark as an example.
McBee also offered his own spin on several snippets of business strategy that have become close to gospel in some startup circles.
The key to innovation isn’t building a perfect product. It’s solving a customer’s problem – specifically, he added, a problem they’re willing to pay you to solve.
Once you have that idea, the most important step is to simply start moving, McBee advised.
“Think big. Move fast. Start small. Don’t worry about the big thing. Take the idea, get it going, develop critical mass and leverage the ecosystems.”
Techopia reporter honoured
Following McBee’s speech, CATA handed out awards in a dozen categories. Among the recipients was Techopia’s own Craig Lord, who was recognized with the CATA Excellence in Science and Technology Reporting Award.
He was honoured for his ongoing coverage in Techopia and the Ottawa Business Journal of the tech trends, startups and public companies in the National Capital Region.
A graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism, Lord worked at CTV News and the Globe and Mail before helping to launch Techopia and grow it to include a weekly online video segment, Techopia Live, which he produces.
“Whether it's reporting on venture financings, M&A or advocacy, our reporters are keeping technology entrepreneurs informed about what's happening in their own backyards,” said Michael Curran, publisher of Techopia and OBJ.
Other local recipients included:
Victoria Lennox, cofounder and CEO, Startup Canada (Canada’s Next Generation Executive Leadership)
Namir Anani, president and CEO, Information and Communications Technology Council (Community Leadership)
Bruce Linton, CEO, Martello Technologies (Private Sector Innovation and Leadership in Advanced Technology)
Aetonix (Mobility Heath Innovation Excellence in Canada’s Health Care Sector)
IN·spire Innovation Hub at Natural Resources Canada (Public Sector Leadership in Advanced Technology)