Preserving innovation will be key to helping Canada build back better

Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by EY Canada.

Early in the pandemic, entrepreneurs and small businesses responded to the urgent needs of Canadians by pivoting their organizational models and setting up new businesses to fill gaps in the market. 

This ability to innovate, especially amid disruption, is what makes entrepreneurs valuable and unique. We’re lucky to have such a vibrant entrepreneurial community in Canada, with world-class organizations like Shopify on our doorstep here in Ottawa. But the journey these entrepreneurs go through isn’t always easy.

They face numerous obstacles on the path to success and the right supports aren’t always available. What’s more, success is often measured and defined by the moment competitors take notice and acquire them.

It’s time we redefine entrepreneurial success and make it possible for Canadian entrepreneurs to compete and keep jobs and IP here at home for the benefit of our own economy.

The recent federal budget announcement reinforced the importance of building long-term competitiveness for Canada, beyond the immediate crisis and into the future. However, paving the path to competitiveness depends on having the right supports like increased funding, strengthened R&D programs and investments in modernization and talent, for both vulnerable companies undergoing hardship, as well as those experiencing new sources of growth.

Many Canadian cities are quickly being recognized as global technology hubs because entrepreneurs and startups have the building blocks needed to spark innovation – from great research facilities and academic institutions to public funding and access to top entrepreneurial talent. Now, we need to enable them to scale up to compete and capture global market share, helping to position Canada as a leader in the innovation economy.

Future programs and initiatives need to balance support for innovation with scale to help Canadian businesses grow and avoid falling into the hands of established global peers as soon as they become a market threat or a vehicle for inorganic growth.

Success needs to be redefined to when Canadian companies stand toe-to-toe or a step ahead of global players. And, this starts with keeping intellectual property and knowledge on Canadian soil.

When more patents per capita are being filed from outside of Canada, listing Canadian inventors, than by those applying from within the country, immediate change is required. It’s a positive step forward to see new funding in the budget allocated to providing IP advice and increased financing and protection towards Canada’s business support programs.

The government has also promised a review of IP provisions in the federal government’s innovation and science programming, while heavily investing in the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program to provide IP services to high-growth and startup clients. In turn, this will protect intellectual property from transferring outside of the country and into the hands of foreign firms looking to reap the benefits of domestic research and inventions. 

The private sector often takes the lead when it comes to addressing market gaps through innovation, but the scale of stimulus spending means governments have a real opportunity – and responsibility – to partner with businesses and turbocharge innovation as a path to sustainable growth.

We need to combine these investments with market reforms, higher skills and new technologies to create jobs, while boosting productivity to rebuild more resilient public and private sectors. That’s when we’ll see true Canadian competitiveness emerge.

Commitments in the federal budget will help to advance the diversity and inclusion of Canada’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and these measures, in addition to the supports to small and medium businesses, will play a big role in creating jobs and building long-term competitiveness as the Canadian economy starts to recover. Through regulation, collaboration and investment we can bulldoze obstacles and reframe the Canadian innovation economy to underpin a better future.

For a short overview and highlights of the Federal Budget, watch EY Canada’s on-demand webcast: https://www.ey.com/en_ca/webcasts/2021/04/federal-budget-live-fireside-debrief 

Warren Tomlin is the EY Ottawa office managing partner and digital and innovation leader at EY Canada.