Entrepreneurial and creative society
In a true innovative culture, innovation can and does come from many different sources. Some may be traditional established companies or university researchers, but in the modern age where access to information and ease of networking, collaborating and sharing of ideas have never been greater and “crowdsourcing” is increasingly becoming common, significant innovation is also being driven outside of these traditional sources. Small startups, individual entrepreneurs, researchers and hobbyists, private collectives of innovators such as “hacker spaces”, and student teams and organizations are all filled with highly talented people and highly original ideas. Moreover, these small, non-traditional innovators are typically much more nimble and have far less overhead than their larger, more established counterparts and as such can do “more with less”.
Moreover, their work serves not only as a potential source of commercially viable products, technologies and future companies, but also as a direct, hands-on means of fostering learning, skills development and creativity that is invaluable in helping those who engage in it to reach their full potential as innovators and contributors to the creative economy.
To truly foster a culture of innovation, the government and its agencies should actively strive to make Canada among the most favourable countries in the world for this rapidly growing group of innovators. The government should make it policy to recognize the existence of these small, non-traditional innovative groups and individuals as potentially valuable sources of both innovation and hands-on skills development, and ensure that support is specifically available to them that recognizes and is responsive to their unique needs, capabilities and situation, rather than being solely available to or heavily biased towards larger established companies and universities only. Such support may take the form of grants or funding, but could also include tax incentives, access to government facilities and government experts.
Not all innovators are the same, and the needs and abilities of individual or small groups of innovators are inherently different from those of large organizations, established companies and universities. By ensuring support is specifically available to individuals and small groups engaged in innovative work, this large and growing source of innovation can be encouraged.
Starting a business is a headache and starting something that hasn't been done before is extremely difficult with current laws, by-laws, zoning requirements, permits, inspections etc.
So here is my idea: Create Law-Free zones available for all Canadian citizens. I do not mean a place were drug lords and violent criminals are free to run wild. I mean a physical place where innovators and potential entrepreneurs can go and put up structures, test products, and test new food production methods without all the red tape and current laws. A place where someone can go with their new idea and borrow some space for some time and test it out assuming all risk. If it doesn't work they don't loose but if it does work they can pursue it without the expense of trying to get through the red tape because that is what stops most people.
Think of this ideas like university study rooms. You can book a block of time and study at no cost. When you are done the space is available for someone else. Canada has a lot of unused land that can easily support this sort of thing.
If someone creates a new method of transportation they cannot test it on our roads because of the legal issues. If they want to build it and test it there are many laws against it. But if they had a place to test and create without laws they can create something new and then conform or get advice on new laws.
Canada is not currently a leader in the social entrepreneurship space. As with all types of entrepreneurship, Canadian policies and programs must exist to incent investment in entrepreneurial projects, including those that address issues of social importance. Organizations that are applying or contributing their resources to help make a positive social impact and those that contribute to building innovative solutions should be incented and rewarded for doing so.
While the video game industry exists primarily to create entertainment products, a number of the innovations developed in the sector can, and have, been utilized to advance research and innovation in other sectors, including health, which have a profound social impact. In essence, the tools developed for entertainment now have serious applications in robotics, sports, physical and mental health treatments (to manage anxiety disorders, depression, grief and PTSD with war veterans).
A recent example is the collaborations between Ubisoft Montreal, McGill University, and Amblyotech to tackle the problem of amblyopia, or more commonly known as “lazy-eye.” The condition affects three per cent of children internationally and occurs when the brain favours one eye over the other. The inspired video game Dig Rush, played on a tablet with 3D glasses encourages active focusing and is thought to be five times more effective than the current treatment option of eye-patching.
As a driver of social innovation, games have served as invaluable tools in education, helping kids and adults learn the skills needed to participate in the innovation economy. Today, Canada can also boast an active group of academics playing a role in pushing the boundaries of games to new areas. The University of Waterloo’s Games Institute is using games research and technology and applying them to non-game situations, a practice commonly known as gamification.
The Games Institute is working with partners such as FlourishiQ to research games and gamification techniques to engage the users of the company’s wearable device in establishing daily insights on wellness data, sleep and other physiological data that can be monitored to improve quality of life. Gamification techniques are being used in games to help users find safe spaces in urban environments while another game, Spirit 50, incentivizes exercise for older adults as they engage with technology. The UpSWinG project in development with collaborators at McGill University use game techniques to engage policy stakeholders in solutions for improving sustainable water governance.
If Canada is to remain a leader in innovation, more must be done to focus our efforts on building up the resource that is primarily responsible for innovation — talent/labour. There already exists a global race to drive innovation forward by obtaining the best and brightest talent. to drive innovation forward and create the products and services that change the way we live, work and play. We need to ensure that our industries and University have the policy tools needed to compete on this truly global battleground. The ability to lay claim to those innovators is the only way to compete with other innovation nations around the world. Canada must develop an immigration framework that allows the seamless and efficient movement of highly skilled workers in the technology fields.
But targeted immigration isn’t enough. A domestic digital skills training strategy is also key to our continued success. How countries arm their future workers with the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) skills to compete in a global and innovation driven economy will mark the difference between a country that falls behind and a country that prospers and thrives.
Other jurisdictions, like the United Kingdom, France and the US already have substantial infrastructure and frameworks to support social entrepreneurship and innovation including policies, legislation, funding and programming, which is available to all sizes of companies and individuals at various stages in their careers that engage in social entrepreneurship, whether directly or indirectly.
We encourage the Government to review global solutions in place at present, and consider ways to learn from the strengths of these programs to create and implement a diverse set of programs, incentives and opportunities for Canadians and companies in Canada to innovate and contribute to advancing socially impactful innovations across all sectors and communities.
Expand the Investment Framework (IF) portion of the Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITBs) Policy to incentivize non-Canadian companies to team with Small to Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). That will focus growth on the SMEs, which are the catalysts for economic growth in Canada, and employers of choice for entrepreneurs.
Background: Design teams are university clubs that develop technical solutions often to compete at some local or international event. They offer an unprecedented learn-and-create opportunity for university students across many STEM fields, including engineering, life sciences, computer science, mathematics, and physics. This experience in teamwork and problem-solving is what we need in the real world. Design teams build mindsets of innovation that shape culture, and create highly competent, hardworking individuals that go on to create change whether in Canada in abroad.
Recommendation: The federal government should...
- Create more funding support for university design teams
- Create awards to recognize design team excellence
- Work with design teams to develop collaborative programs whereby design teams/university clubs can partner with the government or private companies to advance their programs (e.g. access to NRC Wind Tunnels, using racetracks owned by private auto companies)
As the President of the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT), Canada's largest aerospace engineering design team, I can attest to the following having been on the team for more than three years...
- Employers value relevant professional experience more than high grades, and design teams are counted as professional experience
- We publish research and design papers annually at internationally renowned conference and journal papers
- The majority of our design team members feel like they learn more through design teams than through their university classes
- The most ambitious design teams cement the theory taught in classes by applying them to practical problems where the metric of success is the performance of a real technology, not a grade on a test
- Design teams cultivate entrepreneurial drive, and a significant number of UTAT alumni have founded successful Canadian start-ups, both within and outside the context of aerospace
- The skills developed within UTAT are seen as internationally competitive, evidenced by organizations such as SpaceX and the German Aerospace Center coming directly to us for recruitment
- The list goes on...
This story is not unique to UTAT, or to U of T. Look at the UMSATS at the University of Manitoba, or Space Concordia at Concordia University. As an aerospace engineer-to-be I draw on examples in aerospace but this story happen in many different locations with many different focuses and many different levels of support, but to the same end.
Design teams create real skills and ambition for creating a globally competitive workforce, right here in Canada. And if students find something they love, know that they're competent at it, and were able to develop themselves and their design team projects within Canada, that results in a culture of innovation. Throw in the ability to form an attractive vision for staying in Canada (which depends on other factors), and now those skills and attitudes remain part of our great country.