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There should be a push for innovation at a middle school level

Question:How do we work together to equip youth with the right skills for the future economy?
on 09/02/2016 1472844806
Tags: education  youth  women 
The girls and youth I mentor are in middle school or early university, and it's very difficult to find programs. We see a lot of support in university .... Read more

The girls and youth I mentor are in middle school or early university, and it's very difficult to find programs. We see a lot of support in university where there are startup incubators, but there's very little support for high school and middle school. There should be a push for innovation at a middle school level."

Sage Franch, Trendy Techie founder

Sage Franch, Young entrepreneurs tell Minister Bains education, talent are biggest barriers to success. BetaKit.com. September 1, 2016.

Credit: Sage Franch, BetaKit.com

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Adopt an inclusive and coordinated approach to innovation programs, across disciplines and communities.

Question:How do we work together to equip youth with the right skills for the future economy?
on 09/02/2016 1472843342
As Minister Bains recently said, “Canada needs a bold, coordinated strategy on innovation that delivers results for all Canadians.” It is .... Read more

As Minister Bains recently said, “Canada needs a bold, coordinated strategy on innovation that delivers results for all Canadians.” It is vital that in 2016, our approach to innovation is both an inclusive and coordinated one. A strategy that benefits only certain regions, industries, or disciplines will be insufficient for innovation leadership.

Without careful planning, the shift towards an increasingly tech-driven, globalized economy may exacerbate existing social disparities. An inclusive approach to innovation will make the most of the skills, qualifications, and ideas held across Canada’s diverse population, and in particular women, Indigenous peoples, and new Canadians.

Canada’s strategy must also promote new partnerships across sectors and borders, while avoiding duplication of efforts. Enhanced collaboration and greater integration among players in Canada’s innovation ecosystem must be a priority if public funds are to be invested as strategically and effectively as possible.

Mitacs supports these objectives by working with provincial, national and international partners across disciplines and sectors to improve Canadian productivity and growth. Our expansive network allows Mitacs’ innovation internships to be integrated into complimentary initiatives, avoiding duplication and presenting a simplified point of access for participants. Specifically, Mitacs has worked to support this coordination through partnerships with organizations like CIHR, SSHRC, NSERC, Genome Canada, NRC-IRAP and many more federally supported entities promoting Canadian innovation.

Finally, an inclusive and coordinated approach must recognize the continued importance of basic research. Mitacs encourages the federal government to support Canada’s granting councils, and to promote basic research at colleges, polytechnics and universities across Canada. Often, basic research leads to new discoveries, and support for untargeted research is important to our innovative future.

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UNLEASH THE FULL POTENTIAL OF WOMEN INNOVATORS ALONG WITH OTHER MARGINALIZED GROUPS

Question:How can Canada become the best country in attracting and developing talent?
on 08/17/2016 1471476711
Canada's innovation policy has marginalized women and other groups.  The evidence and statistics which point to this are much publicized. From the am .... Read more

Canada's innovation policy has marginalized women and other groups.  The evidence and statistics which point to this are much publicized. From the amount of VC capital going to women led ventures, to the number of female partners in VC funds, the issue is clearly documented. 

If we still need convincing, let's look at the participation rates of women in Ontario's government funded incubators and accelerators (4-20%). Award winning incubator programs like Ryerson's DMZ notes 15-20% at best. 

The new Communitech Fierce Founder program, which originally was designed for women founders, later changed from a female founder only stance to a "must have female in C-suite). This is a significant change and unfortunate one. As someone who works in the start up space, I see a tremendous difference in progress, resilience and motivation when one is in an environment where you can be your authentic self. Co-ed environments are important too. But we should not under-value the role of women led/women only--or other culturally specific spaces --in the advancement of innovation in Canada.

At a Conference in March, 2016, Dr. Ilse Tueurnicht said (Quote).

 

"The biggest lift we can get in this {innovation} business is by involving women more. And it doesn't matter where you sit on the continuum of innovation, whether you are up in our building (MaRS) or in start ups, or in tech corporations, or in venture capital, across the continuum, women remain hugely under-represented.  And at this stage in my career, I am sad to say that I am more worried about this topic over the past two years than I have been for a long, long time. So there is a lot of work to do ,for all of us to do".

 

Dr. Treurnicht is right. And as we have watched this new innovation agenda consultation process and road show unfold, we have heard nary a word about the importance of increasing women's participation, despite the fact that the Minister's mandate expressly states that the pursuit of gender parity in this space is a priority.

 

What we would like to see is:

 

1) A serious effort to change the culture of the innovation space. Culture at the moment has a male and dominant culture bias that shuts out  talented female/other marginalized would be innovators .  Culture changers could include offering day care /elder care services to women (and yes, all) entrepreneurs and innovators, arranging meetings and presentations before 3:30 and after 9am (as many parents have to leave to drop off and pick up their kids), prayer space, inclusive social activities and the like.   When it comes to women in particular, the reality is, the bulk of care work still falls to women, and by making it difficult for the to participate given their other responsibilities, we are leaving money and talent on the table.

 

  1. Make sure VC funds that receive government matching dollars for investment can demonstrate gender parity in their partner ranks and management teams before being eligible for public money.

 

  1. Consider funding demographic incubators (there are over 25 women founder incubators in the US and it is a growing segment. There are also more and more by/for black, hispanic and other demographically focused support for innovation and entrepreneurship.). Yet in Ontario, there is no women led/women focused incubator or accelerator program. There are also no indigenous focused programs or spaces where one can feel culturally at home. This means women (and other members of marginalized groups) who are talented choose to set their ideas aside because they do not thrive in melting pot mainstream environments.  We also need consider the concept of laddering.  Sometimes we hear people saying this is anti-diversity, but we know this is an ignorant response--not dissimilar to responding to BLM with #allivesmatter. 

 

4)  The focus on youth to the exclusion of much else is misguided.  Evidence shows that innovators over 40 are highly skilled and much more productive due to their higher and broader business skill levels.  Yet support for entrepreneurs in that age bracket is limited. While one might argue the tent is open to anyone, we know that the youth culture propagated at many of our innovation support programs means those over 40 feel unwelcome. The programming incubators is also heavily geared to those who need entry level business skills. Older innovators need different supports.  We are squandering one of our best resources---the 40-70 age group, ignoring their potential, and by not supporting them in a relevant way they need to be supported when they get there.

 

Please consider broadening the innovation program to be more authentically inclusive. If innovation is a numbers game, we are not going to win as a nation by narrowing our effort to a policy and program with fits just the few.

 Back to the question--Imagine if Canada became know as THE Best country for women innovators and entrepreneurs, plus the BEST country for newcomer innovators because we have a mosaic approach to innovation, and not a melting pot.

Credit: Valerie Fox, Vicki Saunders, Barbara Orser, Catherine Elliot and many others.

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Better Protect the Jobs of New Moms

Question:How can Canada become the best country in attracting and developing talent?
on 08/03/2016 1470230279
We see and hear all too often, a new Mom taking their maternity leave and susequently losing their jobs. Whether due to a legitimate business decision .... Read more

We see and hear all too often, a new Mom taking their maternity leave and susequently losing their jobs. Whether due to a legitimate business decision, or not; I wonder if most Canadians know these folks aren't eligible for EI benefits once their leaves are over. As one of these individuals, I was let go mid way through my maternity leave and was forced to spend the remainder of my time on leave searching for work. Time spent not enjoying my new baby, not adjusting to life's new normal. Time spent endlessly searching online postings, revising cover letters, meeting with flaky recruiters and spending hours in interviews to no avail. Why ... Because I knew that at the end of leave, I would be without a job and without any earnings if I didn't find a new job in time. What a vulnerable position to put a family in that is already in a disadvantaged position. Why can't our government do more to help those affected by business decisions that needlessly hold back women in the professional world. Why can't we start a family knowing our job is safe for just 1 year? Why can't we trust that our replacement can't angle for our position in our absence? Why are we so often meant to choose between having a family and having a career? Please, let's address this systemic issue, lets protect our new Mom's, nurture them and take care of them while they take on the most important role in their lifetime. 

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Young entrepreneurs

Question:How do we work together to equip youth with the right skills for the future economy?
on 06/23/2016 1466687569
Today's youth 10-18 have grown up with technology in their hands.  We need Canadian youth to be producers of this technology not just mere consumers. .... Read more

Today's youth 10-18 have grown up with technology in their hands.  We need Canadian youth to be producers of this technology not just mere consumers.  They need to be attracted and given the rights skills to become problem-solvers using technology.

There is evidence that this is working with Canadian success stories.  Two years ago a team of five girls from the University of Calgary won the prize for innovation in the world's largest tech entrepreneurship contest Technovation. Other cities have also participated:  Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver etc.

This early exposure to critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills and entrepreneurial skills to address local problems with technology is key for today's youth especially young girls, so that they feel empowered to be part of this innovative society we live in and contribute to diverse solutions.

My recommendation is to offer this three-month program - Technovation - (as an optional/spare course) in every school in every city and town and community centre and library so that young women today become tomorrow's innovators. 

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