Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Canada is Screwed: Why We Need to Support Canadian Youth in Tech



Canada is sliding down a slippery slope in its ability to compete globally. We are neglecting to provide sufficient support to young people in this country to cultivate new leaders in technology and entrepreneurship.

Its been a long time since I've ranted about the issues that plague the Canadian startup scene, as well as the issues around the country's slipping competitiveness in the global economy (which was the topic and reason why I was on a panel hosted by the CATA Alliance).

There are few thing that concern me about this country.

One of them is that many Canadian youth not given the proper support that they deserve, and are as a result lagging behind the curve in both their preparedness and attitudes towards technology and entrepreneurship (both at the high school level and post secondary level). As is the dearth of B2C internet ventures (and its associated growth capital) in Canada.

As a "relatively recent" product of the Canadian educational system, the major issues of concerns that I've found include:

1) High School Graduates are Not Prepared: Students at the high school level do not have the information that is necessary for them to make informed decisions about post secondary education choices (esp. as it pertains to careers in technology and entrepreneurship)

2) Brain Drain of Top Talent from Universities is Real: top students from universities are being sucked down south of the boarder (and not returning) to join multi-national US companies (think MS, Google, Amazon) or they are being going into mid to late stage US based startups (much less so, but still happening)

3) Lack of Entrepreneurial Support Systems for Students (and recent Grads): students are not given the a) role models & motivation, b) knowledge & encouragement c) support systems & funding, d) education/network, to enable them to succeed.

Many of the most innovative startups/products on the net that you use everyday today were started in dorm rooms of university students -- especially in the B2C space (i.e. Netscape, Napster, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, etc. etc.). Virtually none of them are from Canadian university dorm rooms.

The above points can really be boiled down to two things a) lack of funding, b) lack of entrepreneurial culture/encouragement

Yet we have one of the top, if not THE top Computer Science school in the world (University of Waterloo), and some of the best Electrical and Computer Engineering schools in the world.

How do we solve this?

We need to provide Canadian students with more exposure to "what's possible" and a real support system that includes:

1) Capital: Having sufficient access to truly risk tolerant capital (i.e. Venture Capital) is critial. We need capital that can be deployed into high risk B2C type ventures -- a category of companies that are every bit as rewarding as they are "risky".

2) Culture: There is insufficient recognition of "home grown heros" -- when the top Stanford engineering students are heading into their last year of school, they aren't thinking "Well gee, I can't wait to work for The Man" (replace "the Man" with your big F500 company of choice), but more likely -- "I wonder if I can still get some cheap options if I join my buddy's hot new funded startup" OR perhaps even more likely "well, my old room-mate just got funded started a company last year doing X to build the next XYZ Killer, I think I could probably commercialize some of my reseach doing Y to build the next ABC Killer App -- I think if I crank at this for a few more weeks after school, I should probably go talk to some investors to see if I can get some early funding... I mean, my [insert friend-of-a-friend|distant-cousin|old classmate|last-professor|school-alumni here] did it and built it into a multi-million dollar company in 3 semester, why couldn't I?!"

Now why else are young entrepreneurs so important, and why do they have such a big role in innovation (besides the fact that history shows that the youth have a higher likelihood of adapting and creating breakthrough innovations on the web)?

I'll let Marc Andreesen (you know, the guy who while in University helped cofound Netscape) and Naval Ravikant (of Epinions and a half dozen other associated with his name) further this topic on the relationship between youth + entrepreneurship . As an added bonus, Clay Shirky (a professor at the graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program) also has a great post about The (Bayesian) Advantage of Youth.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Albert,
    I would like to identify some of the entrepreneurial role models and organizations from Waterloo. You are absolutely right: we need more of this stuff.

    The year of 1984 is not only the year of the Mac, but also the year when Mike Lazaridis left Waterloo Engineering and started Research In Motion. Mike is our hero. He now serves as the chancellor for Waterloo Engineering.

    Local investment firms have been participating in entrepreneurial events such as the Laucnhpad50K, and educational programs such as the Master of Business Entrepreneurship and Technology. Start-ups have started to emerge out of these efforts, just to name two from 2007: factortime.com and healthspoke.com.

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  2. Check the bookstores.

    A common observation I have between US and UK bookstores for example is how the US business book section is filled with stories of 'those who dared'. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Buffet, Ellison. Books about them are in the business sections as motivational tools and not just biographies.

    Compare this to the UK book stores--zilch. Well not zilch, but I'm constantly unimpressed by the business book selection in the UK. It seems to be 'Middle Management for Dummies' or the such.

    and as an aside--if you want a shock, goto a Chinese book store in Shanghai or Beijing. There you will see 'Advanced Retail Sales Inventory Chain management--volume 2' or 'Industrial Supply Chain Development, Professional Edition.' They take this capitalism stuff pretty seriously (compare the business section of a Chinese bookstore to the Communist history section and tell me which is bigger).

    Anyway, would love to hear how Canada stacks up on this.

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