An American’s Perspective of Canada’s Push to Become a Technology Leader

Depending on which poll you read, Canada ranks somewhere between 5th and 9th on the list of technically oriented countries, with the United States ranking 2nd or 3rd behind Japan or Finland.

Before investing in a couple of Canadian technology companies in 2010, I had no idea that Canada was so far along with respect to technology. I always thought of Canada as that place up north with lots of lakes, lots of fish, maple syrup, and that culinary delicacy, poutine. But over the past few years I’ve come to realize that Canada has a real ecosystem for supporting entrepreneurs and encouraging them to start technology ventures.

I thought be worth looking at the kinds of programs the Canadian government uses to support development of new technologies and the people trying to use those technologies to create new companies. This is in no way an exhaustive list of the programs and services, but I think you will be impressed:

At the federal level, the National Research Council (NRC) is the primary national research and technology organization of the Government of Canada for science and technology R&D. This organization is overseen by the Minister of Industry, so you know it is focused on creating jobs. The NRC supports research in areas like Science, Engineering, Aerospace, and Energy just to name a few. One specific well-funded and used program is IRAP. Industrial Research Assistance Program, where money is available to fund research and development for both established and start-up organizations. IRAP can be used for large projects and small (under $50,000).

Another well-used federal program is SR&ED (shred) Scientific Research & Experimental Development. This is a Canadian Government initiative administered by Canadian Revenue Agency as a tax credit to encourage innovation and scientific R&D in Canada. Because of the paperwork and complexity, this program is typically used by larger firms on bigger projects.

In addition, the Canadian Consulates around the world are very active in helping Canadian companies get connected in international markets. They even sponsor an accelerator program in Silicon Valley with the sole purpose of connecting Canadian companies with partners, clients, and investors.

The individual provinces are also very active in helping Canadian companies get connected around the world. As an example, the province of Ontario sponsors trade missions all around the world including an upcoming trip to Hong Kong tied to an international ICT show/conference.

Local government is not to be left out—municipalities like the city of Ottawa actually sponsor their own incubator/accelerator like its successful Invest Ottawa organization. In these accelerators, proven entrepreneurs are hired to mentor start-up technology companies and help them navigate the treacherous waters of getting to market. They also sponsor all kinds of programs to prepare entrepreneurs for the road ahead.

Canada is also giving its venture industry a boost, as can be seen by the recent $217 million public/private fund raised to be managed by Northleaf Capital Partners.

Canada has its sights set on becoming number one in technology, and when I say Canada has developed an ecosystem to support the development of new technology, you can see the kinds of resources they are putting behind it.

Maybe I should ask representatives in the US Congress to take note.