April 24, 2013
At Carleton University in Ottawa, once a month a group of innovative people from all walks of life gather together to discuss innovation. It came out of Technology Innovation Management program (http://www.timprogram.ca) which is a centre of passion about entrepreneurship originating from Carleton.
This time, Dr Sorin Cohn who the Conference Board of Canada research on innovation metrics and management had kindly come to share some of his research with us. Dr. Cohn is also on the board of Startup Canada, leading a grassroots initiative to promote innovation in Canada. His key message was focused on innovation commercialization in Canada. The short version is – we have next to none. Sure we have R&D, and gov’t programs and other things – primarily focused on the technology developed and research carried out. However, what we don’t have in Ottawa is a dynamic, global oriented scene that is hellbent on taking innovations to market and scaling innovative growth.
Consider the following scenario: A Canadian startup comes up with a new product. It applies for all the kinds of government assistance, IRAP, SR&ED, etc. Only focusing on local customers and not being able to execute a go to market strategy leaves these startups strapped for cash before they generate enough revenue to break even. They present a ripe target for the VCs from the US, who will swoop in, buy them out cheap, send the founder(s) into an early exit and reap the windfall of benefits from commercialization and taking the product to market. The end result is that founders don’t get the lifestyle they want, the region does not get the jobs it needs, and there is no return on investment of the public money.
To remedy this situation the research data suggests that more focus should be on the companies that are already selling to customers and gaining traction. Failure in the technology stage should be embraced; companies should fail fast, learn the lessons learned and move forward. After all, innovation is means to an end; value and competitive success is the ultimate benefit for entrepreneurs and the community.