Talent: The Fuel for Canadian Innovation

It’s an exciting time for Canada’s tech sector. The phenomenal success of firms such as Hootsuite and Shopify indicates how we have the opportunity to become a global innovation leader.

To get to that next level, we need to invest in the most important thing: our people. This means developing talent not just in software engineering, but also in sales, product design, customer support, and marketing.

Why does fostering this talent matter? Developing more elite talent in fields such as sales, product design, and product marketing is essential to scaling companies, and thus to building global firms from here in Canada. Individuals develop this talent through working for top companies, and learning from the best. Startups are in the end all about people. To create global champions, we need world-class teams.

The way we will create deeper talent pools in our technology ecosystems is through funneling more of our best and brightest to go work at innovative Canadian firms as recent grads, so that they can learn from the best, and become skilled at scaling companies into becoming global firms. We need an elite talent pool that is skilled not just at doing marketing at a subsidiary, but that has the expertise to formulate and execute world-class marketing, sales, and design strategies.

At the moment, too few top-performing recent graduates consider going to work at Canadian startups, and to pursue entrepreneurship as a career path. This problem is particularly acute amongst those studying business. One only has to look at the Ivey School of Business, whose own statistics show that 62% of its graduates go into accounting, finance, and consulting. By contrast, the number of grads going to work at startups is negligible.

We need for more of our best and brightest business minds to be a part of building, and launching great products. Instead, too much of our top business talent pursues professional services roles. We have too many talented people papering corporate deals or doing exotic financial models, and too few being a part of building new companies.

Canada needs great investment bankers, and lawyers, and accountants, but it’s counterproductive to our national economy that so much of our top talent goes into these specific sectors, and so relatively few go into being a part of building new innovative firms.

Earlier this year, I left my job at Goldman Sachs in New York City to launch Venture for Canada; a not-for-profit that connects top recent graduates of Canadian universities to work at top Canadian startups/growth companies in need of talent. Our partners for placing Fellows include some of Canada’s top technology firms — companies such as 500px, Bionym, Kik, Shopify, and Wattpad.

Venture for Canada’s program is simple — connect top recent graduates to work for top entrepreneurs, to gain the skills, network, and resources so that they can eventually launch their own businesses. We are modeled on Venture for America, which has recruited hundreds of recent grads from universities such as Harvard, Yale, and MIT, to go work at startups across the United States. Venture for Canada attracts top grads to work at startups through providing extensive training and mentorship opportunities, in addition to an overarching brand and competitive compensation.

In the same way that PayPal has spawned LinkedIn, Palantir, Yelp, YouTube, Yammer, and Tesla Motors, we know that by connecting our best and brightest to go work for innovative Canadian firms — we will catalyze a whole new generation of Canadian technology firms. Over the next few decades, Venture for Canada will create tens of thousands of jobs in innovative firms across the country.

Our most valuable asset is not oil or any other natural resource. It’s our people. Training our top performers to be world class at scaling companies is how we will take Canada’s tech sector to the next level.

-Scott Stirrett

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