Building a tech/startup/knowledge friendly government in BC

There are those in the Startup/tech community who often say “stay out of my way and let me do my job mentality” to Government.

Take this article for example: JUSTIN TRUDEAU SHOULD DO NOTHING FOR STARTUPS

This feels like a lack the understanding of how Government at all its levels can impact on the ability of the business community to grow and be global champions.

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I spent four years in elected office at cabinet level (Cornwall County Council, UK) with one of my remits been Economic Development of Creative Industries and for the last seven years I have being a part of the Vancouver Tech/Startup scene. This has given me some experience, thoughts, problems, solutions for what any place that wants to consider Startups as a part of their economic strength.

I worry like many, that Vancouver will become a resort town.. technology is one pathway to diversify it.  Over the last decade I feel the BC Provincial Government has failed actual Startups (those who are not large Tech companies), at time that could have made a real difference, they made their economic focus elsewhere.

Here is a list of areas to explore before the Provincial Elections in British Columbia in 2017.

Most ideas/solutions/problems will have to be solved in partnership with Vancouver City, Federal Government, businesses, teachers, unions and many others.

1. Listen and understand what Startups offer – not just “leaders talking to leaders”

By engaging with the industry and community leaders to explore approaches and strategies both with the leaders and their employees.

It needs to be wider then the traditional old boys network, so not just friends/connections/trade associations. The traditional group of “talked to” are generally  mostly men, white and from well off backgrounds. Talk to women, which our sector is so sorely missing in the top positions. So talk to people like Maura Rodgers or Jenn Cooper people who have created actual communities. Look for who is excluded and work out why.

2. Understand the businesses at their different stages – Not just one type of entrepreneur

By exploring the different needs of different sized organizations whether they are small, medium or large. It tends to be the larger ones that can afford lobbying, lets not ignore the small.  The needs of Hootsuite are different to those of a five person startup, or the startup whose main target is a non Canadian market i.e Payroll Hero.

3. Involve Traditional and non Traditional Education institutions
By ensuring that all teaching and training organizations (including schools, colleges, Universities, bootcamps i.e. CodeCore and other private training organizations) that educate or train people are involved in the on-going journey to strengthen our knowledge based economy.

It seems that some of traditional educational institutes only talk to the really large companies i.e. E.A. or Sage or SAP. They often want experience with a C variant or Java. Whilst most startups want a framework/language that lets them to get up and running within a 3-6 month window and experimenting with a product to market fit.  They do not always have time to train a person in a new language.  Some Universities in the US have recognized this and have Startup Engineering programs i.e. Stanford.

I think Bootcamps and on-line learning platforms are an important part of our future learning culture as they adapt much faster then Universities and Colleges in which programming languages/frameworks/techniques to teach.

P.S. Who teaching people how to learn? Schools, Colleges or Universities?

4. BC Training grants DO NOT recognize online learning
This is the case for monthly subscription learning which can occasionally have the most up to date knowledge. In a place the size of BC it is not always economically to get a trainer out to the middle of no where. The mentality of BC Government is that they want you to give a job to a trainer and get them to train your people in personal. This can be very expensive. Reduce the barriers to learning not increase them. Are they environmental  benefits from delivering online?

5. Developing effective skills training in schools
By exploring which skills are needed in an effective knowledge based economy. That these skills become fully understood and clear strategies are developed to to ensure they are gained from School upto University e.g

  1. Leadership
  2. Learning
  3. Change management
  4. Conflict management
  5. Risk taking

To consider how these skills compare on the Global stage, Vancouver/BC is competing against every other city/area on the planet. What are Vancouverites poor at, how can we improve it?  I feel that I have seen a lot of conflict avoidance (rather then conflict resolution) in my time in Vancouver is this just my experience or is it a “Trait” of Vancouver? Lets understand our vulnerabilities and counter them rather than ignore them.

6. Growing Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is encouraged at every level of education, from school upwards e.g. Young Enterprise in the UK. It should become part of the school system to teach children conflict management, understanding risk, managing stress and managing change.  Maybe the program should consider Social enterprise and not just be limited to private enterprise.

7. Coding for all ages

I am not convinced that programming is for everyone, we humans are far much more diverse then that.  One UK programmers’  feelings are well expressed here – Learn To Code, It’s Harder Than You Think

But we should consider Programming a good way to teach problem solving, logical analysis and critical thinking and not just as a career. As it is in UK, US and Nova Scotia.

8. Career changing

Why do Governments only consider this when the shit has hit the fan? Its a reality of now and the future, there are no jobs for life. We should teach the reality in schools, rather then just try and box people for life in a career through poor decision tree mechanics.

How do we make this easier and less feared, almost part of our natural lives like it will be for any Gen Yers.

Consider how people can support themselves whilst re-training, consider how to make this possible for shift work. Consider online as well as physical education.

9. Research

Developing alliances between industry and research institutions to create innovation infrastructure is of courses necessary, and some exists, but is currently poor. Maybe make some of the “intellectual property” known about.. Hacking events? Open Transparent patent libraries, people whose job is to market their intellectual property.

10. Support the jobs that are actually needed i.e. Software Engineers not just Post Grads

Most government programs support PHds and Masters, but we actually need far more people with Bachelors in Software Engineering. Also what about the 40% of people that learn programming themselves? Could we better support them they are a large chunk of our software environment.

11. Support of growth Technology Leaders

Consider how to support the next generation of CTOs, from co-founding to a full CTO with a scaled up business. There are many programs that support the CEO/Founders but to be truly successful you need the product to scale. It seems like we have few homegrown success (if we do why not celebrate them rather then just the CEOs?), most companies want “magical” tech “genius” or “star” or “rockstar” or “ninja” from some other country.  We have no programs to support Tech Founder to CTO, why? To have a successful tech community we need many of these people.

12. Open Government – Community, Procurement and Solutions
The Government needs to lead by example and considers how startups/SMEs can help them in all aspects of their scope, make parts of their systems more efficient e.g. innovate through Government Hacking events, fairer procurement procedures for SMEs. That Startups are looked at like NGOs as a possible solution to a problem i.e. how to make government delivery of services faster, more efficient. IBM or other large corporates are not the only ones with solutions and frankly some startups could beat the large corporates in producing solutions i.e. The Obama health online system

13. Social Enterprise

That Startups who work with Government or NGOs, should consider sharing their success with Government and/or NGOs who were core partners. For example either paying back any, grants when they can afford it (i.e. making a lot of profit), or even better give a number of shares to represent the initial investment or revenue sharing.

14. Evolving beyond “Me too” products
To consider how we can come up with something new, rather than the solely Canadian version of this or that. I feel that productivity in the innovation economy comes from generating new ideas that generate new revenue. Yet where is the support to take Visionary or high risk projects in B.C.? I hear many people in Vancouver tech conferences call for this, but the Angels do not invest in these, IRAP does not invest in these.  NVBC never lets these through.  We need some way of support high risk ventures, yes maybe limited it per year, but something.

15. Why the basis for B2B and B2C in BC?
Explore what we in BC have failed to produce more successes with B2C companies here, as we seem limited to B2B. Why?

16. Avoiding the Social Problems seen in Silicon Valley/San Francisco and Seattle – “Cruel Gentrification”
For us to consider a kinder approach to gentrification, bringing the startup community together with the community they often displace, and develop solutions that could help both succeed.  There was an event to explore this but it was more hype then solution based.  The solutions offered were just give more money to charities. It like many meetings really avoided Gentrification. We can see this happening in Gastown and to some degree China town, how can we create a proactive “kind gentrification”?

17. Involvement in Policy
Canadians entrepreneurs can help our policy makers design strategic policies for intellectual property rights in trade agreements, judicial strategies when ideas ownership is on the line, technology standards strategies and many others.  And please talk to people outside the “Canadian maple syrup mafia“. I am not discounting their wisdom/experience but we need the next generation involved to and those who are currently excluded.

18. Upgrade SR&ED

First of all Thank You (yes I know its federal). It does make a difference. But make it easier to apply for the smaller startups. I think the documentation process is so complex that now consultants help lots of companies, or worse startups have to invest a lot of time in it. This program needs to be streamlined.

19. The ability to solve a problem

They maybe some that think that start Startups are just for making money but like NGOs they can solve any problem.  Software Engineers are problem solver machines. This is a resource under used by Governments at every level and by every party.  There could be Startup Weekend events or Hacking events that target specific areas of concern i.e. Government, Health, casework database, transit systems, etc  Maybe Government contracts should include a clause that every large spend on IT systems should work with Startups or support the community in some fashion. Or maybe you have a open competition over a week and compete startups against corporates?

20. Explore the support of turning a service company into product

So two companies that evolved products from a service company (Web Agencies) Vision Critical and Hootsuite.  Is this something we can repeat, is there a way to support this?

21. With Industry define targets of success could really look like

By using the above to develop achievable targets for expansion with specific strategies linked to specific industries.

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About Eric Brooke

I’m deeply curious, love to learn, insightful about people and their psychological makeup, deft at communication, excel at networking, deeply tech-savvy and relish growing others through education and leadership. I am a developer, marketeer, gamer, lover of water slides and ice cream :-)

Posted on 5 December , 2015, in Community, Government, Startup, Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. One of the main challenges I’ve heard with respect to technology policy in the province is that it’s not an issue with broad political appeal: most of the activity and interest is concentrated in just a few ridings in downtown Vancouver.

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  2. Also: is there a good source of stats for economic activity by sector? I assume technology has been growing, but can’t easily find anything.

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  3. To your lower points, problem solving/hackathons… some great examples federally (and interesting contrast) with https://www.canadianopendataexperience.ca/ and http://hackinghealth.ca/.

    This shouldn’t be limited to “startup” culture or “coding”. Local digital agencies like http://workatplay.com have hackathon-esque processes at the heart of their design smarts. The NFB has supported (and encouraged) similar sentiment with programs like Melting Silos.

    So, agreed… “not just talking to leaders”. Strong, progressive, experienced design people (world-class, in my opinion – like Chris Ryan above) are in the nooks and crannies of more than just startups in Vancouver.

    I am not qualified to say if it’s the job of our BC government to shine a light on them, but having access to programs and projects to get into new playing fields (which I take as your point) will likely be very well received.

    Lastly… agree that not everyone can code, but high schools can do a much better job of exposure. Demonstrate the rewards and merits of those who pursue programming (and what kinds of people they are).

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