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We asked entrepreneurs, CEOs and thought leaders to tell us the policies, products and trends that could give Canada an edge in the coming year. Here’s what they told us:

1. Focus on commercialization

Arlene Dickinson, CEO of Venture Communications and investor on Dragons’ Den

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“Canada has, for decades, been a hotbed for research and innovation. The last four years alone, the federal government has provided more than $10 billion for science and research. The outcomes of this investment speak for themselves—we are delivering world-class research and innovating in industries that have traditionally been ignored.

Where we’ve lagged is in a focus on commercialization and taking our products to the domestic and international markets. What we’re seeing, time and time again, is government-funded research developing a terrific idea and then watching as a foreign [corporation] swoops in, grabs it for a low price, commercializes it and sells it back to Canadian taxpayers who funded it in the first place. The biggest opportunity for Canadian businesses in 2020 is to hone in on commercialization. Spend as much time and money on getting your product to consumers as you are developing it.”

2. Think about high-tech farming

Michael Litt, CEO of Vidyard, a video platform

“Despite Canada’s land mass, we actually have a fairly small portion of land—about 7%— dedicated to agriculture. This is in part due to soil quality, climate, and geology, which means we need to extract more efficiency from the land for food. I’m seeing a wave of companies in this space, some of which are combining a deep understanding of the internet of things and machine learning to drive outsized efficiency in things like the supply chain. A good example of this is systemizing the way feed mills accurately determine when farmer feed supply (for livestock) is, or isn’t, waning.”

3. Use inclusive marketing

Joanna Griffiths, founder and CEO of intimates brand Knix

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“The biggest opportunity for Canadian businesses in 2020 is inclusive marketing. To truly connect with your customers, it’s imperative that they feel seen. In particular there is one group that is often overlooked and underrepresented, especially in categories like apparel—baby boomers. Not only do they outnumber every other generation in Canada—they have spending power, are interested in new products and services and are often overshadowed in favour of the millennials and Gen Xers.”

4. Grow globally

Mallorie Brodie, CEO of Bridgit, maker of workforce management software

“Canadian companies have typically been more conservative than their European or American counterparts when expanding to other parts of the world, but prioritizing a global strategy and stepping outside your comfort zone going into next year can present a major growth opportunity. My advice to businesses with competitors in one of those two markets would be to really focus on a global plan because businesses in Europe and the U.S. are already tapping into that part of the market.”

5. Educate your workforce

Bharat Masrani, group president and CEO, TD Bank Group

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“It’s all about talent. We have a huge opportunity in Canada to lead in the next decade. We are innovating at scale and creating new, high-paying jobs that are powering Canadian businesses on the world stage. However, to maintain our momentum and capture future growth we must invest in building a future-focused, competitive workforce, with the skills and expertise needed for tomorrow. Canada’s world-class schools and universities are a strength we should leverage, and while these institutions and our governments naturally have a role to play, businesses can’t sit on the sidelines and hope this challenge solves itself. For example, we need to help mid-career employees—the millions of Canadians who have helped us build our leading corporations—transition through this time of change, acquire new skills, and continue their active and successful participation in the economy of tomorrow. This will both maintain institutional know-how and create new career paths for hundreds of thousands of Canadians.”

6. Mix medicine and machine learning

Dr. Joshua Landy, co-founder and chief medical officer at Figure 1

“My suggestion is to find types of [medical data] that have a rules-based approach—for example, sleep studies or stress tests—and develop machine learning approaches that take the load from doctors. With an aging population and increasing demands on our health care system, a tool that can quickly point out the abnormal from the normal could save clinicians hours collectively in their day. Sell your software as a service to let doctors do a day’s work in an hour. The doctors win with reduced workload, the patients win with more face time in clinic, and you win because you had an amazing idea and knew how to capitalize.”

7. Invest in high-speed rail

Stephen Lake, CEO of Focals by North

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“Much has been made of the transportation of natural resources across the country. However, very little attention is paid to the transportation of human resources. Canada needs a massive investment in electric high-speed rail between key population centres. Connecting cities like Calgary and Edmonton or Kitchener and Toronto could have a hugely transformative impact on economic growth.

Where I live in Kitchener, Ontario, we often talk about a ‘technology corridor’ between Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto. However, it is foolish to call this a ‘corridor’ when the two cities are separated by a 100-km parking lot known as the 401. Without modern transportation infrastructure we will never build a modern economy with the quality of life to which we aspire.”

8. Build an ethical supply chain

Nicole Verkindt, CEO of Offset Market Exchange (OMX)

“The biggest opportunity for Canadian businesses will be to really know who is in their supply chains and to be leaders around the world on environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. Consumers and investors in particular want to know who the suppliers are in the organizations that they buy from and invest in. Over 70% of most companies’ spend is in their supply chain, so they can have significant leverage by using their buying power to have an impact.”

9. See our advantage in artificial intelligence

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Ed Clark, chair of the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence

“Canadian companies can enhance their productivity by participating in one of the most transformational shifts in business: the application and development of machine learning. Companies—regardless of sector—will find that machine learning provides a new, automated solution to many challenging problems that require radically enhanced prediction, classification, detection or optimization capabilities. They should also take advantage of one uniquely Canadian edge: proximity to world-leading AI centres. Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver are full of enthusiastic machine-learning researchers and students who love data and problems. Getting involved in these communities will accelerate learning, provide exposure to possibilities, and help companies grasp the greatest opportunity of 2020 and the next decade.”

10. Close the pay gap

Shahrzad Rafati, founder & CEO, BroadbandTV

“It gives me great pride to say that equal is equal in our business. The pay disparity across our male and female employees is 0%. Forty-three percent of our employees are female, and 46% of our managers are female managers. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough Canadian businesses that can say that, and 2020 is the year to make it a reality. In Canada, it could add $150 billion to Canada’s GDP by 2026 if women played an identical role to men in the labour market. Our company is proof that gender balance isn’t just the right thing to do morally, it’s also good for business. We owe a lot of our success to our diverse workforce, and we’ve managed to create a balanced team within the media technology sector, which historically has struggled with gender balance. In 2020, business leaders should create annual equality goals, in the same way they set financial goals. It’s time to close the gap.”

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