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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Why is Canada, and therefore, Ontario lagging when it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation? There is a burning desire inside Canadian entrepreneurs to create businesses, and yet, we are not seeing the results we might expect. So let's look at why there's a disconnect between desire and performance.

The answer is that we are still new to the innovation game. Many Canadians don't understand the culture and attitudes required to be a successful entrepreneur. And that is an eminently fixable problem.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, we rank third among our international peers on entrepreneurial ambition; Canada ranks near the bottom relative to its peers when it comes to actual enterprise creation. Risk aversion and the fact that many younger Canadians don't understand the fearlessness and sustained sacrifice it takes to start their own businesses and make them successful. They may know Drake's mantra of having "Started from the bottom, now we're here," but they haven't witnessed it themselves in terms of seeing a business built from scratch.

What this means is we have not developed a codified model to train, develop and nurture our entrepreneurial talent. We simply don't have the innovation 'farm system' which can systematically lead entrepreneurs to success – or what we might call "the show" or "the cup."

And if this is the key factor missing in building a champion entrepreneurial culture, how do we get there?

It's simple. Look at what we do best: build dominant hockey teams. Here, we are unarguably world leaders with gold medals, world championships, and an overflowing pipeline of top-notch professional players from all corners of Canada. The game is no mystery to most Canadians: our success starts early with a lot of support and training.

Our hockey kids know that their teachers, parents and grandparents have the skills and abilities to get on the ice – and to compete at a variety of levels. we have a multi-generational, skilled and experienced body of support for our players, as well as an innate knowledge of what it takes to get to the top and the assets needed to train and develop talent. Generations of success breeds success. They know what it takes to be at the top and stay there.

The more highly skilled players, and those with the desire to compete at a higher level, move to "rep" hockey, which is better funded, more organized and competitive. Here, the players train more, get higher-level coaching and play more: they are challenged to improve and test their skills and abilities. They learn how to work as a team, as well as being exposed to failure.

So how does hockey relate to entrepreneurs and the economy? In this regard, we are a work in progress. With the support of our academic infrastructure, and government at all levels, we are beginning to build that 'farm system' which will help build entrepreneurial attitude, skill and desire – which can inculcate a culture in which there is no terrifying mystery about what it takes to create your own job and find your place in an entrepreneurial society.

In hockey, we have a thorough step-by-step system that has made us world beaters. And now, we are building that for our entrepreneurs.

Ontario has established a network of organizations specifically designed to support all citizens interested in business building: whatever age or stages they are at. These agencies, also known collectively as the ONE Network, provide support from the ideation of a concept through a company growth. Other organizations like Start-up Canada and Futurepreneur support young entrepreneurs by elevating awareness and networking, as well as providing low-interest loans and mentors. Within the hockey analogy, think of this as having progressed through initial training and learning to skate, and then making it to the first serious tests faced through better competition found in rep hockey.

But what's missing in our entrepreneurial system that will get our 'players' to the top level of competition and excellence? It's about people. The people experienced enough to guide young entrepreneurs to greater heights. They need to be in place, waiting to train the future champion innovators.

Right now, we don't have enough proven, successful business entrepreneurs and innovators who can mentor, invest in and guide the growing number of entrepreneurs. We have few large domestic high-tech companies that easily absorb successful spinoffs and take their products too bigger markets. In hockey, we were vulnerable in the 1972 Summit Series, barely able to beat a better-trained and organized team. We absorbed and learned from the series, and produced a new coaching style. We learned, we prepared, and the success of the 1980s Team Canada was the result. That determination is something we can match in the entrepreneurial environment.

Ontario and Canada need to sustain a broad, unified and collective effort and investment in fostering entrepreneurship with the biggest goal at the end of the road: not the World Championships or the Stanley Cup, but something bigger and grander and even more difficult to achieve: a sustainable high standard of living and greater prospects for success for our current and future generations of entrepreneurs and innovators. A gold medal earned by all those who deserve the chance at greatness.

Karen Sievewright, co-owner of hjc Consultants (hjc.ca), has a PhD in engineering, and a masters of business administration.