Dan Debow is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Helpful.com. John Kelleher is a partner at McKinsey and co-chairman of Next Canada. Iain Klugman is chief executive of Communitech. Kevin Lynch is a vice-chairman at Bank of Montreal.
It is hardly a secret that Canada has been afflicted by weak growth and poor productivity, but we now face a transformative growth opportunity. A recent report, titled Tech North: Building Canada's First Technology Supercluster, argues that a technology and innovation supercluster anchored in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor in Southern Ontario would spark Canadian innovation, attract talent and capital from around the world and turbocharge economic growth for the entire country.
The rise of superclusters, pioneered by Silicon Valley, is fuelling explosive growth, creating new industries and reinvigorating traditional companies from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam, London to Berlin, Boston to Austin, Tex. According to McKinsey & Co. estimates based on data from leading technology clusters, the potential economic benefits to building a Canadian supercluster could be massive: a $50-billion increase in equity value, a $17.5-billion annual increase in GDP and more than 170,000 high-quality jobs.
Within the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, we already produce world-leading technical talent, outstanding entrepreneurs and game-changing ideas. The corridor is home to excellent research universities, cities and a diverse population. However, corridor growth remains well below that of the top clusters in the world. The Tech North report zeroes in on gaps that have constrained this growth, including challenges to commercializing research, difficulties companies face in accessing experienced talent, a dearth of risk capital, an absence of customers for new products and a lack of homegrown champions.
The good news is we can address these gaps, just as other emerging superclusters have demonstrated over the past decade. The keys are attitude, leadership and vision.
Drawing on the McKinsey summary and analysis of global tech clusters, we convened leaders from the tech, policy, business and academic communities to map out a concrete blueprint to turn the corridor into a supercluster. The underlying principles in the blueprint are excellence and depth – concentrating investments where we already have strengths and focusing on scaling the next generation of global Canadian companies with the greatest potential to drive growth and attract talent.
We believe initiatives such as global talent visas, innovation procurement by governments, student and startup passports to incubators and university faculties within the corridor, risk-capital matching funds, new transport linkages and others can kick-start a virtuous dynamic circle within the corridor.
Beyond these foundations, we believe the new industrial policy will be technology policy and that we need to double down on two emerging forces of disruption – artificial intelligence and quantum computing – that hold the potential to transform many sectors and business applications. Just as Silicon Valley and Boston make an outsized impact on the U.S. economy, a successful innovation supercluster in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor will drive productivity and growth across Canada. It will position Canadian companies to lead the world in core transformative technologies. It will reverse the brain drain and make Canada a talent magnet. And, it will serve as a model for and strategic partner to other emerging clusters across Canada; success begets success.
Making it a reality will require clarity of purpose and direction, engaged leadership from all sectors including government, a mindset that reflects the pace and competitiveness of the global technology world we inhabit and ongoing excellence in execution. The future will be shaped by it.