Google’s Go North conference examines the Canadian tech industry’s strengths and challenges

Canadian entrepreneurs may have a reputation for not being the best at selling themselves, but there’s no denying that big things are happening here. With companies attracting more attention and large corporations becoming more eager to set up shop in the TO-KW corridor, many in the startup and entrepreneurship space wonder what’s needed to help the ecosystem continue its upwards trajectory.

On Friday, Google attempted to answer this multi-faceted question by bringing together 500 people from incubators, accelerators, government leaders, and investors for Go North, a one-day summit dedicated to hosting honest conversations about Canada’s tech industry.

The event tackled the Canadian government’s innovation agenda, comparisons between Canada and the world’s tech ecosystems, and attracting and retaining top talent. BetaKit rounded up some choice quotes from the afternoon’s conversations.

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The government’s role in fostering the startup ecosystem

“Fundamental research is something that can only be funded by the government and philanthropy. To be successful and punch out of the noise, we have to provide not just focus, but density. We have to pick something that we want to be good at, or something that we’re already good at. And we need to increase the density around that choice.”

– Mike Lazaridis, founder of RIM

“We want to turn this country into a global centre for innovation. In the past, Canada has relied on increased trade and high commodity prices to boost our economy during periods of weakness. We also relied on more people joining the workforce. But these options are no longer enough. The truth is, Canada is going through some challenging times, but it’s unfolding quietly.”

– Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

“There’s this idea that software is eating the world. That’s the famous line. And industry by industry will fall to technology. Uber is eating the transportation industry, Airbnb is eating the hospitality industry globally. The banks will fall one day and the Telcos will fall one day.

If I sat in the government, this would scare the shit out of me. Because if every industry falls to a US tech company, Canada will just be a bunch of Uber drivers and Airbnb renters. So my question is, what industry is Canada going to win, and what can the government do to give us the best shot possible to win in that industry?”

– Ted Livingston, founder and CEO of Kik

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The importance of hype (and why Canadians need to be better at it)

“I sold to an American company maybe a bit too early. I think that there’s a cool stat here that I remember as a CEO all the time, which is that when you look at a graph of all the different companies that have been sold and how much that company appreciated for the next buyer, Canadian companies are the most undervalued.

It means two things: number one, Canadians could be better negotiators and we should be a lot more upfront, and second, we’re allowing other people to take the value we created and leverage that. There’s an enormous opportunity. Canada is a group of exceptionally talented, hardworking entrepreneurs and we’re now building the next stage of the ecosystem.”

– Michele Romanow, co-founder of SnapSaves and Clearbanc

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Canada’s co-operative nature makes our tech sector unique

“Paying it forward is not only the right thing to do, it’s beneficial for yourself. I wouldn’t have a company if it wasn’t for Ted [Livingston]. Randomly, he stopped by Velocity when we worked on MappedIn as a side project, and he said, ‘you guys are going way too slow and not taking enough risk and doing everything wrong; but if I see one of your projects in the local mall by this date, I’ll write you a cheque for $5,000.’ That was the kick in the pants we needed to take a year off school and do it. He actually wrote the cheque.”

– Hongwei Liu, co-founder and CEO of MappedIn

“There is clearly a collegiality and cooperation happening with Canadian tech that none of our US counterparts have. Maybe it’s because there’s fewer of us and we believe we have to stick together, but when Tobi [Lutke] and I returned from our IPO roadshow, we wrote down our thoughts and playbook on how we took Shopify public, and we shared it with a dozen CEOs in Canada just to help them. There was no quid pro quo, it was just ‘let’s just explain to you what we learned through the process, and if we can be helpful, please let us know.’ I don’t know any US tech IPO that would have done that. I think the fact that we’re helping each other is amazing.”

– Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify