Layer 6’s Jordan Jacobs: Canada needs to promote itself as an AI leader

jordan jacobs

Now in its second year, Elevate returns to Toronto September 21, promising to connect the Canadian startup ecosystem and deliver talks from tech leaders like former Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt.

Ahead of the conference, Elevate has been interviewing its speakers to provide a sneak peek at what attendees can expect. This week, we get some perspective from Jordan Jacobs, co-founder of Layer 6. Following the company’s acquisition by TD, Jacobs now serves as TD’s chief AI officer.

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What’s the biggest myth about tech in Canada?

I think there may be a lack of understanding in Canada about how important technology is and how it contributes to the future of the country.

What’s amazing is that if you go to Silicon Valley, NYC, or even China, the first thing they talk about is Canada being a world leader in AI. We’re still not as good at promoting ourselves outside the tech community to the rest of the country as we should be.

“We need to reorient our education system to focus on creativity, EQ, and understanding what differentiates a person from a machine.”

It’s just something we as a tech community have to more effectively communicate to the rest of the country. There are extraordinary entrepreneurs in startups and scaleups changing the world; we need to do a better job of letting people know we are from here.

We often assume clothing made in Italy, watches made in Switzerland, or wine from France is a symbol of quality. Amazingly, AI made in Canada has that same connotation ​outside​ of Canada; we just need to build that recognition ​inside​ Canada.

What idea, technology, or leadership trait does the next generation need that we are not paying enough attention to?

We need to reorient our education system to focus on creativity, EQ, and understanding what differentiates a person from a machine.

I don’t think about the business world as old and new. It’s evolutionary and it’s always been like that. There are always new technologies that come along and change things. What’s interesting about technological change is that people often overhype the short term and under-hype the long term. People expect changes to come really quickly and when they don’t, people say “Oh, it didn’t happen.”

Then we hit a tipping point and it all changes. We saw this with the printing press, phones, computers, cars, the internet, and now AI.

On a parental level, I think younger people have amazing global ambition that historically wasn’t there broadly enough in Canada. What we can do to support this ambition is to teach adaptability, grit, and other soft skills at a young age. EQ will be a very important thing in a world where a lot of mundane tasks are done by AI and automation.

How can a new or would-be entrepreneur find a new customer at Elevate?

It takes preparation, a willingness to be in the right place at the right time, and then action.

“If we become a world leader and commercial advocate for AI, we become a natural leader in new healthcare technology since we have a single payer system, meaning one system with all the data.”

You have to do your homework in advance. Figure out as much as possible about your audience. Then target the people you want to speak to, make sure you are in the right place to meet that person, and then take positive action to make it happen.

Life doesn’t hand you things. You have to go grab them.

Most people in the tech community are very willing to have a conversation, particularly with a new startup founder. If you’re a successful entrepreneur, you’ve been there before, so there’s a willingness among successful people in the tech community to engage with people just starting out.

What is your biggest concern for the future and how do you think we can overcome it?

It’s rare that time and place coincide to let you build the future, but that’s exactly what’s happening right now in Canada with AI. We have to make the Canadian public recognize how transformative AI technology is for our country. For one of the few times in our country’s history, a world-changing technology is from here.

Canadians don’t like to stand out too much, typically, but we have the lead in perhaps the most important technology since electricity. We need to invest more in that – training of people, supporting companies, and building ecosystems – with not just money, but policy.

What impact do you want to make on the world?

A big one.

On a community level, I believe Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo can be a world leader in AI. We believe this on a national level, too, working with Montreal and Edmonton (the two other major AI hubs in Canada). Canada can become the third pillar of AI globally, alongside China and Silicon Valley.

If we do that, it transforms the whole country. It takes the unequal wealth distribution that AI will bring and distributes a disproportionate share to Canada – that allows us to be a wealthy, successful country that can help its own citizens and the rest of the world.

If we become a world leader and commercial advocate for AI, we become a natural leader in new healthcare technology since we have a single payer system, meaning one system with all the data. We also have a diverse population which enables us to develop and sell those solutions to the rest of the world. We can extend life, give access to high-quality healthcare in rural areas around the country and the globe, and help other countries spend less on healthcare.

If you’re going to work hard at something, you may as well have an audacious goal. With AI, there’s an opportunity for us to transform into the country of the future and lead the world.

Photo via Invest in Ontario.

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Toronto-based entrepreneur and writer passionate about the people behind tech. He's interviewed over 100 entrepreneurs on topics like management, scaling, diversity and inclusion, and sharing their personal stories. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios or send an email to