Canada’s investment in tech entrepreneurship is paying off

Mary Wells
QUOI media

When I graduated from McGill with my Bachelor of Engineering in 1987, the best engineering students went to big Canadian companies like Pratt and Whitney, IBM, Nortel, CAE Industries, Dofasco and Alcan. In 1987, our naïve impression was that engineering students, who no one wanted to hire, were starting their own companies.

At that time there was little discussion and support for engineering students to dare to take the bold step of becoming an entrepreneur or founder, to go their own way.

Fast forward to 2022 and the landscape has completely changed.

Today, an engineering student who decides to become a founder is hailed and admired by his peers as bold and courageous. There are many entrepreneurship support options out there these days – from mentoring to seed funding to free startup space and more.

We have Communitech and the Accelerator Center in Waterloo, Creative Destruction Labs in Toronto and Vancouver, and Volta in Halifax. Across the country, we’ve invested to help people start businesses, paving the way for innovation and Canada’s economic future.

A recent report, Startup Genome, lists the Waterloo-Toronto Region Corridor as Canada’s premier tech ecosystem with the highest concentration of AI startups in the world. Almost half of the venture capital deployed in Canada in 2021 – a record CA$7.7 billion – went to companies based in the Waterloo-Toronto corridor – now one of the most concentrated tech workforces in North America with 15,000 tech companies and 5,200 Tech startups that employ over 200,000 workers.

Canada’s investment in tech entrepreneurship is paying off and our profile on the world stage in the sector is growing. We have to keep the momentum going.

It’s just as important to highlight what we’re doing right as it is to criticize what’s missing in our strategy so we can continue to build on it.

One of the reasons for our success in technology is attracting and nurturing a variety and quality of talent in the Waterloo-Toronto Corridor, which ranks alongside the elite technology regions of the world. More broadly, Canada continues to attract a steady influx of diverse, ambitious immigrants from around the world, who significantly enrich our talent pool.

The University of Waterloo in particular has been hugely successful as a university that produces entrepreneurs. Why?

It has a unique corporate culture that includes policies that allow creators to own their ideas. The university was designed with industry in mind from the start, and the variety of experiences students gain through multiple collaboration opportunities in different industries brings new ideas back to the university.

This fall, the University of Waterloo will also offer a Canadian first: unique Entrepreneurial PhD Scholarships to support outstanding business-oriented PhD students interested in commercializing their research. This allows students to enroll in a part-time Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program while completing their PhD in their field of study.

Other universities across the country have been similarly successful in directly promoting and harnessing tech entrepreneurship in creative ways. We must continue to nurture and expand this support to sustain Canada’s startup success.

Mary Wells is Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo.


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