Government policy makers need to be at tech events

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By Denzil Doyle techtuesdayottawa

One of the best networking opportunities in the Ottawa area is something that is known as Tech Tuesday and is sponsored by Terry Matthews. It is held on the first Tuesday of every month at the Marshes golf club and is open to the public. I have never seen a mission statement for the event but the people who attend range from entrepreneurs looking for money, to recent college grads looking for jobs. The focus is very much on information technology and how it can create wealth for Canadians.

There is no charge for attendance except for drinks at the bar. However, organizations like accounting and legal firms tend to serve some finger food for those who might feel the pangs of hunger before the event winds down.(It starts at 5:30 pm and ends about two or three hours later, depending on whether or not there is a formal presentation of some kind.)

I am writing about it here, not because the event needs more attendees (it is wall to wall already), but because it has the potential of becoming a very powerful policy  instrument. Certainly, if I were a deputy minister I would put it on my schedule. However, that is not happening at the moment. At a recent meeting, Terry gave an excellent presentation on the state of the industry and then handed the floor over to me with about ten nanoseconds for preparation. I responded by asking for a show of hands by attendees from the three federal government departments that I believe can have the greatest influence on Canada’s IT industry and on innovation in general in the country. They are Industry Canada, Finance, and Revenue Canada – or whatever they are called these days.

The show of hands amounted to zero (out of an attendance of about two hundred) but it generated a lot of discussion on a gap that exists between Canada’s innovators and its policy makers. It was pointed out that the high level of foreign ownership in the country’s knowledge industries means our trade associations are delivering messages to our policy makers that are more in the interests of companies and innovators located outside the country than in local issues that get discussed at the Tech Tuesdays. There was also a concern that very few people in the room were even aware of the Jenkins report, let alone provided inputs to it. There was a lot of discussion on a topic that is uppermost in Terry’s mind these days, which is how to make better use of government buying power to encourage innovation in the country.

The distance between the Marshes and most of the policy makers is only about fifteen kilometers. We should all work harder at crossing that chasm.

Denzil Doyle’s involvement in Ottawa’s high technology industry goes back to the early 1960s when he established a sales office for Digital Equipment Corporation, a Boston-based firm that had just developed the world’s first minicomputer. The Canadian operation quickly evolved into a multi-faceted subsidiary. When he left the company in 1981, Canadian sales exceeded $160 million and its employment exceeded 1,500. In his next career, Doyle built a consulting and investment company, Doyletech Corporation, that not only helped emerging companies, but built companies of its own. In recognition of his contributions to Canada’s high technology industry, he was awarded an honourary Doctorate of Engineering by Carleton University in 1981 and a membership in the Order of Canada in 1995.  

/// COMMENTS

One Comment »
  • Jeff Campbell

    November 27, 2013 9:16 pm

    Denzil,

    It is good that you point this out. Here in the Waterloo region I have attended public events such as the one you describe and noted on several occasions that senior leaders from the Ontario Government have been in attendance (some were PR opps when fundings were announced). In addition, the Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Trade as well as Minister of Research and Innovation (previous ones as well as current) have convened specific focus groups with Founders/Entrepreneurs to gain specific insights. One can only hope these sessions have influenced policy.

    Where the Federal Government is concerned, Export Development and Industry Canada (mostly through sub agencies like NRC and NSERC) are also quite active. Export Development in particular through their international business development programs and their investment group.

    Perhaps these Departments/Agencies who are already motivated and active with the tech startup community might be enlisted to help bring out the legislators? Along with the reminder we need to accelerate and amplify growth of tech companies on the international stage and that one or two of today’s startups will be tomorrow’s Blackberry or OpenText (local bias, sorry).

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