Small is the new big when it comes to ecosystem success
There are things in Saskatchewan that we all like to complain about – the weather, the referees at Rider games, people who say SK is flat with nothing to see and of course how the centre of the universe is assumed to be Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, etc.
While living in a Province with 1.2 million people does have some real challenges (think air travel schedules), it doesn’t have to be a challenge in our ability to scale globally successful businesses from right here in Saskatchewan.
When we originally started thinking about how to bring an incubator and a venture fund to Regina, we researched what makes some places better than others to start a business? What is it about those communities and how they support founders that makes them work better? Our research took us far and wide to some of the largest ecosystems in the world and also to some of the newer emerging places that seem to be having success. We found two interesting things:
- Incubators located in close proximity to farming communities seemed to do quite well
- The degree to which an ecosystem worked together cohesively to support founders made a huge difference
It was a curious learning on the surface but as you think about it, maybe not so much.
The first time I heard references linking founders and farming was in a discussion with some high-profile Canadian founders from Kitchener / Waterloo. They opined about the resilience of farmers and farm communities and the roller coaster that both have had over the decades. They thought that it created communities that could better respond to drastic changes in operating models and respond with new ideas, new innovation and frankly, survive. Sounds a bit like founding a company….
Secondly, in much larger ecosystems, the community is fragmented, disjointed and if you are a founder with a great idea, they are incredibly hard to navigate. How do you get introduced to others that can help you? How do you get connected with those making buying / procurement decisions in your particular space, like Government? How do you find a mentor? How do you learn from others traveling a similar path and learn from their challenges? How do you find the capital you need when you are ready?
The degree to which ecosystems are focused around founders and that the component parts work together and cohesively to support entrepreneurs matters greatly. We talk often in Regina and Saskatchewan that we have only one degree of separation. In fact, I know that some make fun of us because of our ability to connect with each other. In this instance, that “smallness” can be an unbelievable competitive advantage as we forge the next generation of our economy.
I was at a small event just a few years ago hosted by former world entrepreneur of the year, Murad Al-Katib. He had invited Dominic Barton (currently the Canadian Ambassador to China) to address some business leaders in our community. At the time Dominic was the Global Managing Partner of consulting firm McKinsey. He was speaking about his work to advise the Federal Government on the Innovation Economy and what places like Regina could do to participate in this economic shift that he was proposing. In the midst of his prepared remarks, he stopped and offered a key observation for Regina. It went something like this
“Do you realize what you have here in Regina? In this room, you have Business Leaders, Academics, Government, Sources of Capital, Entrepreneurs. You have everything you need to be successful and yet we are in a room small enough to get things done and done quickly. In the next generation economy, that level of connectedness and agility will be an unbelievable competitive advantage.”
Fast forward just a few years and pandemic aside, I have never been as optimistic about our ability to build and scale high growth companies as I am today. At Cultivator, I try to make it to pitch events to learn about the progress of these companies and hear some of the new ideas being pitched. I am always amazed at the quality of the founders, the soundness of their ideas and their passion for bringing them to life.
Sure, we still have some issues to resolve in Canada and in Saskatchewan to better unleash the innovation economy. We need better policies to protect the intellectual property of founders and give them a chance to scale their companies. We need a larger pipeline of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) talent to drive these companies forward. We need to work with the current Government and their Growth Plan to determine the right policy supports to support innovation. Finally, we need some additional critical mass of founders in Saskatchewan.
We should all have lots of optimism about the future of our economy in Regina and in Saskatchewan. Once the health crisis subsides, and it will, we should get back to what we were doing in 2019. We should leverage our smallness, double down on AgTech and Ag Innovation and take our rightful place as one of those communities that has the ability to spit out new high growth companies faster than others. It is a once in a generation opportunity that we cannot let just pass us by. Let’s be AUDACIOUS Regina and Saskatchewan. Let’s go get it.