Inspiration

Happy Birthday Canada: 150 Years of Canadian Innovation

by: | June 30, 2017

Writing this post I’m sitting on a dock on a lake in cottage country, a quintessential Canadian experience and what better time to reflect on Canada’s 150th birthday. It’s morning, and I’m listening to the Hip’s Bobcaygeon.

July 1st happens to be a day that is special for my family, as we celebrate Canada, a family birthday and my parents’ anniversary. My parents immigrated to Canada from the northern region of Greece, Macedonia over 50 years ago. I was a child of the 70s, born in Hamilton, and was raised as a donut-loving, (bad) hockey-playing, maple syrup-drinking, poutine aficionado who loved everything about home. I grew up on a street with the sons and daughters of immigrants from China, Italy, India, Germany and more. We played road hockey, and ice hockey and soccer.

At a very young age, I learned that regardless of where my parents came from, I was Canadian, and I could be successful here. I learned that I was good at building things and solving problems. Science and math were my friends, and I stuck with them – from science fairs to ‘nerd olympics’ to engineering physics at Queen’s University. Then it was on to AI at Microsoft, and then Silicon Valley to start building tech companies (Zip2, DocSpace, Critical Path).   

Eventually, coming back and building our family here was an amazing decision. The quality of life is pretty hard to beat – The Economist and pretty much everyone agrees. Since I’ve been home, I’ve worked on building two companies (Kobo.com, League.com), investing in a lot of organizations through our firm, Three Angels Capital, joining science and innovation boards I’m passionate about – The Perimeter Institute, Vector Institute , the Ontario Science Centre, MaRS, and supporting the Creative Destruction Lab, C100, Next36 and more.  

Canada is changing.

Yes, Canada has been a source of many great innovations over the years – the telephone, the smartphone, insulin, and so much more, that we don’t do a good enough job talking about. But for the most part, our economy has been driven by the resource trade. Oil goes up, and so does the economy, yay! Oil goes down, everything sucks for awhile. Intellectual property? Who cares!

We will break this cycle.  

We have smart people. This is a great place to raise kids who grow up to be conscientious, smart citizens. We have universal healthcare. We have clean air and lots of clean water. We have the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains, oceans, the Arctic and the Prairies – plenty of places for inspiration.  

Today, we are becoming an Innovation Nation.  

It’s already happening. You can see it in this massive generation of entrepreneurs, startups, incubators, accelerators, angels, venture capital….Canadian tech events are crawling with U.S. and foreign investors. More rounds. Bigger rounds. Bigger swings. All aiming for global wins, not just Canadian ones. Element AI’s recent $100M raise is a great example. We are punching above our weight. We are swimming in a sea of startup innovation.  

Our Prime Minister can tell you all about quantum computing and the Ontario’s Premier is fast becoming an expert in deep learning. The Mayors of Toronto and Kitchener took out ads on Silicon Valley’s 101 to get people to move north. Pretty bold for a bunch of nice Canucks. The feds introduced the Fast Track Visa Program to get tech workers here fast, especially when other countries don’t want them for reasons of religion, country of origin, etc. All levels of government are in on it and immigration is a key.

To back it all up we have some of the world’s best scientists – AI leaders like Geoffrey Hinton, Rich Sutton and Yoshua Bengio, Physics leaders like Neil Turok and Lee Smolin, and Quantum Computing experts like David Cory.  

Our large enterprises are even behind it – launching innovation squads, venture funds, research institutes, and hanging out with tech CEOs more often than bankers. Our largest bank, RBC, is a great example. Led by a computer science grad, RBC is launching an AI research institute and betting on a future where a bank is more than a bank.  

This is our moment.  

We are winning. And winning begets winning, success begets success.

Winning inspires and motivates the next generation to aim higher, push harder and build bigger than those before them. Tech is the new resource trade in Canada. We are becoming an Innovation Nation and we’ll all be much better off for it.

I’m so thankful to be here, and proud of what we’ve built in Canada. My parents, and all the parents on all the road hockey-lined streets from coast-to-coast are a part of this success. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and a promise to continue their work building the best country on the planet.  

Happy 150th Birthday Canada, the best is yet to come.

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