It’s really one response and I thank Howard Lovy (nanobot.blogspot.com) for pointing me to his interview with Neil Gordon (entrepreneur and ex-president of the defunct Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance) in Small Times here. Not unexpectedly, Gordon feels that this new requirement (although it’s a one-time request at this point) will chase nano-based business out of Canada. I have mixed feelings about the comment; I’m mildly sympathetic and at the same time exasperated.
On the sympathy side, this sounds like a very poorly thoughtout plan for some sort of registry. Maybe there’s more to it than we know but now Environment Canada scientists are no longer allowed to talk with journalists directly (since Feb. 2008, all queries have to be sent to a central communications office and then you get an email answer or possibly granted an interview with someone), it’s less easy than it used to be to get information. in any event, implementation is the key to these things and I’m not sure how you could implement it. Here are a few sample questions: Do you send out a form? (Anyone who’s ever designed a form or a questionnaire from scratch can tell you that it’s not easy.) Who fills it out? Are you going to fine businesses that don’t fill it out? What happens if you do get information? Did you ask questions that would give you useful information?
If it’s not done well, businesses will lose time, money, and energy for absolutely no purpose. I’m not against information-gathering exercises per se but you’d better do it the right way otherwise it is a colossal waste.
As for the exasperation, I’ve heard this type of ‘business will leave’ comment before (many times). These kinds of government information-gathering exercises exist because they need the information. Ultimately, it could prove helpful to Canadian business.
As for Gordon’s disgruntlement over nanotechnology funding and how all the money goes to university and government laboratories … hmm. I think the problem goes a little deeper. As far as I’ve been able to find out, there is no nanotechnology funding strategy for Canada. The whole thing seems rather higgledy piggledy. Also, research in Canada has mostly been done traditionally in university and government laboratories and not in business laboratories. There are exceptions but those laboratories have disappeared or are disappearing (as they seem to be even in the US [Bell Labs] where they have a tradition of business laboratories).
I might be somewhat biased in my view of Canadian business since I come from British Columbia and the business model for high technology (I’m shoving nano into the high tech category) is pretty simple. You graduate from university or work there, get a good idea, create a startup company, become successful, and sell it to a large US company for a fortune. Creating a substantive and ongoing research laboratory (e.g. IBM, HP Labs, and Xerox PARC), is not part of the equation.
For some of Howard Levy’s other February and January 2009 postings about the proposed information-gathering about nanotechnology use in business exercise, go here. Or for more specific posting addresses, see the comments to my Feb. 2, 2009 posting.