Are Canadians really trying to recreate Silicon Valley in Canada?

As I recall it’s Robbie Burns who coined the phrase, ‘the gift to see ourselves as others see us’, and it’s the Globe and Mail newspaper in its May 17, 2013 article (Jason Kenney visits California to lure tech workers north) which provides that perspective in a quote about Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney’s current  tour promoting Canada’s special Startup Visa,

“The Canadian perspective is they would love to re-create Silicon Valley in Canada,” said Irene Bloemraad, a professor who chairs the Canadian studies program at UC Berkeley. “And they recognize that under the current immigration system in the United States … there are people who are having a hard time getting permanent legal status.”

Anirudh Bhattacharyya writing for the Hindustan Times about Kenney’s tour and this latest effort to attract entrepreneurs to Canada notes in a May 16, 2013 article,

As Canada’s minister for citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism Jason Kenney heads to California’s Silicon Valley for four days, pushing the country’s new Startup Visa programme, he will make an appearance at TiECon 2013, the annual conference of The Indus Entrepreneurs [TIE], dominated by tech pioneers of Indian origin.

Minister Kenney will arrive in Silicon Valley on Friday [May 17, 2013], and will even be present at a Canadian government booth at the Santa Clara convention venue for TiECon, as part of an attempt to poach entrepreneurial talent in the tech sector away from the United States.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, the minister said, “I think it’s no secret that many of the bright young people (in America) on short term work permits, are of Asian origin and more specifically of Indian origin.”

Canada’s Startup Visa program is similar to other efforts in Australia and the UK and it traces its own origins to a US initiative, from the Bhattacharyya article,

Ironically, the idea for the visa originated with the Canadian venture capital industry observing movement in the US Congress in recent years to create an American startup visa. That effort has yet to succeed. The industry then promoted the concept in Canada.

It’s not all roses and sunshine for entrepreneurs who wish to come to Canada although there is one major upside unique to the Canadian effort according to CICS Immigration Consulting’s May 17, 2013 posting on their website,

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) hopes to capitalize on the frustration tech companies in the U.S. are feeling over immigration restrictions on foreign technology workers and encourage them to relocate to and invest in Canada.

The eventual goal is to help foster the development of a Canadian equivalent to Silicon Valley.

One challenge that CIC faces in this mission is the country’s top marginal income tax rate, which is significantly higher than that of the U.S. A Canadian entrepreneur can look forward to paying about 50 percent of their income to the government if they succeed in joining the top bracket of income earners. [emphasis mine]

Compensating for this disadvantage, the federal government is offering a perk that no other advanced economy offers foreign entrepreneurs: permanent residency status. [emphasis mine]

I suppose this is one way of developing an entrepreneurial and innovative culture in Canada but it seems to me that if other conditions (financing, willingness to take risks, appropriate governmental regulations, etc.) are not met, this may cause yet more problems.

As to whether or not creating a ‘Silicon Valley’ in Canada is possible or even desirable, I don’t know. There is only one Louvre, one Terra Cotta army, one Borobudur, one Stonehenge, one Mount Olympus, one Grand Canyon, one Guggenheim, etc. Of course, there are other art museums, other funerary displays, and other wonders but there is always the one which holds precedence and retains its grip on the imagination in a way the others do not. Canadians can try to copy the US’s Silicon Valley but if our effort is to be successful, we must find a way to put our own stamp on it and we need to recognize that it may always stand in the shadow of its parent.

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  1. Pingback: Gary Goodyear rouses passions: more on Canada’s National Research Council and its new commitment to business « FrogHeart

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