Dialogue Regarding CATA Post Demonstrates the Productive Power of Social Media

Posted on December 2, 2009

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My post regarding CATA’s “116 Campaign” in which I referred to the effort as being self-serving despite a just cause inspired an interesting discussion that demonstrates the power of social media to engage and expand upon a train of thought.

In fact I enjoyed the exchange with Sue so much that I felt it warranted sharing with you.  So here here the unabridged version:

Sue Hardman Product Manager and Product Strategy Advantage

Jon, a couple of comments….

Firstly, while I’m no expert – the venture capital industry is in trouble because many of the funding machines are now so fractured they seriously have no real direction. Witness MaRS (one of many programs, I don’t wish to knock the MaRs group)… Toronto-centric… mostly life sciences, some clean-tech… mostly University spin-outs. Our funding machines have become so fractured in my opinion, that serious high-tech companies with revenue streams and ambition – have almost no hope of any investment.

Secondly, the performance of Canadian Venture Capital has been nothing short of horrendous over the last 15 years. Why would these guys continue to invest when their rate of return is abysmal? Heck! That’s my RRSP money we’re talking about! We have to get better at producing start-up tech companies that know and drive towards real goal-posts and appreciate the value of revenue traction and good management. We have very few of those.

Thirdly, with most of Ottawa’s high-tech veterans struggling to find paying work, its highly unlikely we will see any real wins in the near future.

Finally, I’m not sure why you are knocking CATA. Part of their mandate is to advocate on behalf of the industry and it seems to me that they are doing that. It is extremely difficult to bring “foreign” money in… and CATA provides as good a platform as any other in lobbying Government to begin to look at making it simpler. That’s what the paying members expect them to do – and that’s what they appear to be doing. I don’t believe that is “perceived self interest”, I believe that is real self interest serving the members who pay them to do just that. We have relatively successful, plain vanilla startups who are struggling for funding with little or no hope of finding it because they are not life-sciences or clean-tech.

I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m dumping on you – but your post hit a few nerves with me. Seriously, we have to find better ways to make money work – make startups work and, despite successive Govt’s who clearly don’t understand, continue to build through innovation. I believe there are funds there… but they follow fads and, if you’re not in the latest fad, then your chance of getting money is less than zero. If it means bringing in foreign investment then, like CATA, I advocate for making it simpler.

Jon W. Hansen Host at PI Window on Business Show

Thank you for your thoughtful response Sue.

The point of the post is simply this, you have to expand the scope of impact to gain real traction. This is not a CATA problem, or just a high tech issue.

There is an impact and related implications that extend to the economy as a whole that affects all Canadians. This of course is the expanded lens through which associations such as CATA must view the issue and present their cases.

The December 2009 press release ( http://www.cata.ca/Media_and_Events/Press_Releases/cata_pr11290901.html ) talks about moving “from a 13th place ranking to first place in innovation rankings,” and “imperiling our Innovation future and risk squandering investments in R&D and intellectual capital,” without quantifying its impact in any real and tangible manner. Thus it presumes that the reader will already know the impact, which in itself confines or limits interest to the membership. In short, is this a CATA issue or a Canada issue?

To truly be effective, one must put the CATA brand behind the scenes and allow the breadth of the impact to take center stage.

In this regard, highlighting the Clark and Fourastie general pattern of economic development makes it a national matter of economic development.

Emphasizing the fact that because of a creating favorable policy, India is seeing billions of dollars in foreign investment flowing in resulting in “double-digit wage growth for much of the 2000s” carries a more compelling message and therefore creates an equally compelling urgency for response versus the somewhat vague”13th place ranking” or “imperiling our innovation future.”

Specifically, if you talk about double digit wage growth the average Canadian will more readily understand what this means and will likely take a greater interest, especially if they are employed by a high tech firm. This in turn can create critical “public” mass which has a greater opportunity for influencing government policy.

I mean realistically speaking, how many people know what Section 116 is, and why it should be important? This is where the reference to a self-serving “116 Campaign” comes into play.

If CATA purports to being a champion of change regarding “116,” then the organization needs to do its homework relative to making what I had referred to as a “just cause” one that can inform, engage and empower all stakeholders to take the appropriate action. Otherwise, they are just taking a siloed approach believing that they can facilitate the needed change within the limited framework of their own mandate and interests.

Tell me, how does a “one man (or association) against the world serve the greater good?

Sue Hardman Product Manager and Product Strategy Advantage

okay Jon… lmao. That is way too much and we should probably adjourn to the Royal Oak and go over it in detail – however… (darn, I’m a bit nonplussed to think I’m defending CATA here) CATA’s mandate and lens (as you put it) is exclusively Advanced Tech and there is only so much they can do. While I agree with your point in principle, CATA has to be one of the crowd who, quite rightly, should be screaming their heads off. Your point I think is; where is the crowd?

Someone correct me here – didn’t we used to be number 4 or 5 in the Innovation rankings and, as I recall, we were pretty appalled at the time? Anyone from the Conference Board on-line? The fact that you relay that we are now 13th is probably in direct proportion to the amount of Govt investment and the fact that our most achieved Govt department in this regard (NRC) is having to lay people off!!!

We (we, high tech types) spent 30 years building leading edge in the Ottawa Valley only to see it either sold off to the highest bidder (the communications edge we used to “own” and are now giving away in a degrading auction to the highest bidder) or shut down for lack of understanding (we’re not going to be in the isotope business which we pioneered) or lack of maintenance budgets (the 30 year old Maple reactors and our nuclear technology which seeded the world’s nuclear energy infrastructures). Nonetheless, Innovation – as you rightly point out – is the way to better economics. Without money – not going to happen. No one is quantifying that impact (unless its clean-tech and/or life sciences).

India… spent 30 years revamping its Education system and has done a fabulous job by visionary politicians who, most having an engineering or architecture background, foresaw a tremendous opportunity. They now harvest with billions of dollars coming in and are amongst the best in the world as toolsmiths (development environments). We are still educating engineers through the grist-mill knowing that most of the senior ranks are struggling – same old, same old. I think you get what you ask for … which plays to your second point. Visionary politicians can move the world, professional politicians merely maintain the status quo, grease the skids for a faster auction and, when in personal difficulty, appear to cross the floor.

Realistically, I suspect few knew about Section 116 – but hopefully, after the CATA press release (hopefully, to your point, there will be others) will go and do their homework. Or… as is more likely, open a dual headquarters arrangement in the US. How sad is it that we have to do that?

All that to say.. yes, I agree with you. We do have to expand the scope. We also need to help Govt be responsible in guiding and managing innovation especially when, as in our case, it is instrumental in our economic infrastructure and our future. Not quite sure how we do either…

Good discussion though…

Jon W. Hansen Host at PI Window on Business Show

You’ve hit it dead on Sue.

My show the PI Window on Business which is featured across the entire Blog Talk Radio Network (which has more than 5 million listeners each month alone) did a segment titled “Diminishing Prospects: How U.S. Policy is Undermining Entrepreneurial Vision,” in which I interviewed one of the US’ leading high tech entrepreneurs and investment experts.

His concern was the fact that due to US immigration policy and the lack of a viable alternative to the H1-B and EB-5 Visas foreign graduates from some of the best educational institutions in the US are forced to develop their businesses in other countries costing the US much needed jobs. His suggestion was the creation of a Founders Visa. (Here is the link to my post and the corresponding live broadcast: http://piwindowonbusiness.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/diminishing-prospects-how-u-s-policy-is-undermining-entrepreneurial-vision/ )

What was interesting is that I have had the privilege to interview bestselling authors on the show such as a former media exec and the branding brains behind the Dr. Phil Show to CFOs from major ERP vendors talking about the emerging SaaS model to political leaders on both sides of the border discussing procurement and trade policy. However, this segment on the need for the creation of a Founders Visas, and the significant negative impact of the current immigration policy had the largest single segment audience for any show.

This tells me that if you create realistic points of context that can be readily recognized by a larger audience, people will listen, and they will get involved.

I will be doing a segment on this topic probably before the end of the year in which I will be talking with high tech VCs from the US, as well as government policymakers to get a better handle on the logic behind 116 as well as estimating the impact in tangible dollars and job loss.

Posted in: Commentary