How the government can help build the tech sector

I often get asked what governments can do to help build a tech sector so I wanted to put together a few thoughts on this blog what I think works and what doesn’t:

  • Have a vision and speak with one voice: one of the largest problems I have seen in the past is that governments start a multitude of initiatives but often lack an overarching vision and a single department or agency that executes on the vision. The result is often a series of un-coordinated initiatives by too many players that do not talk to each other. Less is more and it needs to start with a clearly communicated vision. In BC the merger of New Media BC and WINBC into DigiBC is a move in the right direction but I still feel that a vision where this province wants to take its tech sector has never been developed (or communicated).
  • Building community: communities are built from the ground up, not the top down so governments need to more support people that build such communities instead of putting on large scale events to promote technology (Connect09 comes to mind as an example for BC). The BootUp Entrepreneurial Society (full disclosure: I am a board member) has done a very good job in Vancouver in starting to build an active and lively community for the consumer internet sector but we need more of such ground-up community building initiatives and we need the government to support these even more.
  • Attract and develop talent: the most important success factor for the tech sector will be the ability of a region to attract, retain and develop talent. Shouldn’t a region be more aggressive in going after international talent? The City of Vancouver markets itself to businesses but shouldn’t they also go after individual talent? Perhaps we should get a Chief Talent Officer for BC who’s goal is to attract the brightest people from around the world. In terms of developing existing talent, universities certainly play a very important role but we need more unconventional places where people learn how to become entrepreneurs. Look at what Techstars has done for the Denver / Boulder region and you understand how important an incubator / accelerator like BootUp Labs will be for the Vancouver market.
  • Provide targeted financial incentives: I am always a bit split on my take on financial incentives provided by the government to a specific sector as I have seen a lot of waste but also a lot of good things coming out of such subsidies. The net effect is probably still positive but I would argue that financial incentives should always happen on the “backend” and go almost exclusively to the actual players, not intermediaries. I would therefore always favor incentives that provide a credit after an investment is made (either by an investor or a company) over incentives that are given upfront. Secondly, the goal must be to get as much of that financial incentive to the actual investor or entrepreneur not an intermediary, be it a financial institution or a consultant (e.g. for SRED claims).

Would love to hear the feed-back from the community about these ideas. While I cited quite a bit of Vancouver and BC examples, every region and province should have such a discussion. Let’s start it!

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