In an effort to spur on their local economies, many provincial and city officials have been wondering what it takes to create the next Silicon Valley. From cities in Canada, the U.S. and worldwide, we’ve seen the emergence of numerous policies all designed to encourage start-up activity. There have been taxpayer-sponsored VCs, mentoring programs, generous tax credits and direct subsidies, accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces.
These may all be important programs that have some effect on changing the trajectory of a local ecosystem, however they neglect one key fact: great companies are built by great entrepreneurs who succeed despite an imperfect ecosystem, despite a lack of local capital, and despite the absence of good mentors. In other words, great entrepreneurs make it happen in unlikely places.
A prime example is how Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka built Bioware in Edmonton (a city that had no gaming talent or large tech ecosystem to speak of). Bioware was later sold to Electronic Arts for $860M.
So does this mean that local governments are powerless when it comes to attracting special entrepreneurs like Zeschuk and Muzyka? Should they just sit back and see what happens? Not necessarily. Lately I’ve been wondering if there’s a role for a local Chief Talent Officer, whose focus is to attract the best and brightest to their cities and municipalities?
For example, some of the questions for a Chief Talent Officer to consider include:
- How can you implement (or lobby the federal government for) entrepreneur-friendly immigration policies like the Startup Visa?
- How can you contribute to make the local universities best in class?
- How can you support local accelerators / incubators whose focus is to bring in talent from out of town?
- How can you brand your city / province as a desirable place to live for the creative and entrepreneurial people you are targeting?
- How can you make it as easy as possible to start a business in your city?
This is no easy task, as all these areas span the authority of many different institutions and organizations. I’d imagine the Chief Talent Officer would spend the bulk of his/her time persuading other people and departments to do the ‘right’ thing. Yet I’m growing increasingly convinced that this is the only lever for large-scale, long-term results.
Helping an area’s local entrepreneur community is important, but that along won’t change the game or spark the next hotbed of innovation. Attracting the best and brightest from all corners of the world will.
Globalization and immigration are often hot button issues, but they can be crucial to local economies. Over the coming months, I’d like to think deeper about how local municipalities can spur a tech upsurge, and welcome your thoughts as well. Stay tuned.