As Silicon Valley gets disrupted by the pandemic, this CEO says tech companies should look to Canada to expand

Yung WuYung Wu is the CEO of MaRS Discovery District, an innovation hub located in Toronto, Canada.
  • Yung Wu is an entrepreneur, VC, and the CEO of MaRS Discovery District, a startup innovation hub located in Toronto.
  • Amid the pandemic and surge in remote work options, Wu says tech founders and workers should look beyond Silicon Valley to expand their businesses.
  • In Canada, Wu says private and public sectors are able to collaborate for effectively, and that various funding programs, pandemic-related grants, and wage subsidies allow employers to operate with more support.
  • An immigrant himself, Wu adds that Canada’s warm embrace of diversity and immigration makes it a excellent destination for innovators of all backgrounds to enjoy high quality of life.
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Even before the pandemic, Silicon Valley was already facing challenges. Tech companies were bleeding workers due to less-than-helpful White House visa policies and the unintended consequences of the longest bull market cycle in history. These factors and several others created an unbalanced, unsustainable distribution of wealth and resources.

Now, with the pandemic pushing tech companies toward blended or virtual workforces, I’m hearing new questions about the heartland’s long-term viability. Can we replicate Silicon Valley elsewhere — and, perhaps more importantly, should we?

Many frustrated founders and tech workers haveconsidered packing upto go overseas.

Although I firmly believe Silicon Valley will eventually recover its mojo, it’s hard to blame them. Though, instead of giving up on North American tech, I suggest these techies look a little closer to home.

I’ve been an entrepreneur many times over, and also a venture capitalist. I’ve spent decades in the startup world and continue to be amazed by the evolution of its people and places.

Now, I head up MaRS Discovery District, the largest urban innovation hub in North America, based in Toronto, Canada. The 1,400 startups I work with span digital automation, mobile analytics and big data, media and entertainment, enterprise software, financial services, and pharma. It’s an awesome treasure chest of innovation.

In Canada, big tech, little tech, and the public sector are working together to build a more sustainable ecosystem

The pandemic is seen as a unique chance to rethink the innovation economy through the lenses of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Up here, it isn’t about tearing tech down — rather, it’s about building tech differently.

If Silicon Valley is in trouble, it’s because some of its leaders have forgotten that investing in tech means investing in people, not just short-term profits.

Read more: How Japan, the home of Sony and Nintendo, fell behind Silicon Valley on software — and how founders and investors plan to catch up

Money doesn’t innovate — people do.

A few influential companies have shifted away from their idealistic, future-building roots toward a model that better fits the “evil Big Tech” mythology. The companies that are supposed to be bringing in the best people, changing the world, and attracting investors with the promise of massive innovation and impact are losing sight of their north star. Meanwhile, Canada is focused on building its own platform. And when American tech shines again, we’ll be ready to work together.

The Canadian tech investment climate is homegrown, established, and supported by public-private partnerships, local talent development, and government. This stable and diverse funding ensures that Canadian companies can remain more focused on fundamentals, like working for the greater good. During downturns, these companies are more likely to survive. And, hot take: If you want to attract and hold talent, job security is a great start.

For tech companies and their workers, loyalty should be rooted in these kinds of ideals, not in geography. Tech should focus on solving society’s big problems, not on gaming its biggest investment casino. As tech spreads out of Silicon Valley, it’s a chance for innovators to focus more on ideals, ideas, and driving meaningful change.

In the US, progress is being blocked by tension between the federal government and Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies.

Canada’s smaller domestic market forces public and private sectors to work more collaboratively, which lets the innovators innovate.

There’s university research funding that supports science and innovation, pandemic grant support programs for tech and other economically critical industries, wage subsidies that have helped keep employees working through the COVID crisis, and a network of innovation hubs across the country. These collaborations are being fine-tuned to better allow people of all backgrounds to make progress and innovate with global reach.

Canada’s joint public-private mindset is the key for enabling the tech and innovation economy of the future, and it’s a model that can work internationally as well.

With the sudden explosion of remote collaboration, great tech minds have the opportunity to work from anywhere they please.

Cities like Savannah, Georgia, and countries like Barbados are preening to attract the best people with wide-ranging incentives.

Some of Canada’s largest and most successful tech companies, including e-commerce platform Shopify and cloud-storage provider OpenText, have rolled out or experimented with work-from-home policies in recent months.

I believe that the pull of government-supported innovation and the push of the White House’s restrictive immigration policies have already given Canada opportunities to jump in. Some Canadian companies and innovation hubs, such as Ontario’s Communitech, have even felt emboldened enough to start poaching valuable talent on America’s home turf.

Canada is a good choice for tech workers and founders leaving Silicon Valley, because it keeps them within range of home. The country shares time zones with the United States, and logistics are smoother without an ocean to cross. Most phone plans work seamlessly in both countries. It’s just plain easier.

And although it is often described as culturally similar to the United States, Canada’s warmer embrace of immigration and diversity offers an excellent quality of life for innovators of all backgrounds — more than half the population of Toronto is native to another country.

Read more: The CEO of Logitech explains his strategy for revitalizing the PC accessory company and turning it into a $US12 billion superpower in the new remote work era

Silicon Valley has led global innovation for decades, but its foundation is shaking.

Up here in the Great White North, we’re providing some stability. The Canadian model of open-door immigration and public-private collaboration, combined with the industry’s new emphasis on remote work, is showing the way to a new global innovation economy.

We have every expectation that Silicon Valley will be back, but in the meantime, Canada is primed to welcome startups and tech workers with open arms.

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