The ICT Toronto strategy launch event at MaRS marked an important milestone in the development of a vibrant technology community in the city. It wasn’t exactly a barn-burner as far as these events go, but it was great to hear from Mayor David Miller. More of interest to policy wonks and strategy nerds like me than to a broad technology audience, the event brought out a selection of well-suited professionals along with the “dungarees”, i.e. the BarCamp crowd. David, Sutha, Joey, Jay, Bryce and I were noticeably underdressed (Tom always looks good). Joey does a good job summarizing the main elements of the ICT report on the Accordion Guy blog. [Updated]: Rob Hyndman posts some good points here.
The strengths of the Toronto ICT (that’s “Information & Communications Technology” for you non-policy wonks) cluster are formidable. Toronto is the third biggest cluster in North America, next to Silicon Valley and New York. Interestingly, Toronto also has the third biggest entertainment cluster in North America, as well as having a very strong Financial Services cluster. The combination of these assets have the potential to be much greater than the sum of their parts, but there are deep structural barriers to be overcome. During Q&A, I was glad to hear David Ticoll take on one of those structural barriers – the dominance of U.S. transplants in Toronto’s cluster in the context of the acquisition of innovative companies and talent by U.S.-based multinationals.
Retaining and repatriating top tier talent is a theme that keeps appearing in my work, and this to me appears to be one the biggest challenges to be overcome in achieving this strategy’s goals. Companies and talent will go to where the capital, quality of life and the appreciation of their work is. If sources of capital are not sufficiently knowledgeable about emerging technologies and business models, innovative businesses will direct their attention to where they can find that capital. It is natural for innovative firms to look south for the validation and resources they need to realize their commercialization plans. What can the city of Toronto do about this structural barrier? How will the financial community rise to the challenge? How can talent be so embedded into the community that it won’t want to leave?