Editor's Pick Entrepreneur Featured The Drawing Board

10 Innovators on What the Future Has in Store for Canadian Tech

Various graphics of technology and innovation-themed motifs in blue and green

The Drawing Board is a series by Bay Street Bull that surveys industry leaders on topics of transformation, innovation, and the road ahead.

What does it mean to innovate? To be an innovator or innovative company? In an ever-changing landscape that has been transformed by the pandemic and continues to be impacted by socio, political, economic, technological, and environmental factors, there has perhaps never been a better time to reflect on how we solve problems and approach challenges than now.

Today, the question of how we define innovation depends on who you ask—so we did just that. From individuals at the helm of social media giants to rising category transformers, we asked ten tech leaders about the biggest upcoming tech trends, how companies can retain talent, and what it means to be innovative today.

Garrick Tiplady

Garrick Tiplady

Title: Vice President and Country Director, Meta Canada

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job? 

I help to ensure Meta is a positive contributor to Canada’s economic, social, and cultural fabric. As the interim leader for our SMB business, I also have the opportunity to work with the mid-market businesses we support across North America.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2021 that you’re taking with you into 2022?

My biggest lesson from 2021 was the power of coalition-building. I’ve been incredibly proud to support This Is Our Shot, a national coalition to build vaccine confidence in Canada. This campaign is all about communities coming together for a common goal—and it really worked. A 2021 Boston Consulting Group study found that over 2.3 million Canadians had been positively influenced by the vaccine confidence messaging and education programs driven by this campaign. The work we do at Meta in Canada wouldn’t be possible without close partnerships, and this is an area I will continue to focus on in 2022. 

How do you define ‘innovation?’

I see innovation as constantly evolving and refining a product or service to better meet the needs of your customer, while keeping your finger on the pulse for what’s next to come. The pandemic showed us there is still a lot to do to improve digital experiences and we’ll see incredible innovation from Canadian businesses over the coming years to develop the next generation of online social experiences. As a social technology company, we’re focusing on bringing the metaverse to life by helping to accelerate this evolution of fundamental technologies, social platforms, and creative tools. 

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why?

I’m most excited to see how retail will evolve in 2022. The sector already underwent a rapid period of transformation over the last two years shifting to fully digital or hybrid shopping experiences. Now, we’re seeing the rise of digital commerce and businesses experimenting with new technologies, such augmented reality, to create more engaging and immersive online shopping experiences.

What are some trends in the tech industry that you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond?

In the last decade, we saw a shift from desktop web to mobile internet, and the next decade will be about shifting into the metaverse. The “metaverse” is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with family, work, play, learn, shop, create and more. We’re already seeing glimmers of this future in technologies such as VR, AR, and XR. It won’t happen overnight, but over time, the metaverse will unlock new opportunities for people and communities. 

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heats up throughout the industry?

We’re all experiencing feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear prompted by the global pandemic, and the lines between work and home life have blurred. It has become increasingly apparent that employees value workplace cultures that lead with empathy and prioritize health and wellbeing. As a leader, I strive to show up to work every day modeling the qualities that will help foster this kind of culture. I believe these are the qualities that will attract and retain talent. 

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list?

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Think Again by Adam Grant. When you have the weight of your business on your shoulders, your mind is running a mile a minute. These are two books that I wish were available when I was starting my businesses. 

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize? (ie Canva, Headliner, etc.)

While this won’t come as a surprise to anyone—I believe every small business owner should be using social media. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Messenger, or WhatsApp—you really have to look at every channel available to you to help you reach your customers and stimulate sales. These platforms will be even more important as we enter the next chapter of the internet – the metaverse. The primary way people will experience the metaverse in the short-term is through 2D apps, so by experimenting with new features and growing your audience on these apps now, you’ll be laying the foundation to grow your business in the metaverse. 

What was your biggest “win” of 2021? 

Our biggest win in 2021 was the launch of our first Canadian Good Ideas Pop-Up Shop inside Ottawa’s historic ByWard Market. It was the embodiment of everything I love about our work at Meta. A moment where we celebrated small businesses, partnered with amazing content creators, and brought the community together to support local businesses. 

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022? 

Meta will continue to build technologies that bring people together – from growing businesses, building communities, to staying connected to loved ones. It’s at the core of what we do, and it’s still as important as ever. My hope is that in 2022, we’ll play a key role in making it even easier for people to connect with each other. 

 

Fatima Zaidi

Fatima Zaidi

Title: CEO and founder, Quill Inc.

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job? 

I’m the CEO and founder of Quill Inc., a full-service podcasting hosting platform and production agency that supports brands in launching their podcasts.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2021 that you’re using in 2022?

Building profitability into your business model from day one is essential. We’ve seen so many companies in the past few years like WeWork going under from raising large sums of capital [and] don’t worry about keeping overhead low or focus on sales because they’ve extended their runway. Raising capital is a full-time job and when you’re out talking to investors, you’re taking away valuable time from sales when you could be talking to your customers instead. I think people always gravitate towards raising capital due to all the profiling and championing we do of companies who do so but a lot of our government resources allow you to access capital so that you can bootstrap your company and not have to give away a huge portion at an early stage. We tend to celebrate the companies that raise capital but we should also be celebrating and profiling the companies that manage to bootstrap. We are sending the wrong message that every business needs to raise capital. Not every company needs large sums of money but we have set the precedent that they do. 

How do you define ‘innovation?’

The term innovation can be pretty indistinct depending on your perspective. When I typically think of innovation, transformative inventions come to mind but so does the importance of bringing together diverse perspectives. In order to achieve innovation at every level of your organization, it is absolutely imperative that we bring together people from different backgrounds to provide distinct solutions and perspectives. 

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why? 

Just like your business had a phone number in the 80s, a website in the 90s, and social media in the 2000s, I believe that the next five to 10 years will be the audio wave. I’m also rooting for small business owners who have been hit hard by the pandemic (i.e. restaurants, service companies, hospitality, etc.)

What are some trends in the tech industry that you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond?  

I think the world of remote work is only going to continue to rise. Companies who can continue to change how employees interact with technology and one another will thrive, and I think this sector will see a lot of innovation. 

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heat up throughout the industry? What are the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward?

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only having an impact on global public health, but it’s also causing supply chain disruptions and labour shortages for small businesses. Shifts that have taken place in the labour market are becoming more pronounced. Speaking strictly to the small business tech landscape, there is a big lack of developers and technical hires in the industry. They are asking for six-figure salaries out of school with full benefits and perks, which many small businesses can’t afford. Their alternative options are working at companies like Shopify, which can afford to be extremely competitive. Small businesses just can’t compete with companies like Shopify for labour at that level. I’ve personally had to get very creative to find technical hires. Unlimited vacation, equity, and shares without a vesting period, complete remote work, and travel budgets, etc. If these are the challenges that small tech companies are facing then we can only imagine how difficult it’s been for the harder hit industries like healthcare and hospitality.

Name a Canadian startup that you think will positively change the way we work or live. Why do you believe so? 

Maybe not a startup but a division of SickKids that is revolutionizing healthcare for children is #Tech4SickKids. They are a group of individuals who are passionate about tech and how it can improve lives in a tangible way. I’m extremely proud to be co-Chair of this dedicated team. SickKids has always been at the forefront of innovation, and we are currently raising $25M through our tech community for a few different projects. Projects include 1) The development of new tools led by the first Chair of Biomedical Informatics and Artificial Intelligence in Canada. Our vision is to improve the way healthcare is delivered through big data analytics, and 2) Reimagining the SickKids campus to accommodate new, state-of-the-art emergency care, diagnostics, therapies, and cures. 

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list? 

Good to Great by Jim Collins and Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. As for podcasts, the list keeps growing, but I’m a huge fan of This Week in Startups

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize?

I’d say my top three favourite programs are Nutshell (which is our CRM tool), Headliner (which helps us create bite-sized social content), and Figma (the ultimate product mock-up tool.)

What was your biggest “win” of 2021? 

We have navigated a COVID year and while raising capital is impressive, there’s something to be said about bootstrapping a technology company that requires resilience, drive, and hustle. We are now an award-winning production agency, and we have an impressive roster of international clients including Expedia, TD, CIBC, Field Trip, and PwC. We launched our hosting product CoHost this year. CoHost is your all-in-one podcast hosting, marketing, and analytics solution. Our team also acquired a production company this year called Origins Media Haus. We pride ourselves on being a predominantly women-led organization in an industry that is very male dominant with 85 percent of our team identifying as female.

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022? 

This year, I’m looking forward to seeing our team continue to provide excellent service for our clients and reach new audiences. The podcasting business is only going to continue growing along its upward trajectory in 2022, and I hope to see more brands capitalizing on this exciting trend in content marketing by creating branded podcasts of their own. I’m also looking forward to helping more brands navigate the podcasting and audio marketing world through our free online content.

Sunil Sharma

Sunil Sharma

Title: Managing Director, Techstars Toronto

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job? 

I am the Managing Director of Techstars Toronto. Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Techstars runs two accelerator batches per year in Toronto that are comprised of 12 companies per batch.  Techstars makes investments of $120K USD into each company in exchange for common equity shares and provides an intensive mentorship-driven three-month accelerator followed by an investor-focused Demo Day and a Techstars-For-Life commitment to each startup.  Techstars Toronto has made more than 50 investments so far (and has confirmed five exits) with a portfolio already worth above $1B in total valuation.  

What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2021 that you’re using in 2022?

2021 was a year of personal growth and intentional living. I would say slow living with more time enjoying my home and my family and deepening connections and relationships with colleagues new and old from all across the globe (even if by Zoom). It was also marked by goal setting, including a Word of the Year that prioritized health and wellness. Oh and lots of time on the Peloton.

How do you define ‘innovation?’

To me, innovation is the mindset that entrepreneurs use to drive their startups. Innovation is fueled by creativity and technology and takes hold when applied to developing brand new business models or to disrupting old ones. 

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why?

I think the sector that will see the biggest growth will be the “Creator Economy”.  2022 will be marked by the ability of people to do what really drives them, what makes them happy. Whether they are influencing and creating for small audiences or large, people will be able to use powerful but accessible software tools combined with social platforms to reach and influence others in a way that creates impact while generating income. The question will be whether this income will be sufficient to sustain oneself in an environment of rapidly increasing cost of living, and the resulting trade-off between career satisfaction versus income requirements will define occupational choices for years to come. 

What are some trends in the tech industry that you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond?

Remote work is clearly here to stay. I think a large portion of the workforce will never return to the office again, and another will demand a hybrid approach to office work. Travel will return in a big way in 2022 and beyond, and the ability for truly nomadic live-work lifestyles will appeal to people in all age groups, most notably in older workers who can combine their high savings and flexible work options into global experiential travel and flexible co-working / co-living arrangements providing for social interactions never before possible. 

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heats up throughout the industry?

To retain tech talent, businesses need to focus on culture and social purpose (impact) more than ever. Equally important will be competitive compensation, since there are few secrets anymore and the competition to attain and retain talent will be fierce.  Canadians are traditionally more loyal to employers than seen in most places, but such loyalty has its limits. 

What are the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward?

The biggest challenge the Canadian tech industry will face is competition from international startups who will begin competing directly with them in all verticals but with advantages of having very large home markets, significantly better operating costs, large amounts of funding, a relentless work ethic instilled by passionate and capable leaders who have Silicon Valley training (often achieved from global tech accelerators and investors). 

If you have attended any, what kind of innovation have you seen at in-person events that have made them safer, impactful, and/or exciting?

At the recent WebSummit in Lisbon, Portugal a remarkable gathering of 40,000 innovators from more than 100 countries gathered without any known spread of COVID-19, made safe with mandatory vaccinations, compulsory enforcement of masks, effective social distancing, spaced-out floor plans, and on-site same-day PCR testing booths.  We expect the same at Collision here in Toronto in June. I cannot wait.  

Name a Canadian startup that you think will positively change the way we work or live. Why do you believe so? 

Kitchenmate. Traditional restaurants are facing acute pressures with staff shortages, much higher labour costs and new competition from ghost-kitchens and this will provide an opportunity for automated food machines that can compete on both delivery and labour costs while providing incredible food quality on-demand and at a decent price.

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list?

Word of the Year: True Stories About Intentional Living Using the Power of a Single Word by Dimple Mukherjee (2021).  This book is a must-read for all of us who are interested in goal-setting for both personal and professional development. (Note: Dimple is my partner)

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize? (ie Canva, Headliner, etc.)

Mayday—a smart calendar that helps you manage your time in a more meaningful way. It is incredibly insightful and beautifully designed. 

What was your biggest “win” of 2021? 

Launching the second Techstars Toronto program in under 45 days with an incredible class of companies from more than eight countries across the world. 

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022? 

Seeing some of our incredible alumni companies continue to thrive and start to move towards unicorn status.

 

Lauren Epstein

Lauren Epstein

Title: Principal, StandUp Ventures

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job? 

My role is to facilitate the growth and success of StandUp Ventures by sourcing, evaluating, investing in, and supporting high-potential seed-stage companies led or co-led by women, while also contributing to the continuing development of fund strategy and operations and the cohesion and strength of the team.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2021 that you’re using in 2022?

Life is extremely unpredictable, as is business; the best way to navigate the changeable rapids ahead is to have the absolute best team around you—in all facets of your life.

How do you define ‘innovation?’

Innovation is a significant improvement upon existing practices, processes, or approaches. It is not restricted to “technological development” but encompasses a much wider range of advancements.

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why?

I think people are starting to realize both the huge potential and the significant underinvestment in family tech i.e. products and services that provide benefit to families (either directly B2C or through other providers/companies B2B) anytime from conception through to the teenage years. Not only is this a challenging time in the life of caregivers, but also a time when they have a higher willingness to pay to facilitate better, healthier, easier lives for themselves and the children in their care. 

Another area I am enthusiastic about is agritech/foodtech. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware and selective about the way in which their food arrives at their plate. This includes the entire supply chain from seed to serving dish. This is an inherent area of strength in Canada, and I would love to see our expertise in agriculture and food supply chain combine with our amazing minds in software development, AI, and blockchain. 

What are some trends in the tech industry that you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond?

There is no question enterprise SaaS is here to stay, but as we make our way across the scale from Big Business, I think we will continue to see more support for the smallest businesses, which make up the long tail. Whether this is focused on entrepreneur/SMB enablement or the creator economy, we will continue to see a wave of companies servicing this sector, which I find personally exciting as it brings us further down the road of democratizing technology, allowing even the smallest businesses to access high-quality tools.

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heats up throughout the industry?

Be serious about culture. As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Build strong teams of people who feel valued. Oh, and by the way, culture comes from the top.

What are the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward?

Tech suffers from a lot of hype and ego, both of which lead to a proliferation of group-think. When we are able to move away from that, we can understand the challenges and opportunities before us more clearly. Particularly in venture investing, which is about conviction, not consensus, it is important to free yourself to think independently. 

If you have attended any, what kind of innovation have you seen at in-person events that have made them safer, impactful, and/or exciting?

I haven’t attended any in-person events, but I can say that the Creative Destruction Lab has been superlative at translating a complex in-person experience into the virtual world using myriad tools and an incredible team. 

Name a Canadian startup that you think will positively change the way we work or live. Why do you believe so? 

I have restrained myself from picking from among our amazing StandUp portco’s (which would be like picking a favourite child in any case). So, I will hone in on digital health as one of the many ways our lives are being revolutionized right now. The two clear leaders in the space are Maple and Dialogue, and I hope they both continue to improve access to quality, collaborative care for all. I also want to add a shoutout to Flashfood, which I hope continues to help us save money while reducing food waste. 

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list?

While Scott Galloway may be a blowhard, I still find myself listening to Pivot. For reading, I would strongly recommend the following daily emails instead of long-form books: StrictlyVC, Fred Wilson’s daily email (A VC), and Bloomberg’s MoneyStuff by Matt Levine. 

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize? (ie Canva, Headliner, etc.)

Almost all small businesses could leverage the incredible innovations of Shopify (full disclosure: I’m a shareholder), but beyond that you can’t generalize. A small business should buy software that is right for its particular use case, in its vertical, at its stage—there I go again with that “get away from group think” thing.  

What was your biggest “win” of 2021? 

Joining StandUp Ventures! I have joined an incredible team, led by the inimitable Michelle McBane, and a fund that stands defiantly with its differentiated approach, harnessing the power of its investment thesis to invest in high-potential, seed-stage companies led or co-led by women and ultimately facilitating the founding and growth of more exceptional Canadian companies.

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022? 

As innovation continues to flourish, I hope that more Canadians from all backgrounds take the bold step to become entrepreneurs. Furthermore, while I anticipate that the market for venture funding will remain strong, I hope the unreasonable inflation of multiples seen recently at later stages neither continues nor trickles down to early-stage fundraising. Raising money at the appropriate pace, amount, and valuation as a company grows (particularly at the earliest stages) is one of the pillars of building a strong startup and ensures that the ecosystem can continue to be secure and stable. 

Amber Mac

Amber Mac

Title: Amber Mac, President, AmberMac Media

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job?

I wear two hats on a day-to-day basis: help to grow our content business at AmberMac Media and demystify technology through the content we create.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2021 that you’re using in 2022?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned during 2021 is that in order to live in predictable unpredictability, fluidity is essential. While we try to plan for what’s coming in the days and months ahead, we are always ready to change course as new information or circumstances require.

How do you define ‘innovation?’

Innovation is often an overused word, so I prefer to think about innovation in terms of relentless adaptation. While innovation focuses on the introduction of something new, in a 2022 world, focusing on adapting what you already have created is often more relevant to our long-term success.

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why?

The three areas of focus where I think we’ll see the biggest growth in 2022 are health and wellness tech, climate tech, and AI and automation technology.

What are some trends in the tech industry that you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond?

The tech industry will continue to lead the way on the future of flexibility and remote work. I think two key words we’ll continue to see in terms of tech industry trends are wellness and sustainability.

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heats up throughout the industry?

Retaining and attracting tech talent will continue to be a growing concern. As demand and competition heats up in the industry, business leaders will have to figure out how to give tech talent flexible and fluid work options. Workers will continue to be able to dictate how and when they want to work, so leaders will have to adapt in order to retain and attract a wider and more diverse team of workers.

What are the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward?

I think the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward is to attract and retain more women as part of their teams in order to develop technology that has a wider and more inclusive reach. We know from many studies that approximately half of women in tech leave the industry after a few years, so this would lead us to believe that the environment where they work is not always supportive. We should also pay close attention to the funding gap that exists. According to the Financial Post, “In 2020, global venture-capital funding was up four percent to US$300 billion, according to Crunchbase, but the percentage of that which went to women-led startups dropped to 2.3 percent from 2.8 percent in 2019.” This funding gap means missed opportunities. As one purely anecdotal example, my husband has been subscribing to subscription razor services for a month, but for women’s period products, there is no such mainstream tech subscription service.

If you have attended any, what kind of innovation have you seen at in-person events that have made them safer, impactful, and/or exciting?

The events industry is experiencing major disruption. I have committed to continue to do mostly virtual events or local in-person events in 2022 and beyond. I think there are and will be many reasons in the short-term and long-term that impact the necessity of business travel, including COVID-19 and climate change. While I do believe there are many important connections made face-to-face, like the future of remote work, hybrid solutions will continue to grow in popularity.

Name a Canadian startup that you think will positively change the way we work or live.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been watching Sphere, a tech start-up that is making coaching accessible for a consumer audience looking to find experts to help them achieve growth and goals. The company’s founder, Devon Brooks, has a proven track record in the business world. Moreover, I believe that Sphere has found a gap that exists in the coaching space at a time when people need help.

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list?

My top podcast pick is Pivot, which is a twice-weekly podcast on the tech industry and I just finished reading Forward by Andrew Yang, which is an excellent read to understand the importance of good communication and strong leadership.

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize? (ie Canva, Headliner, etc.)

Every day, we use Canva in some capacity and this is one app that has grown beautifully to give small businesses design help at their fingertips. I also use Whoop for my health data, which is a wearable device and app that helps to manage and monitor everything from strain to sleep (without a screen and notifications disrupting your day).

What was your biggest “win” of 2021?

My biggest personal win of 2021 was keeping COVID out of my family’s home. My biggest business win of 2021 was pivoting to develop a successful digital content business that caters to the growing world of virtual events.

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022?

My biggest hope for business in 2022 is that leaders pursue what my friend and leader Mohamad Fakih calls Kinder Capitalism (follow Mohamad on Twitter to get started @mohamadfakih8). In other words, it is possible to be profitable and successful—and take care of people and the planet along the way.

Matt McGowan

Matt McGowan

Title: General Manager, Canada at Snap Inc.

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job? 

I lead the team at Snapchat in Canada and evangelize the brand and our products where I can. I’ve always practiced servant leadership, which basically means I am focused on the growth and wellbeing of my team and the community in which we operate. It’s my job to support the team, ensuring they have what they need so that they can achieve their goals and be successful.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2021 that you’re using in 2022?

I think it really dawned on me how much positive impact I could have in my spare time. Given the shutdowns, restaurant closures and travel restrictions in the wake of COVID-19,  I really doubled-down on mentorship activities through organizations like Elevate and the eCommerce North Accelerator, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, Adweek’s Executive Mentor Program, etc. The slower pace of life really allowed for me to focus more energy on others, and I really want to tap into more of that this year.

How do you define ‘innovation?’ 

Great question. I am grateful to work for an extremely innovative company. In fact, Snap was named the world’s most innovative company of 2020 by Fast Company. Quite frankly, I could define innovation in so many different ways, but one thing I’ve observed throughout my career is that innovation is crucial to the success of any company—no matter the size or industry. Companies who fail to innovate or explore technological advancement or new ideas tend to get left behind. 

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why? 

I am confident that online retail/e-commerce will continue to see consistent growth, because we continue to see massive innovation in the space. The retail sector is really leaning into new technologies to reach consumers in unique and immersive ways.

What are some trends in the tech industry that you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond?  

As we continue to see the rollout of 5G and more powerful and innovative connected devices, we will continue to see the mobile tech ecosystem accelerate. Personally, I am excited about evolving digital camera technology and LiDAR, and how the camera will continue to be used as a communication tool and a utility to make our lives easier.

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heats up throughout the industry?

Businesses absolutely need to elevate the innovation agency and the teams supporting it within their organizations, give the innovative folks a seat around the table with C-Suite and make innovation a c-level agenda item. Traditional businesses need to adapt in order to attract and retain tech talent. I’ve seen a few companies successfully roll out rather robust internal training programs to prepare less experienced and often little to no experienced graduates with the tools and strategies they need to take what were traditionally roles designated for more experienced candidates. 

What are the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward?

The list is long. That said, one challenge that sits near the top of the list is broadening our candidate pools so that we can diversify our teams in an effort to create an environment where all team members feel safe, are able to show up authentically so that they can be their best selves but also so that our team better represents the communities they support and within which they operate. For instance, at Snap, we track and now report on these efforts and more (Society, Planet, People, and Governance) in what we call the CitizenSnap report which recounts our Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) efforts. 

Name a Canadian startup that you think will positively change the way we work or live

That’s a tough one, because there are many well-known companies doing great things. So perhaps I’ll highlight a few lesser known Canadian companies who are making  a big impact. In my work with Elevate here in Toronto, an accelerator in the e-commerce space, I’ve encountered a few that are well worth mentioning:

Beeja May: the easiest way for families to shop second hand (and with less environmental impact)

Kabo: The perfect dog food for those who care about what their best friends eat (healthy dog food subscription service).

Cooks Who Feed: Ethically produced, handcrafted aprons that fight hunger (one apron = 100 meals)

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list?

There are too many great podcasts to choose from, but top-of-mind here in Canada, I’d have to say: Built To Sell, The Feed with Amber Mac & Michael B, the Marketing News Canada podcast—and of course, Mission Critical. As for books, I just finished Breath: The New Science of Lost Art by James Nestor. I know how stressful entrepreneurship can be. Sometimes it feels like there isn’t even enough time in a day to just stop and breathe, and a lot of people don’t know how detrimental that can be. Most of us take breathing for granted but this book reveals that there’s a lot more to it than we think and it’s vital for our overall mental health and physical wellness.

LISTEN: Matt McGowan – Was Pokémon Go Onto Something or What?

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize? (ie Canva, Headliner, etc.)

LinkedIn has been a great app when it comes to connecting with new people or tapping into interesting networks—or even learning about new subjects through LinkedIn Learning courses. It’s helped me to stay in contact with people I haven’t been able to see in-person over the last few years (due to COVID restrictions) and keep apprised of the accomplishments and business news of my peers. However, I would be remiss not to mention Snapchat here as well as it’s a great app for both small businesses and large brands trying to tap into GenZ and Millennial audiences.

What was your biggest “win” of 2021? 

On the business front: We localized Snap Inc. in Canada and we are now a wholly-owned Canadian business vs a reseller. I am a big proponent of supporting local business, especially now given all the hardships local businesses have had to deal with in Canada, and I am proud that Snap supported this endeavour. On the personal front: I spent more time with my family in 2021 and that’s always a big win. 

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022? 

The hope is that we continue to localize our business in Canada. To me this means hiring locally for Canadian, North American, and global roles, partnering with local businesses, partnering with Canadian creators and media networks, and servicing the Canadian consumer on Snapchat with a platform that looks and feels Canadian. 

Daniel Eberhard

Daniel Eberhard

Title: CEO and Founder, KOHO

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job? 

Set the vision, ensure the values are upheld and recruit world-class talent.

How do you define ‘innovation?’

Innovation is intentional risk that you operationalize.

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why?

We’re still in the early stages of fintech and crypto (Web3). Most people still consume traditional financial products from traditional financial services and most of these products aren’t very good. ‘Fintech’ is still a fringe term but, given that everyone banks, we should look for a time when fintech is indistinguishable because it’s so naturally embedded. 

What are some trends in the tech industry that you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond?

Bioengineering has taken huge steps forward. I think we’ll start to see compelling applications for carbon capture, disease prevention, and treatments, etc. Just in the last year, we’ve had breakthroughs in protein folding, HIV cures (!) and carbon capture. 

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heats up throughout the industry? 

Businesses need to be really clear about who they are and who they aren’t. Most businesses treat their culture like generalists, which is to define a culture in a vaguely good way. In a remote environment, people can work at any company they want. Being very specific about what’s a good fit and what isn’t gives employees the clarity they need to find strong fits. Once you’re clear, you need to find ways to mobilize and embed those values so they really show up. 

What are the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward?

The tech industry tends to operate in a bubble. We are very often solving incremental problems for people who are technically sophisticated. We need to keep bringing people into the fold by designing products that work for real people, in everyday solutions. In Canada, we forget more than half of Canadians make less than $50K a year. 

If you have attended any, what kind of innovation have you seen at in-person events that have made them safer, impactful, and/or exciting?

I think “organized innovation” doesn’t really work. Innovation takes chemistry, trust, and a shared sense of risk. That’s hard to facilitate at in-person events.

Name a Canadian startup that you think will positively change the way we work or live. Why do you believe so? 

So many! KOHO (obviously), ClearCo, Wealthsimple, Applyboard, Dialogue, etc. 

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list?

A book called The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal by David McCullough. If you think building a startup is hard, imagine building The Panama Canal 120 years ago. 

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize? (ie Canva, Headliner, etc.)

Notion: In a remote world, leveling up async communication is essential (and hard!) 
Excalidraw: Incredibly simple drawing and jam tool.

What was your biggest “win” of 2021? 

KOHO closed a series D in 2021 for $210M. Those are big shiny moments, but the truth is that it’s because a bunch of incredible, capable people chose to believe in a KOHO and did some amazing work. 

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022? 

Increase the talent density. A lot of things at KOHO are working and, while we still have a lot to figure out, we’re at a stage where it’s about hiring incredible people and getting out of their way. 

 

Pavla Bobosikova

Pavla Bobosikova

Title: CEO, and co-founder, WFHomie

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job? 

I focus on stakeholder management: supporting, sharing information, and communicating with our team, customers, and investors. People say that in a startup, you’re either writing code or selling. With my background, I’m either selling or working on a product.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2021 that you’re using in 2022? 

That we’re just at the beginning of the remote or distributed work revolution. The way we think about work and life has fundamentally changed forever and the infrastructure (in terms of company policies, personal routines, remote and async communication, travel, banking, insurance, healthcare and more) need to accommodate this new reality.

How do you define innovation? 

Change for the better. It’s about solving a real problem at scale. In practice, this means continuous forward motion towards a worthy goal. Innovation isn’t an intrinsic good. There must be an aim and an endgame to innovation.

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why? 

HR tech and supply chain management. These two sectors are rapidly innovating to accommodate the changes in how we work and live. Recent funding trends reflect that $11.3B invested in supply chain management in 2021 (91.5 percent YoY growth) and $12.3B into HR Tech (262 percent YoY growth), according to Crunchbase and Pitchbook. DeFi will build on last year’s growth. Remote work and crypto seem to be part of the same zeitgeist—the call for more freedom, more choice, and more flexibility. I’m really excited to see the solutions that enable people to live more fulfilled lives spread their wings, and that often means solutions that enable more flexibility in work, in finance, and in everyday life.

What are some trends in the tech industry that you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond? 

Distributed work will evolve, asynchronous work models will be increasingly adopted. Team off-sites and short-term work-cation rentals will become commonplace. Any tech that fills these needs will flourish. Software that enables comprehensive information sharing, sorting, and real-time collaboration will ride this wave. People analytics will also get a boost, as distributed work creates visibility issues, and business leaders will be hungry for tools that flag and fix employee experience hiccups to keep turnover down and to stay competitive.

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heats up throughout the industry? 

Offer flexibility in how, where, and when employees work. Invest in a strong employer brand and provide healthy company culture supporting DEI and employee development. Your first instinct may be to increase pay, but this is a no-go. Top-performers want more control, more fulfillment in their lives, not necessarily more money.

What are the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward? 

Focus on creating flexibility and trust at all levels. For example, most co-working spaces require a lengthy admission process and monthly subscriptions. That doesn’t line up with how tech workers live—digital nomads, teams doing departmental offsites, or looking for collaborative spaces. Technology should be making this process simple, not harder. Data and privacy are where trust comes in. This is a hot topic right now, but it doesn’t have to be. Make the consumer a partner and that will remove unnecessary hesitancy.

If you have attended any, what kind of innovation have you seen at in-person events that have made them safer, impactful, and/or exciting? 

Providing tools that help people navigate each others’ levels of comfort. A great example is stickers on name tags/bracelets indicating if people are ok with elbow bump, fist bump, or a handshake.

Name a Canadian startup that you think will positively change the way we work or live. Why do you believe so? 

Hopper because it caters to the flexible way of life that remote work now encourages, and ApplyBoard because they’re helping people create the life they want to live and the job they want.

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list?

All-In and Amplify (HR-specific) podcasts. Books that taught me a lot are: Never Split the Difference by Christopher Voss, Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Good to Great by Jim Collins, and Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller.

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize? (ie Canva, Headliner, etc.)

Canva, Buffer, Hubspot, Notion, SEMRush, Figma, and a no-code CMS like Webflow or Squarespace.

What was your biggest “win” of 2021?

We increased our revenue by more than 1,100 percent YoY, launched our employee engagement platform and served over 5,000 employees in dozens of companies including Wealthsimple and BMO. Additionally, we raised a round of funding from the prominent US and Canadian funds and angels, including Ryan Holmes’ new fund LOI Venture to help fuel our growth. It’s been quite a year!

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022? 

Continue impacting the lives of thousands of individuals and helping businesses operate more effectively.

Peter-Paul Van Hoeken

Peter-Paul Van Hoeken

Title: CEO and Founder, FrontFundr

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job? 

As the CEO and founder of FrontFundr, my primary responsibilities are leading strategy development, team development, and continuously seeking growth opportunities. 

What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2021 that you’re using in 2022? 

The pandemic taught me how resilient the entrepreneurs we work with are. I have the privilege to watch them continuously look for ways to face and remedy challenges on their path to success. As funding is vital for startups to grow their business, the pandemic has reconfirmed how FrontFundr can play a significant role in helping entrepreneurs and startups become successful and sustainable. In 2022, I’m looking forward to watching our current entrepreneurs grow and scale their business and meeting new entrepreneurs, helping them gain access to new capital. 

How do you define ‘innovation?’ 

To me, innovation is a mindset. All entrepreneurs have to be innovative—it’s all about the drive and the process of continuously seeking new ways to do things differently in order to create advanced benefits for stakeholders.

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why? 

With the increasing awareness for our environment, health and social well-being, I expect to see the most growth from purpose-driven companies seeking to make a difference in our world and creating shared value to do well.

What are some trends in the tech industry that you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond?

It’s still early days but Web3 has HUGE potential. 

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heats up throughout the industry? 

Particularly, in the context of the pandemic, there is an increased desire from people to find a healthy balance between personal life, work, and job satisfaction. Companies today need to put the well-being and happiness of employees first. Happy employees will drive business success through innovation, customer satisfaction, and resilience.

What are the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward?

Inclusivity, a hybrid work model that works for everyone, transparency, and accountability.

If you have attended any, what kind of innovation have you seen at in-person events that have made them safer, impactful, and/or exciting? ??

Our team attended SaaS North last year and the feedback was that “absence makes the heart grow wonder”. Hopefully, we’ll all be back together at more events soon (when it’s safe and practical to do so)!

Name a Canadian startup that you think will positively change the way we work or live. Why do you believe so? 

Tiptap as it leverages technology to ensure that those who need help the most are not left out by the rise of our digital world. In this case, by offering contactless giving for charities–people seldom carry change anymore!

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list? 

No Rules, Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize? (ie Canva, Headliner, etc.)

Waking Up (mindfulness app). Start your day off right with a few minutes of reflection.

What was your biggest “win” of 2021? 

The FrontFundr team closed its best year ever hitting numerous records in successful capital raises and the growth of our investor community.

A few capital raises that spring to mind are Toro Matcha, which raised over $1 million, Tiptap , and Key.

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022? 

For 2022, I hope that our team can move onward and upward from the pandemic–regaining our lives as we’d like to live them and taking advantage of the lessons learned through the pandemic, by finding new balance in our lifestyles.

 

 

Brett Colvin

Brett Colvin

Title: Co-founder and CEO, Goodlawyer 

In a sentence or two, what is your primary responsibility at your job? 

Attract top talent by promoting Goodlawyer’s vision of a new technology-enabled legal profession designed to better serve clients and lawyers, alike. Encourage innovative thinking within the team, invite feedback (even when I don’t like it) and sell a vision I truly believe in. 

What is the biggest lesson learned in 2021 that you’re using in 2022?

If you want to build a great company, a big company, you need to implement and get your team comfortable with processes. It seems counter-intuitive, given the “move fast and break things” ethos of the startup community, but it’s true. You need processes to manage and thrive when faced with more complex problems, which is inevitable as your team and customer base grows.

How do you define ‘innovation?’

I see innovation as building or creating something that didn’t exist before—doing something familiar in a new way. New consumer technologies are typically the sexiest and most common forms of “innovation” to hit the headlines, but I think that meaningful innovation extends way beyond a new iPhone or app. New processes, new approaches, and even new stories, are, in my opinion, innovative ways to make the future better (and none of them require a single line of code).  

Which sectors do you believe will see the biggest growth in 2022? What are you most excited to see flourish and why?

2022 is the year that legaltech truly emerges and will fundamentally change the legal market in ways that mirror Uber’s transformation of the once “small” taxi industry and fintech’s ubiquitous penetration of the traditional financial services market. Only 8 percent of legal services in the US were conducted online in 2020. Compare that to 70 percent for financial services. The legaltech revolution is coming—77 percent of legal needs across North America going unmet means it must.   

What are trends in the tech industry you predict will be big in 2022 and beyond?

Remote work is one of the major trends that we’re feeling more acutely, especially in the market for good development talent. With global tech behemoths recruiting remote workers from literally everywhere, it is challenging to compete as a startup. That said, there are unique benefits that startups can offer that an Amazon, Microsoft or Facebook (err… Meta) simply can’t. 

What do you think businesses can do to access and retain tech talent as demand and competition heats up throughout the industry?

Build a culture that people never want to leave. Encourage vision and voice. Design employee compensation with a three-pillar approach: cash, equity, and personal development. Startups can’t compete on the cash front, so offering equity, personal development, and a strong sense of purpose is critical to contend for the best and brightest talent. 

What are the biggest challenges the tech industry needs to address moving forward?

To build technology that makes the future better. At Goodlawyer, this is engrained in the first of our five core values, which is to “do good.” Doing good is achievable with Goodlawyer thanks to our commitment to empowering good people and helping more Canadian founders succeed. Getting markets and investors to continue leaning into companies that have a positive impact on our future is key.   

If you have attended any, what kind of innovation have you seen at in-person events that have made them safer, impactful, and/or exciting?

Legal Geek in London, UK in October. The best part was socializing with innovators from across the world, and Legal Geek did a terrific job at bringing life to a conference largely dominated by automated contract builders. We also hosted our first-ever Goodlawyer Summit in 2021 and combined an in-person show with a 100 percent remote audience. It was epic. 

Name a Canadian startup that you think will positively change the way we work or live. Why do you believe so? 

Payd comes to mind. Jonathan Hillis, Payd’s CEO, is on a mission to reduce student debt, enabling more graduates to pursue purpose and meaning in their future endeavours without being constrained by student debt. As an example, law grads carry enormous student loans and consequently seek big law jobs to pay off that debt (instead of pursuing more meaningful careers where they feel like they’re making a difference). Goodlawyer is making the latter more feasible for lawyers looking for an alternative that offers real work-life balance. 

Which books or podcasts should every entrepreneur add to their 2022 reading list?

Invest Like The Best with Patrick O’Shaughnessy is a must-listen podcast for every startup founder, especially the episodes titled Founder’s Field Guide—pure gold. The book I would also recommend is The Cold Start Problem by Andrew Chen. It primarily explores marketplace startups as Andrew tries to systematically unlock the secrets of network effects and how to create them.  

What is an app or program that you think every small business owner should utilize? (ie Canva, Headliner, etc.)

Slack, HubSpot, and Canva are terrific collaboration tools for founders managing growing teams. Siri is my secret weapon. There is so much to remember as a founder. You need cues. Siri is perfect, especially with AirPods. AirPods are an essential part of the Goodlawyer starter-kit. 

What was your biggest “win” of 2021? 

We generated 10-time revenue growth in 2021. A big win, but not as big as helping over a thousand Canadian founders get access to specialized legal expertise for their business for the very first time. 

What is your biggest hope for your business in 2022? 

Our objective in 2022 is to keep growing and learning. Supporting more Canadian founders to start and scale their own businesses is how we envision our future growth. Our success is tied to theirs. 

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