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Dear PM: Our tech sector needs support, too

The government says it wants to contribute to Canadian innovation, but talk is cheap

President and chief executive officer of SOTI

When the Prime Minister calls, wanting to come visit your rapidly growing, privately held Canadian technology company, trust me, you get excited. It's an honour. It demonstrates the value the government sees in your company and recognition that your company is having a positive impact on the economy. The fact is, scaling technology companies can provide massive economic benefits to a country through the creation of intellectual property (IP), jobs and much more. And here I was, having conversations with the Prime Minister on how we can work together to help create jobs and develop important technology that will change people's lives, while continuing to expand my company globally.

The only thing is that the Prime Minister I met with wasn't from Canada, the country where my company is headquartered.

The Prime Minister showing interest in my Canadian company, SOTI, was Leo Varadkar, the Prime Minister of Ireland. When Mr. Varadkar visited Canada in 2017, SOTI was one of only two Canadian companies that he went out of his way to meet and personally invite to scale operations into Ireland. This month, based on the support we received from the Irish government, we announced the opening of an office in Galway, where we're spending 20-million ($29.9-million), and filling 50 jobs immediately and plan to add 100 more over the next three years. While I was meeting with Mr. Varadkar here in Canada, our Prime Minister was in California courting U.S.-based Silicon Valley giants.

Justin Trudeau is the first Canadian Prime Minister in 70 years to visit Silicon Valley, and he has also visited other U.S. tech centres, such as Seattle. Other trips include cities such as Boston, New York and San Francisco, where he was quoted saying, "I'm enthused about the interest that these global companies are taking in Canada. It is a benefit for those companies that invest in Canada, because they get such a high calibre of talent." It's clear Mr. Trudeau's approach is to entice American giants to set up branch plant operations here in Canada to access our talent. Our government has gone so far as to sponsor billboards in the Valley pitching "H-1B Problems? Pivot to Canada."

We have all seen the news of Toronto's bid for the Amazon HQ2. Uber, Google, Salesforce and other giants have all been welcomed into Canada. We have seen our Prime Minister and government officials at all levels rolling out the red carpet to entice foreign companies to open up shop here to access our tech talent. They claim these companies will bring jobs. But the truth is that the revenue and economic impact of these companies does not come to Canada - it goes to where they're headquartered.

And as for the jobs being created, well, we are virtually at full employment in the tech space, so these companies are not creating jobs, they are just shifting engineers from Canadian companies to foreign companies, thereby reducing the creation of Canadian IP and economic growth.

What we need is a strategy to use our talent to create innovative Canadian products and to sell those products to the world, not sell out our talent to American branch plants who set up shop in Canada.

Initially, I was enthused by our federal government's desire to drive an innovation economy and focus on helping Canadian tech companies grow and scale.

I therefore invited Mr. Trudeau to our headquarters in Mississauga to see firsthand how we are scaling globally and keeping valuable IP and top tech talent in our country. The invitation was declined. We reached out again, through various channels, and again our invitation was declined.

(To be clear, we have received some support from the previous Ontario government, but federal government initiatives do not appear to be aligned with the needs of scaling companies.)

SOTI, which provides mobile and connected-device management solutions, is on a fast-paced global growth trajectory, employing more than 1,000 people by the end of this year. We are building a state-of-the-art technology campus in Mississauga, right in the middle of the important tech corridor of Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo. To date, SOTI has seen 93 consecutive quarters of profitability, and has more than 17,000 enterprise customers in 178 countries.

It's true that we have not yet reached Microsoft or Facebook status, but the truth is, no Canadian companies have recently.

And why is that? For a country that is touted for being a technology and innovation mecca, with cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Kitchener-Waterloo creating more tech jobs than the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington State combined, and top tech talent trained in our world-renowned universities, there are definitive reasons why Canadian companies cannot grow and scale into multinational successes. And our government is one of them. I'm still a proud Canadian but I'm disappointed by our government. And it's not just me. I speak with many other business leaders within our tech community who also feel slighted. So, what's the solution?

Well, for starters we need to see our government supporting more Canadian companies that are looking to build and grow at home.

We need our government to work with industry leaders to develop the right innovation growth strategy for Canada, a strategy designed to support our scale-up companies that are emerging on the world stage. We need government to listen to and nurture our scaling companies here at home, instead of chasing giants from abroad.

We have a Liberal government today that says it wants to contribute to Canadian innovation - but talk is cheap. To put it into Canadian terms, our Prime Minister is the captain of our hockey team. We have a lot of potential in this country, but to win the world championships, we need our Prime Minister and our government to not only talk, but to actually play for Team Canada.

Associated Graphic

Carl Rodrigues, seen at his company's Mississauga headquarters in 2017, is president and CEO of SOTI Inc., one of two Canadian companies visited by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar when he visited last year.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

© The Globe and Mail

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