Originally posted in The Globe And Mail: see the original article here.
For too long, Vancouver has been known as a copycat city – first Hollywood North, now Silicon Valley North. It’s time we stop trying to emulate others. Instead, we should embrace our unique identity and role in the global tech scene on our own terms.
What used to be valid criticisms of Vancouver and indicative to its second-class status are no longer as applicable as they once were. Complaints such as a lack of bellwether exits, no deep late-stage capital and brain drain among top talent have no place in Vancouver as it stands today, and sell short the strengths that have emerged.
Not every tech ecosystem should be judged on the same criteria. And just as we’ve addressed our faults, we’re also standing up for every other city fighting for recognition, putting it out there that there is no template for a great ecosystem. Playing to your strengths is the new way to stand out. New York’s specialty might be media and public relations or Detroit’s new motor of choice could be of the drone variety, but this is what sets them apart and drives the brightest in these fields to come to them.
However, most cities look to Silicon Valley and want it all. They want the unicorns, the massive valuations, the top talent and the government’s helping hand to make it all a little easier. Where they falter is in wanting that same success indiscriminately across all industries.
Vancouver, for all its strengths, is not the financial capital of the world, nor is it the centre of social media or med-tech.
And although we have companies that thrive within these sectors – Hootsuite and Payfirma, to name a few – why should we focus resources into these areas when our natural aptitude lies elsewhere?
For example, the University of British Columbia is a leading research university in sustainability and clean energy. GLOBE, North America’s largest international environmental business summit, makes its home in Vancouver every two years. And the city itself is undertaking bold initiatives under the Greenest City 2020 plan.
Trying to bring all these assets to another city would take years, yet we have them all right here, waiting to be utilized, while we attempt to uphold the mantle of Silicon Valley North. Vancouver could more easily, and with more global impact, take on the role of Impact Valley.
As a result of focusing, all burgeoning ecosystems, Vancouver included, can establish themselves globally as industry experts, while becoming the place for talent, money, technology and government to coalesce on that area. This will allow each ecosystem to shine in its own right to attract and retain the best resources.
As venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote not long ago, “We don’t want 50 Silicon Valleys; we want 50 different variations of Silicon Valley, all unique from each other and all focusing on different domains.” These pockets of expertise will facilitate greater impact than 50 generalized hubs, ending the jack-of-all-trades system currently in place.
For Vancouver, the framework is already solid, with the passion and talent for sustainability and impact already ingrained into much of the city. What needs to be done is to create a cohesive plan between stakeholders and major players such as the government, educational institutes, capital and the community at large. The city as a whole must embrace the new focus if it is to be cultivated and brought to display on the global stage.
So, do we really need to be Silicon Valley North? Indeed, does anyone?