Sheldon Levy, President, Ryerson University

May 08 2013
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I’d like to thank the Empire Club for inviting me to speak with you today.
I’d also like to thank them for agreeing to host this event in our new Mattamy
Athletic Centre at the Gardens.
I’d like to extend a welcome to the special guests who are here today.
And we have one more special guest from the world of politics. Ladies and
gentlemen, please welcome the former Premier of Ontario, Mr. Dalton McGuinty.
I’d also like to welcome a number of attendees from Ryerson University:
‐ Lawrence Bloomberg, our chancellor,
‐ Phyllis Yaffe, the Chair of our Board of Directors,
‐ Nadir Mohamed, our vice-chair,
‐ And of course, the Ryerson students who are here with us this afternoon,
including the many young innovators from our Digital Media Zone.
There’s one last person I’d like to welcome. It’s CTV Correspondent and longtime
Canada AM host Seamus O’Regan.
Welcome Seamus.
I hope I am not talking out of turn, but I’d like to let you all know that Seamus is
working with Ryerson and others on a new series for this fall focusing on young
innovators across Canada. Seamus will be the face for youth innovation for
Canadians will see first-hand brilliant young entrepreneurs and the challenges
they face in bringing their innovations to market.
I know we are not all the way there in developing the show, but I am very
hopeful. I am a big believer in the innovative capacity of young people. And I see,
so clearly, the critical role they can play in our economy.

Let me paint a picture of our economy for you right now.
In March, the Canadian economy lost 55,000 jobs. Unemployment rose to 7.2
per cent. And economists expect job creation to stay slow for months to come.
So now is a good time to ask the question: Where are the jobs going to come

The best answer to this question can be found in a recent study by the Kauffman
Foundation. According to that study, all net job growth comes entirely from
startup firms.
That answer surprised me at first. But the more I read, the more it made sense.
Startups begin with only one or two people. If they fail, only one or two jobs are
lost. But if they encounter success, they hire. They hire to solidify their success.
And they hire to expand. They create jobs by the dozen, without shedding any.
In fact, startups are more important to the Canadian economy than ever before.
And their importance is only going to grow.
A recent CIBC study found that more than half a million Canadians are now
starting their own firms. It also found that more and more of them are young
people in their 20s. And it found that startup activity is growing the most in
sectors that are rapidly going digital:
 Health;
 Education;
 Science and technology.
The typical Canadian entrepreneur of today isn’t starting a restaurant or a
trucking business. Today’s Canadian entrepreneurs are going digital, because
the economy is going digital.
So this is all good news.
Young people are building their companies right where they are needed. In the
digital economy.
As the Economist put it:
The challenge ahead for every country is to extract the maximum economic
benefits from digital technology.
This is not just a global challenge. It’s a global race. Other countries and other
cities get it. And they are racing hard. New York city is reinventing itself as a
technology hub. In the UK, London has created Europe’s largest startup
accelerator focused on financial technology. And in South Korea, the government
of Seoul has created Digital Media City. It’s slated for completion in 2015.
This is a race where our future standard of living is the prize.
Canadian cities are in this race as well. And this city, Toronto, is actually faring
surprisingly well.

Toronto was recently ranked as the fourth best place in the world to start a new
tech company, behind Silicon Valley, New York, and London.
Toronto can compete. Canada can compete. There’s no doubt about that.
The real challenge is not, “Can we compete?” The challenge is “Can we win?
Can we become a recognized global leader?”
We can.
To win this race, any city needs three things.
 It needs talent.
 It needs spaces to nurture that talent.
 And it needs all sectors of the economy onside, working together to
become a world leader in digital innovation.
What does Toronto have?
We have talent. Loads of talent. We also have lots of creative spaces dedicated
to helping innovative young companies succeed. Postsecondary institutions in
this city are very active in making creative space available for talented young
innovators. So are private investors.
So we have the first two items on the list.
To make a real run for it, we need to do what London and New York and Seoul
are doing. We need to open our entire economy to start-ups. We need
Government at all levels and the private sector to become “start up friendly.”
So what I’d like to do now is to show you the kind of talent and innovation this city
has to offer. Let me introduce you to three entrepreneurs. They are in different
business verticals but they have much in common – talent, energy, drive and
Our first guest is a 25-year-old graduate of Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts
program. During his studies he founded his own interactive media company,
Phosphorus Media. Today he is quickly gaining a reputation across North
America as a truly innovative problem-solver. Please welcome Jonathan Ingham.
Thank you Jonathan.

I first met our next two guests three years ago. They came to my office to show
me an award they’d won for a Ryerson engineering class project. It was a
mechanical prosthetic arm controlled by nothing more than the user’s own brain
waves. It was an amazing feat for two young men who were barely 20 years old.
Now their company, Bionik Labs, employs 14 engineers and is already planning
its first IPO. Please welcome Michal Prywata and Thiago Caires.
Thank you, Michal and Thiago.
Our last guest is a 33-year-old Ryerson graduate who is already a faculty
member. He has more than 18 publications and patents to his name. Last year
he was honoured by MIT as one of the world’s top innovators under the age of
35. Smithsonian also ranked him as one of the top 6 innovators to watch in 2013.
And most recently, Forrester Research highlighted his technology as a platform
to build intelligent mobile applications. And he is going to present that technology
to you right now. Please welcome the founder of Flybits, Hossein Rahnama.
Thank you Hossein.
There are so many more I could introduce. Men and women from all walks of life.
Tremendous innovators working across this province and this country. But I think
I’ve given you a good idea of what they have to offer.
They can be trusted to enhance any firm’s brand, image, or customer service.
They can help just about any firm in any city across Canada. They are ready to
be full players in our economy. We simply need to open up our economy to them.
We are already moving in the right direction. I want to tell you about two recent
steps governments have taken.
The federal government, in its budget, will spend $60 million on incubators and
accelerators through the Venture Capital Action Plan. And the government of
Ontario, in its budget, announced the creation of the Youth Entrepreneurship
Fund and the Youth Innovation Fund.
Initiatives like these in Ontario will help create the right environment for
businesses and people to succeed.
They encourage the private sector to take risks, make investments, create jobs
and drive innovation. And one of the best ways to do that is to help young
entrepreneurs get their foot in the door.

Let me put it this way. It’s fantastic that we are funding incubators and young
startups, because it helps them develop their company and their innovation. Now
we need to hire them, so they can put their innovation to the test.
The Canadian economy is not particularly good at being an early adopter of
innovation. We do not work easily with startup firms. It’s time to change that.
Learn more about how startups can help you. Visit local incubators regularly. Get
a closer look at the kinds of companies being incubated.
Reshape your RFP requirements so more of them can bid. The way RFPs are
structured today, they often act as a structural barrier for startups. Young
companies cannot complete 100 page proposals or present tens of millions in
insurance. By definition, they do not have the long list of achievements. But they
are ready to prove themselves, and they need a chance.
I am friends with an entrepreneur who has worked in the Valley and most
recently in Toronto. He is one of the most dynamic entrepreneurs I’ve ever met.
He tells me that, when he was in Silicon Valley, he could get in front of decision
makers within 48 hours. At any firm:
 Banks
 Big tech firms
 Government offices
Because in the Valley, every organization knows how much they gain from
working with startups. In the Valley, if you don’t meet with a young startup, it’s
considered a lost opportunity.
In Toronto, he says, you have to be lucky to get a meeting. And if you get one, it
usually takes 6 to 8 weeks. And that goes for any other city in Canada as well.
That’s the gap we have to close. From 8 weeks to 48 hours.
You heard these young entrepreneurs tell you today about their businesses. You
heard them list their clients. How many of their clients were Canadian? Very few.
But there were some. And if you talk to those companies, they’ll tell you what a
positive experience it has been. You heard Hossein tell you about his work with
Metrolinx. You heard Jonathan tell you about his clients. Companies like
Chapters Indigo have also hired DMZ companies.
By working with startups, these companies gain access to cutting-edge
technology that helps them serve their customers better. These companies have
learned what Silicon Valley has known for a long time. They’ve learned that
waiting 8 weeks is a lost opportunity.

Twenty years ago, even as little as ten years ago, sustainability was not part of
our business values. Offices didn’t recycle paper. No one worried about reducing
energy consumption. Today we know being sustainable is not only the right thing
to do. It’s also good business.
Ten years from now we will say the same about start-ups.
Working with startups is the right thing to do. And it’s good for business — for the
economy and for our future.
Thank you.